Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Reformy Chalkbeat Peddles the Moskowitz Book

A few years ago, I used to write for Chalkbeat, nee Gotham Schools. I wrote a review of Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, which I loved. There was a very lively comment section, and for reasons not shared with me, Chalkbeat deleted it. I recall that UFT employee Peter Goodman counseled me in the comments that there could be repercussions for expressing myself. I'm a chapter leader, and I advise people all the time. I'm trying to think of a circumstance under which I'd do that in a public forum, and my mind is a blank.

Someone else questioned why the post went up when it did. Evidently it was during school hours. Someone from Chalkbeat had to explain that they put up the posts, not the guest writers. I was, of course, let go by Chalkbeat when my point of view failed to jibe with their mission, ostensibly to show all points of view without bias. You know, Fair and Balanced. Except the pro-teacher, pro-public education point of view, which somehow didn't fit. Go figure.

When Diane Ravitch wrote a book, they allowed me, a guest, to review it. But when Eva Moskowitz wrote a book, they get one of their paid writers to do a feature. After all, Ravitch is only the most outspoken and thoughtful living advocate of public education, so dump her on one of the guests. Moskowitz is a charter chain mogul, and thus merits Chalkbeat's undivided attention.

It's all about values. What do we learn about the Moskowitz book?

Moskowitz really wants you to know she’s human.
 
Well, that's illuminating. It never occurred to me to point out that Ravitch was human. I've seen her speak several times, and she's never made a big deal about it, so I didn't either. I mean, don't get me wrong, I adore animals. I'm particularly fond of dogs. Nonetheless, I've known very few who could write books. There is this extraordinary canine named Thor Michaelson who runs a spirited campaign against vacuums, but even Michaelson has yet to paw his autobiography. When he does,
maybe I'll write, "Michaelson really wants you to know he's a dog."

Of course, this could be figurative. It could just be that she wants to come off as less cold and calculating. I mean, when you let kids pee their pants, when you drag your students, their parents and your staff to Albany to campaign for your own cause, when you have a privileged relationship with a reformy chancellor, when you make lists of students who've "got to go," you may get, you know, an unfavorable rep. Maybe she wants you to know she's human, but let's face it, a dog wouldn't do any of those things. Maybe being human is nothing to boast about after all. In any case, you won't be reading about those things in reformy Chalkbeat. Instead, you'll read that, "Chalkbeat tried to understand why Moskowitz was such a lightning rod." This notwithstanding, it might be obvious to those who get their information from places other than Chalkbeat.

After reading a story by Juan Gonzalez, instead of asking, "Holy crap, how does she get away with this?" reformy Chalkbeat wonders why everyone is ganging up on poor Eva Moskowitz. That's the kind of coverage you get when Gates and Walmart subsidize the education press. You get "theories" as to why Moskowitz might be a controversial figure.

Look, I'm sure if I wrote a book about myself, I'd try to make myself look good too. But I'm just a lowly public school teacher, not a charter school mogul. That's why reformy Chalkbeat would never focus on the likes of me. Or you. Or the overwhelming majority of students who we, not Eva Moskowitz, serve.

What's next for Eva Moskowitz? Reformy minds want to know, and Reformy Chalkbeat is more than happy to oblige.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Open Up Another Can of Teachers

Chaz has a great piece pointing out the hypocrisy of the NY Post editorial board, which cries bloody murder when teacher certification requirements are reduced, but also supports charter schools who basically want to hire just about anybody. You know, it's too inconvenient to run around looking for certified teachers, so basically let us certify anyone we feel like.

I read that over at Eva's place teachers don't write lesson plans. They have them, they give them to you, and you do any goshdarn thing they tell you to. There's no scrambling for the right textbook. There's no worrying whether you should skip this part or emphasize that. You just look at what day it is and do whatever the hell they tell you to do. Teacher voice? Give me a break.

And hey, if that's not enough, the gazillionaire who runs Netflix wants to just stick every kid in front of a computer, and expand charter schools like they've never been expanded before. He uses New Orleans as a model, where 90% are charterized. I'm surprised it isn't 100. So basically, teachers become non-unionized, at-will employees doing any damn thing they're told. That's a great role model for our children, of course, if you want them to become non-unionized, at-will employees doing any damn thing they're told.

I think this is one of the last really good jobs there is. It's not because the pay is fabulous or the hours are short. Like a whole lot of my colleagues, I work well beyond what the clock requires. Honestly, though, the day they tell me they have scripted lesson plans for me to follow will probably be the day I retire. Let them teach a monkey to read and get him to do the job. A big plus would be they could pay him in bananas.

There's this steady drip, drip as teachers become less teachers and more technicians. Sit the kid in front of the computer and have the computer decide what chapter she's on or what question she gets to answer. That way she'll get a better score on the test that measures the questions the computer has decided to ask. And sure, it's not exactly fun to learn that way, but it's probably not fun working at Walmart either. The people who run Walmart probably fund all this reforminess for that very reason.

And while this wave has not yet enveloped NYC public schools as a whole, there are plenty of principals obsessing over it. After all, the principals get rated too. In case you're wondering why you're assigned to some teacher team, New York City has decided that teacher teams are the bestest thing since sliced bread, and that your principal sucks if your school hasn't got them.

In our school, we gave up one day of C6 for teacher team, and in exchange we got one day back for teacher-directed Other Professional Work. It seemed a fair exchange, and our members voted for it overwhelmingly as part of an SBO. In other schools with weak or no union presence the principal just says, "Everyone is doing a teacher team one period a day," and that's pretty much it, And in charters? Hey, when Eva comes in and says everyone is going on a bus to Albany tomorrow you don't bring up your carsickness. You ask Eva for permission to use the bathroom on the coach bus while the kids do homework. Or maybe you puke on the floor, just as the kids pee their pants.

Who knows?

Actually we should have high standards for our teachers. If we don't, it means we don't have high standards for our children either. We also need to preserve this profession as one of people serving people. I don't want to place kids in little cubicles with computers working out little problems to prepare them for tests. It's not my job to teach them how to adapt to cubicles. I already have a job. I complain an awful lot, but never about actual teaching, and never about the kids I serve.

We need to model a better way for children. We do that not by making them little tin soldiers, and certainly not by being bigger tin soldiers ourselves.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Study in Stupid

There's an NPR piece about how Spanish speakers take longer to learn English than their Chinese counterparts. It's one of the stupidest things I've ever read. I've been working as a New York City teacher for over thirty years, and I've read more memos from more administrators than I can count, so that's saying something.

For one thing, it's based completely on test scores. To believe this, you'd have to assume that the scores are valid. That's a big ask. Here in NY, we have a test called the NYSESLAT. I was teaching an advanced class, determined by test scores, and the first thing I did was give a diagnostic essay. I did not make the students read a non-fiction passage about different types of cement and have them respond via multiple choice answers. I gave them something much simpler. I told them to write about what they did during summer break, or indeed anything else they wanted to write about.

Half of my students failed to use past tense even once. This is a distinct drawback when recounting a story. Yet somehow the very expensive NYSESLAT did not detect it. A whole lot of them neglected subject-verb agreement, a common thing among ELLs. After all, why bother with that little s marker when you only need it with third person? These things are pretty noticeable in writing, though, and if you did these things in a college entrance essay, I could easily imagine your getting bounced to remedial classes.

Several of my students could not produce more than two sentences. Yet they were on the cusp of proficiency, according to these tests, presumably created by experts. My improvised diagnostic says they were wrong. I also spoke with the students, and was not persuaded they'd hit any level resembling advanced. Of course, NY State doesn't say advanced. They say, "transitioning," or "expanding," for reasons that elude me utterly. But when you place these "transitioning" students in advanced classes, they're likely to lose opportunities to practice the basic English conventions they'll need to write successfully in college.

It's too bad, because we ESL teachers could certainly teach that stuff if students were placed properly, and if CR Part 154 hadn't reduced us to assistant teachers. Hey, it's not my fault if those kids are reading To Kill a Mockingbird and I'm just standing around helping with the impossible vocabulary.

Now the study does mention poverty, and that's certainly a factor in academic achievement or lack thereof. But to attribute lack of academic achievement to a particular language is nothing but bigotry and ignorance. If I've learned one thing from decades of teaching ESL, it's that no stereotype is valid. I've seen members of every group excel, and I've seen members of every group fail. I've seen ambition and laziness, excellence and failure in every group I've served.

It's offensive and idiotic to equate achievement with language. It not only assumes validity in tests that are likely total crap, but also falsely attributes its scores, low, high, or whatever, to language spoken. This is the kind of crap I expect to see on Fox and Friends. It's sorely disappointing to find it on NPR.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Executive Board Takeaway, September 11, 2017

As you can see from my headline, I was very happy we were able to agree on supporting DACA. As an ESL teacher, I'm highly prejudiced in favor of newcomers. As an American, I'm well aware that our country is mostly made of newcomers, and that diversity is a huge part of what's good about us. Of course, the worst thing about us is Donald Trump, a national disgrace, and you never know just what awful thing he's gonna try next until he up and does it. Trump often says he has sympathy for dreamers, but as Norm Scott always says, "Watch what they do, not what they say."

What he's done is an abomination. It turned out that we and Unity had the same thought at the same time, and the resolution we passed used wording from both. Hopefully we'll be able to do more things like that.

Then, of course, there are differences. We proposed letting prospective teachers know about turnover rates in schools. That's an important factor, and in fact we heard firsthand about a school whose turnover reached 85%. Several Unity voices opposed it, including LeRoy Barr. Barr said that this was not the only factor we had to consider. If that's the case, I'm confident that my high school Exec. Board colleagues would be happy to release all relevant data.

This notwithstanding, an 85% turnover rates suggests to me, at least, that holy crap something is very wrong indeed. I wouldn't want to work there on a bet. We often criticize charters with high turnover rates. If Moskowitz Academies are so fabulous and wonderful, and little Disney birds are tweeting sweet songs as the kids pee their pants, why do teachers leave in such great numbers? Isn't there something wrong if a public school does even worse than a Moskowitz Academy? And if there is some great rationale why the school is worth working in even though 85% of the staff didn't think so, shouldn't we know what it is?

I was pretty surprised to see NYSUT finally taking an unequivocal stand against APPR. I have heard no such talk from UFT leadership. I know that they attend the NYSUT conventions, I know that they have the very largest voting bloc in NYSUT, and I find it extremely hard to believe that NYSUT could pass resolutions to that effect without UFT support. In fact, if there were any doubt, the article says the resolutions were "approved unanimously."

Yet when I asked whether or not UFT supported these positions I could not get a straight answer. They'll get back to me, they said. For my money, the worst part of APPR is the possibility that teachers have the burden of proof on them at 3020a. In our justice system, you're innocent until proven guilty. Thus, the mind boggles as to why, when teachers are twice rated ineffective, likely as not on junk science, they are compelled to prove they are not guilty. Ask a lawyer how easy that is. Ask Shari Lederman how valid those scores are. Ask Stacy Isaacson.

It would certainly be better to work out something that's, you know, not insane. Could our union leadership manage such a thing with a re-elected de Blasio administration? Would term limits free de Blasio to dump the Bloomberg leftovers sitting in Tweed? If Carmen goes could we work out a system to support and retain teachers rather than fire them?

Can we somehow leverage Andy Cuomo's desire to look like Sanders lite rather than Bloomberg redux? Could we, at the very least, lessen the number of required observations to two? Moves like that would go a long way toward fewer anxiety attacks and meltdowns among working teachers.

I'm an optimist. Whenever Unity wants to talk to us about making real progress for real teachers, I'm open. And with Janus coming up, moving in that direction looks like nothing less than a win-win.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ESL Teachers--An Endangered Species

When the geniuses in Albany put their heads together they can really come up with some inventive notions. Of course one of my faves is the new form of Part 154. This one suggests that newcomers can learn English simply by sitting in a subject class taught by anyone who's taken the magical 12 ESL credits. Once the chemistry teacher has those credits, she can teach not only chemistry, but also English. And she can do it in the same time it takes one of her non-magical colleagues to teach chemistry to American-born students.

I met a Spanish teacher who was also certified in ESL. Her supervisor asked her if she would mind, since she had the dual certification, if they recorded her Spanish students as being served in ESL. How cool is that? You're in a class, studying Spanish, and officially learning English too. After all, a whole lot of Spanish words look just like English words. Can anyone say desperation? Just change some letters, add an accent mark, and you're there.

You know what's odd? In that school, Spanish language is a subject, but English language isn't. I mean, why do you even need a Spanish class? Why not just have the social studies teacher get certified in Spanish, and then say the students learned Spanish by being in his class? You see, that's not allowed in New York State. Evidently, the only language that can be learned by means of magic is English. 

So here's the thing--imagine I'm a principal. I get a science teacher, a math teacher, a social studies teacher, and an English teacher to get the magical twelve credits. Then I just place every newcomer in one of their classes. Voila! They are served. That's good enough for New York State. All I have to do is get them one period of English while they're beginners. And guess what? Students who can't write more than two sentences in English can test advanced in the NYSESLAT.

So let's say I have a thousand ELLs in my school. If each of them passes through one magic teacher a day, I probably don't need any ESL teachers at all. Well, maybe one. But since they're magically learning English in their math classes, who cares what actually happens?

With so-called Fair Student Funding, principals have to make a lot of decisions about who they hire, and who they don't. Why bother hiring anyone to teach newcomers English when the geniuses in Albany have declared that will happen via magic? After all, don't they receive salaries higher than lowly teachers? Don't they have comfortable air-conditioned offices from which they issue their fiats? Don't they have impressive titles? What more are you gonna want?

I have been siting on the UFT Executive Board now for a year. I've heard tales of incredible behavior by principals. I don't doubt there are some so cynical they'll do whatever just to save a few bucks. Look at the one I wrote about before who wanted the kids to get English credit for attending a Spanish class. I sincerely doubt that's the worst of it.

It's 2017. We know how to help newcomers. It's really important that we fix Part 154. The notion that we ought not to give direct instruction in English is simply one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. We can do better, and it's hard to imagine any way we could do worse.

Monday, September 11, 2017

UFT Executive Board September 11, 2017--UFT Defends DACA and Dreamers

Howard Schoor welcomes us—6 PM—

Speakers

Roberta Pikse—Adult Ed.—In June dismissed with no reason after 16 years. Never got U rating before. Got 2 U observations last year. Year end U rating. Dismissed via email. Teaching adults very different. Many uncertified teachers working. Many U ratings this year by new principals. All appointed by Rosemarie Mills.

Had meeting of 20 teachers, most of whom never had U ratings before. She’s waiting on grievance. Mismanagement destroying program. Asks EB for support. Asks for info on how many teachers let go, and how many U ratings. Asks for resolution against harassment. If they can mistreat us, will mistreat you.

Dianne Jenkins—Adult Ed.—Number of students who vitally need adult ed.—those who don’t have HS, English skills, tech skills. 40,000 per year. Rosemarie Mills, from day one, put us on notice they are in a battle and she planned to win. She had no experience in adult ed. Nor do those she hired. Staff rude, walks into classrooms, stop lessons and harass in front of students.  Teachers walking on eggshells expecting U ratings and discontinuance. They serve parents of K-12 schools. Need able help. Asks for help.

Fran Myers—Adult Ed.—Mills knows what’s going on in chapter more than we do. We need info on discontinuance and percentages to strategize. Demand transparency.

Sean Ahern—2011 DA passed reso on teacher diversity. 40% decline in black teachers. Shanker Institute published study. Feb. 2016 asked DA about follow up. L. Barr gave report on initiatives. One was Men Teach. Promised 1000 teachers of color. Any info on success—can they share with membership? Filed FOIA on recent hiring. Have 120 pages of reports. Will share. Doesn’t appear anything changed since 2014. We need more than spin, UFT should ID cause of problem. Should take leading role. T

Schoor—J. Hinds will look at it.

?—School founded six years ago to teach construction trades, was happy place. Were productive. Sent students into trades making more than college grads. Principal was removed. Don’t know why. Joyce Polfis new principal. 21 of his colleagues left willingly, out of 30. It’s like a different school. We look the same, but we aren’t. If everyone who wanted to leave did, there might be only 6 left. I returned to support students. This was done by design. Principal encouraged open market. his shows disregard for well-being of our students and community in S. Bronx. We had the attention of the mayor, teachers looked forward to coming to work, and kids would stay late. Clear we have crisis of leadership.

Peter Roman—Adult Ed—Has Action committee—has been under attack for 5 years. Numbers shrinking each year, not by accident. Has intimidated every CL. Discipline hearings increased, CLs rated ineffective. 20-30 annual U ratings, and also discontinuances. Observations used to meet quotas of hostility. Mills breaks or bends every rule. We feel let down by union and betrayed by DOE. Vacuum in chapter leadership. Mills will install candidate of her choosing. Need to reconfigure and expand CL position, provide mechanism for AE committee to meet, asks for own DR. No one should suffer so long with supe with unchecked power and entrenched backing of DOE

Schoor—We have brought this up with DOE. LeRoy Barr has led meetings. We will meet on Thursday. Some ratings overturned, issues resolved. Will continue to focus on chapter.

Emil P.—Comes to speak about passing of Bob Ostrowski. On Exec. Board for long time. Was a DR, a borough rep. for two boroughs. Had a unique ability. Best listener I ever met. Was a skill. Was a good guy. Would resolve problems. Read everything. Was Assistant Sec. Did all he could do to help. Was my mentor. Had finger in everything. We discussed Yankee and Met fans. Yankee fans demand excellence, and expect all wins. Met fans stay home with hats on backwards and believe they can will team to win. Worked twice. We should all try harder to listen.

Moment of silence.

Schoor—If anyone wants to speak later about him, please do.

Minutes—approved. (Mugrew is here)

President’s Report—Michael Mulgrew thanks us for being here. Thanks those who supported Bob and his family. Tough loss for us.

This year will be challenging. Constitutional Convention and Janus, and we have to move public ed. forward. Concerted effort to weaken workers rights and destroy public ed. alive and well. They want to weaken us to when workers were just pawns. Wednesday you will see people come out for CC, same people who fund Janus. They want cheap, no-benefit workers.

Told DOE we have to move forward. We can’t have blowups at certain schools. CBA gives us right to consult. We have to put things on record. Thanks Adult Ed. We are holding DOE accountable, but we all have to do this. CL can now go online and share consultation with principal. If things aren’t worked out at school level, district has to do it. Things resolved via paperwork complaints. Bad principals don’t want info out. We have to use tools in contract.

We will get involved when things aren’t resolved at school level. Contract is agreement, and they agreed to it.

Next step—we don’t want legal process stalled. We want every workplace positive and collaborative. Chancellor agrees about consultation.

Asks we tell everyone to use contract, especially with consultation. Let them know things will go about their heads.

If this local is greatly weakened, public ed. will go bye-bye.

Urges us to vote tomorrow, and in general. We will really push CC after tomorrow. Everyone in schools knows to vote no.

Much improvement on standards for ELLs and special education. Still have a way to go. Problems with early childhood.

Thanks all who came out for Labor Day. Bus broke down but we hired another. We waited for the bus and let everyone else through. Left no one behind. Said a lot about us.

UFT has largest union in Florida, thanks those who helped.

6:38 Mulgrew leaves

LeRoy Barr—busy summer. Harlem week, West Indian Day Parade, Labor Day Parade, thanks everyone. Asks for moment for 9/11 victims. CL meeting coming up, Oct 14, UFT ELL symposiums, Oct. 15 UFT Strides walk. Next Wed., DA, everyone wear pink.

Schoor—Thanks Barr for bringing up 9/11. Moment of silence

Questions:

Mike SchirtzerMORE—Budgeting problems—schools with veteran staffs and no Title One are being hurt. Little to no money for extra activities and enrichment. Is there anything we’re looking to do? Mulgrew said we’re the only “Fair Student Funding” system.”

Schoor—We got money for you last year, will do so again. Will work for other schools.

Arthur GoldsteinMORE—I was a little surprised to read in NYSUT United that they oppose APPR and want local control. I’ve felt that way since its inception, as have the American Statistical Association, Diane Ravitch, Carol Burris, and a significant number of activist NY State principals. When we voiced this, we’ve been told at multiple levels of UFT meetings, that if we didn’t support APPR, we must support total power for principals. We don’t.

I’d argue the most egregious part of these laws is the advent of members losing the presumption of innocence, with burden of proof on the teacher. I’d argue guilty until proven innocent is fundamentally un-American. I’ve been to hearings and seen firing under this system.

Here’s my question—does UFT leadership agree with the NYSUT position that localities ought to negotiate APPR? If so, can we oppose burden of proof on members?

Schoor—In discussions. Can’t answer right now. Hopefully soon.

Ashraya GuptaMORE—are we negotiating leave for anyone having or adopting a child, or for family leave? State offering program that can be used for family leave. What’s on table?

Schoor—State law doesn’t affect us. We are negotiating with DOE. Adam Ross will address.

Ross—Trying to mirror in child acquisition. Trying to match what mayor got, at brutal price, from non-unionized workers. Mayor now asking too much. We don’t want to pay too much. Negotiations continuing.

Gupta—Status of immigrant advisors—seems vital to support DACA. Will help/

Schoor—Not finalized yet.

Gupta—Paperwork due October 5th. Would be helpful if we can support them.

Marcus McArthurMORE—Transfer high schools—I work in one—We serve students from all over city that may have struggled. We deal with kids who haven’t passed exams, who are homeless, former dropouts. At end of year we learned state, for ESSA requirements, might be changing way we are evaluated, specifically that 67% need to graduate or we might be shut down or taken over. Only 4 citywide meet criteria of 57. What’s status of discussions?

Janella Hinds—We participate in think tank along w NYSUT. We were concerned about these things, about ELLs, about students in poverty. Sat on committees, discussed accountability and assessment. Wanted to ensure fairness, and no harm done to schools. We believe our voices have been heard, will continue to advocate for all our schools.

Jackie Bennett—Also we yelled and screamed about this issue at public hearings. Issue is state commissioner is new, doesn’t understand about transfer schools. Have to be part of process. Should be human look as well as number look. We will be out in front of things that don’t make sense. Won’t be just numbers. Will have to wait and see.

Kuljit S. AhluwaliaNew Action—There’s talk of targeting senior teachers. We cost more. Can we see if bad ratings are given by age. How can we protect due process?

Schoor—We looked at those numbers and didn’t find a lawsuit. About 135 ATRs took buyout.

Ellen Procida—Won first SESIS arbitration, wasn’t fixed, and now 33 million is set aside for SESIS work. Not same as before. 37K plus members will get money. Will be link to correct issues. Will be email tonight if we have non DOE email, otherwise paper letter. 50 to 10K dollars.

Reports from Districts—

?—on Florida. Reaching out. UFT and AFT sent update. 7500 messages went out. Waiting to see what happens. Retirees called members around country. Found that folks picked up phone, asked to patch them through to pols, 60% said yes. Also working on CC, and with AFT organizing.

Eliu Lara—Thanks people who helped give laptops and printers to students. Got support from state. Raffled metro cards. Got school community together and had great event.

Janella Hinds—Thanks for Labor Day Parade on behalf of NYC Labor Day Council. Great that UFT was at end of parade. Thanks all who participated. August 3rd, EB passed reso supporting Spectrum workers, striking 5 months. Will be an event soon, will give details.

Schoor—Thanks Mike Schirtzer for bringing up.

Alan Abrams—Had principal/ CL consultation so that extra work wouldn’t be added. Used contract empowerment notes given by Debbie Poulos.

Schoor—Debbie Poulos put out cheat sheet on paperwork.

Sterling Roberson—Over summer UFT and NYIT help entrepreneurial program, used mixed reality, not yet on market. Many students participated, very successful. Thanks Barr and Hickey. Provided food and Chromebooks. Useful in social studies—students walk through ancient environments. Enhances instruction. Will continue.

Karen Allford—UFT busy in summer. New Teacher week in August, saw 1800 new teachers, here, Brooklyn and Bronx. Mulgrew spoke, Chancellor was here. Teacher Center had classroom sessions, behavior management and IEPs.

Still collecting for disaster relief. Working with AFT.

Reshad Brown—Pride committee—250 marched in parade. Thanks everyone who came out.

Carmen Alvarez—UFT Education Forum for educators and parents. Right after Trump decided not to support DACA. Can use tools to fight attacks on schools and students. Here, Thursday Sept. 14, 4 30 to 6 30.  Needed now. Will send flier.

Khierra Kersey-Heggs—Class size person, grievance dept., Thanks DRs and CLs for getting numbers in quickly. Please do so next Thursday, and Sept. 20, before 4 day weekend. Important they come in early as possible.

Mike Friedman—Says student watched what was happening as towers went down, now is living in US, we serve them, very proud.

Paul Egan—Legislative Report—various soccer and football talk—

Jonathan HalabiNew Action—Says many of us are boycotting NFL

Egan—politics—Good legislative session, got great funding. Teacher’s Choice up to 250. Asks that we spend it so as not to lose it. Dial a Teacher funded at level we asked. Tomorrow is primary day, please vote. Last time turnout was 18% in competitive year. May be lower this year.

Interesting things—senate resignation—Dan Squadron. Democratic committees will meet. 3 candidates out there. Could be anyone.

In LI, Sherriff’s race. Phil Boyle GOP Senator may win. Would resign Senate and open up election where Democratic performance is high.

Focused on Constitutional Convention. No one wants to give up pension, but won’t be enough. We need to vote beyond our borders, call, email, text friends. Have produced postcard. Fill in names of five people you’ll talk to, and UFT will send it back to you. All NY State will vote, we need them all

Resolution on supporting DACA


Arthur GoldsteinMORE—Evelyn de Jesus is not here so she asked me to speak to this. No one speaks like Evelyn, but I’ll do my best.

We all come from somewhere. My grandfather came here on a boat from Russia when he was 13 years old. Maybe he read on the Statue of Liberty “Give us your tired, your poor.” One of Trump’s people said that was written later. But a lot of things were written later. We had to wait until later to address slavery. We had to wait until later to give women the vote. We’re still waiting for the President to be elected by the will of the people, and I’m pretty sure few here would object if we did that later.

Donald Trump does one thing after another, and just when you think there is no more bottom of the barrel left to scrape, he outdoes himself. I was pretty shocked when he targeted 800,000 kids who spent virtually their entire lives here. He told them not to worry, that everything will be great, but he says that about absolutely everything he does. We’re gonna throw tens of millions of Americans off of health care, and it will be great.

I’ve told this body several times that corporate astroturf groups are not real advocates for children. Those of us in this room who wake up each and every morning to serve the city’s children, we are the real advocates, and this resolution is just one example of our advocacy. We are the ones who really place students first. The fact that both of our caucuses conceived of this at pretty much the same time is good evidence of that.

We stand for 1.1 million students in NYC, and we have to stand every dreamer in the USA.  I urge you to vote for this resolution.

Passes unanimously.

Resolution on assisting teachers who assist in transfers

Jonathan HalabiNew Action—calls for us to encourage members who are transferring to do due diligence, and asks us to publish names of schools with high turnover. We just heard of a school with over 50% turnover, and there are others. In E. Bronx, Westchester Square Academy, only 6 of 40 returned.

People transfer without knowing what’s going on. They need the info. Crucial info is whether or not it has stability. Some don’t. Our members need to know. 50% is a red flag. In one school 85% left. Those coming in didn’t have that info. We also need to remind people they have obligation to do due diligence.

LeRoy Barr—Speaks against. We study this. This is only one data point. There are lots of data you can collect. This number, absent context, can be misleading. Things shift. In the end, best way to determine where members can go is for them to contact DRs and borough offices.

Mike SchirzerMORE—We’re only speaking of schools with exceptional turnover. Over 50% is a lot. Gene Mann does this in Queens as part of an email. Being done on small scale.

Eliu Lara—Speaks against. For many reasons people transfer and that’s why we have Open Market. We want to know reasons.

Rashad Brown—calls question.

Resolution fails on party lines.

We are adjourned.

Actually, There IS Free Lunch

That's true for NYC's schoolchildren. No more getting free lunch forms and letting all your friends know your home income is below poverty level. No more paying half price and letting them know you're close to it.

This poses a problem for my school, and I presume, a whole lot of others. Why bother filling out a lunch form if lunch is free anyway? Will there even be one, now that it makes no difference? And what are we going to do about Title One funds, assuming Betsy DeVos doesn't donate them to her good friends at Walmart?

The article says 75% of city students were eligible for free lunch. Up until now, Title One has been distributed school by school. I don't recall offhand the percentage our school needs to hit to receive it, but it seems like around 60%. In Staten Island it's closer to 40%. It's ridiculous that children in Queens have a higher threshold than children in Staten Island.. Evidently there's less poverty in SI somehow, so their schools might not qualify otherwise.

I've seen a lot written about so-called Fair Student Funding. Aside from making principals have to think twice about hiring experienced teachers, it has another major drawback. That is the fact that the city does not issue many schools funding it calls "fair." Schools get varying percentages of it, which by its own definition is unfair.

I know that schools that don't get Title One are struggling to keep up. They don't have enough teachers to keep up with exploding class sizes. In our building, being Title One, we probably have enough money, but we haven't got any space. In any case, without Title One, we'd probably need to excess teachers and then we wouldn't have enough personnel. It's a ridiculous situation.

The city is a huge district, with all sorts of rules we have to follow. We have not only the UFT Contract, but all sorts of Chancellor's Regulations. (Unless of course, you're a charter, in which case you take the money and do any damn thing you want with it.) A whole lot of things are centralized. Yet every year, the administration of our school puts an inordinate amount of energy in collecting lunch forms. We've made Title One by the skin of our teeth the last few years.

It boggles my mind that we need to find a higher percentage of students than other boroughs. How can aid revolve around which borough you reside in? Why on earth do SI kids need help more than Queens kids? Why on earth are there different thresholds in different boroughs? I recall Queens being the highest. What possible rationale could there be for Queens students getting effectively less support?

It's great that the city is giving free lunch to all children. But if they're going to do that, they ought to distribute Title One equally as well. The city gets a big federal grant, and who knows what it does with undistributed funds? All city schools need all the help they can get, and it's time we dropped the insane formulas.

If all city kids need free lunch, they all need funding too. It's time to take another look at "Fair Student Funding," another look at Title One,  and it's time to find a system that works for New York City, rather than just Bloomberg's held-over thugs.

Also, Mayor de Blasio, it's well past time you showed all of Bloomberg's leftovers the door.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

I'm off today...

...but you can read a piece I wrote about the ATR over at Diane Ravitch's Blog.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Albany Doubles Down on Stupid

Yesterday I taught an advanced ESL class for the first time in a few years. Because words liked "advanced" are too easily understood, the outstanding thinkers in Albany now call them "transitioning." Naturally, I'm quite impressed. I had the students write a diagnostic essay. These are students who, according to the geniuses in Albany, ought to be performing around the same level as native English speakers.

I read all of the essays. Two of them were only two sentences, basically explaining to me that they either couldn't or didn't write. Fully half of them did not use past tense at all, and definitely should have. A few of them were pretty good. None were near native and all need remediation to get there.

In our school, we pair ESL with English. I'm certified in both, so I don't need a co-teacher. My inclination for these kids before I met them was to cover a few novels. However, having read their work, I'm thinking more about short stories and intermediate ESL instruction. That is, except for those who couldn't produce more than two sentences. They are beginners, despite what the very expensive corporate-produced NYSESLAT exam says.

And by the way, the NYSESLAT test is not only total crap; it's also the test by which ESL teachers are rated. To my way of thinking, it's a crap shoot. While it's true that near-beginners are testing advanced this year, it doesn't mean that will happen next year. So even though a few of my beginners from last year ended up in this class, I'm not patting myself on the back just yet.

Here's another interesting thing about my two advanced classes--because of Part 154, the students cannot be more than one grade apart. Therefore my period one class has three students, and my period two class has 34. I wasn't aware of that at first, and I was going to ask that some of the period 2 kids be moved to period one. That way I could have two reasonably sized classes and give decent attention to all students.

There's another factor here. Any English teacher could take the twelve magical ESL credits and teach this class, the same as me. I am not persuaded that these English teachers would see what I do. I am not persuaded they will have the resources I do. They most certainly won't have the experience I do. Most of them have never taught ESL. Sadly, direct instruction in ESL is precisely what these students need.

We've heard plenty about differentiating education. Some crazy supervisors have even requested multiple lesson plans within the same class. But the big move in Part 154 is away from differentiation where it is most needed. The idea is, let's forget, to the largest extent possible, that newcomers have different language needs than native speakers. Let's just give them the same stuff we give to the American kids and hope for the best.

Make no mistake, this is moving backwards. It's close to the same level of ignorance we showed when we gave IQ tests in English to newcomers and labeled them stupid, or worse. The newcomers weren't stupid, and they aren't stupid now. The only stupid around here is coming from Albany, and also us if we believe in their policies.

It's time to take a giant step away from the overpriced nonsense that passes for testing in NY State. And it's time to rewrite, reform, and remake Part 154 from the ground up.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Co-Teaching and its Discontents

Here's a piece on how to make co-teaching work. It has some great suggestions, and offers multiple models on how co-teaching can work. It also stresses that co-teachers are equals in the classroom. That's an important point, but there are others.

Full disclosure--I co-taught last year and it was a great experience. We didn't really try to follow any particular model. We just kind of kept our eyes on one another. As chapter leader I'd get pulled out of class for various reasons, but I had absolute confidence that my students were in good hands when I was gone. Our only conflict was that I tend to work very fast, and my co-teacher insisted on thinking things through. We had a few arguments over that, but nothing serious.

I've been drawn into multiple co-teaching disasters. Once, two teachers absolutely could not abide one another. They were told to pick one rep each to negotiate how to break the class into two groups, each led by one teacher alone. That is a model, of course, but the feelings these teachers had for one another were palpable. I was one rep, and I worked with the other. We kind of looked at the records of each students and took turns picking which kids would go with which teacher.

One problem is that often co-teachers have no time to plan together. Administrators don't tend to consider that when scheduling. How do you deal with that? In fact, if the teachers really dislike one another, working together more just makes things worse. In the case of the two teachers who hated one another, an AP instructed them to plan together each and every day as part of their C6 assignment. It became unbearable and led to irrevocable differences.

Another problem is the thought processes that go into making teams. I was lucky, because my AP specifically selected a teacher I knew and respected. That isn't always the case. Some pairs are clearly made at random. It won't surprise anyone to hear that these pairings work, at best, randomly. Sometimes they're disastrous. You never know.

Training is also an issue. Most of the time it goes like this. "You and you are teaching together. Good luck with that." I've been to one training session on co-teaching. I remember it because the woman who ran it spent a lot of time reading PowerPoints. She covered a few of the groupings the article mentioned. For me, it was easier to just read the article. I guess some people prefer having things read to them, though I can't think of any over the age of four.

And then there's the equality thing. Part 154 has decreed that ESL teachers will no longer teach ESL, but will instead support students in English, science, or social studies teachers. In the time that American-born students take to learn about the Magna Carta, the ESL teachers are supposed to magically have them learn English, concurrently of course, because God forbid we should just teach them English when they don't know it. Part 154 says the English language is not really a subject, and everyone knows that anything said in Albany must be Absolute Truth.

Make no mistake, you are not an equal when you are with a specialist in another subject area. You don't set the curriculum and you don't set the agenda. And your job, magically making them learn English while someone else teaches history, is fundamentally impossible. The other alternative is to be dually licenced, and be expected to teach both English and social studies, another impossibility.

Models are helpful but not a requirement. Being mindful is more important. An even more important factor, for my co-teacher and I, was that the AP put us together because she knew we respected one another. I have seen many pairings in which factors like that were not considered. You and you, go teach together. No prep, no questions, no nothing.

You're not both available. OK, you have two co-teachers. And you, you have three co-teachers. I've seen that too. Putting two people together for such a long time is a delicate thing. The biggest problem I've seen is people being paired at random.

Not quite state of the art, if you ask me. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Being on the Wrong Side of the PD

It's the first day of school and I'm going to be very busy. Among a whole lot of other things, I'm giving a PD, for the first time ever, and I'm pretty nervous about it. Teachers are a tough audience. Kids are a tough audience, but we're worse. Of course, that's not all our fault.

One of my pet peeves is being forced to listen to someone read a PowerPoint. For goodness sake, just hand it to me, let me look at it, or something. I can read it a lot faster than you can read it aloud. And I don't like to brag, but I've been speaking English since I was a baby. I do it so much, in fact, that I know people who wish I would stop. This notwithstanding, I've been able to read since I was in first grade, and that was a while back.

Then there are the meetings about lateness. Kids shouldn't be late. It's bad if they're late. Tell them not to be late. Lateness will affect their grades. Except please pass everyone anyway, but make them believe that won't happen if they're late. It's not about reality, it's about what they believe.

Then there's the new thing. This year, we've discovered this new way to teach. It's the only way to teach, and anyone who doesn't teach that way is doing it wrong. What? What about portfolios? Portfolios are out. Yes I know I said last year that every student must have a portfolio, but we're just not doing that anymore. Well yes I know I said they were absolutely essential, but they aren't, and this thing is.

Or maybe it's the email that morphed into a meeting. From now on homework will only count 15%. Last year we counted it 20%, but this year it's 15%. That's 5% less than 15%. 20% is 5% more than 15%. So please count homework 15%. That doesn't mean 16%. And it doesn't mean 14%. Let me reiterate, and then we'll discuss it. But no matter what we discuss it's gonna be 15%. Let's review.

Sometimes it's a private company that's found the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. If you only use this Thing in class, you will be highly effective. That's right. Just stand there, show them the Thing, and talk about the Thing. Explain to them that you're one of the first schools in the city using the Thing, and that they're very lucky to have it. After all, the person who invented the Thing went to Harvard, so it must be a really good Thing. Now let's talk about how to make the Thing your Thing.

There's the Revolutionary Computer Program, the one that makes all others obsolete. Once you have this in your classroom, teaching will be a walk in the park. Your students will be overjoyed to get out of bed at 5 AM and spend 90 minutes on a train coming to your class. And you won't have to do any work because the Revolutionary Computer Program will do it for you. Of course last year's Revolutionary Computer Program didn't work out even though it cost a million dollars, but this time it's gonna really work.

Almost every person I face tomorrow will have been to each and every one of these meetings, and will therefore be expecting more of the same. The best I can hope for is that they give me a small listen before they start playing Words with Friends.

There's some karmic justice here, though. I may have been just a bit critical of one or two people who gave PD. It never occurred to me that I'd one day be in their shoes. I'll make sure I wear the right shoes tomorrow. 

Wish me luck.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Startup Tips


I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Practical suggestions were few and far between when I started out. I was an English teacher, with an AP who spent hours describing the difference between an “aim” and an “instructional objective.” To this day, I haven’t the slightest notion what she was talking about. She also spent a good deal of time describing the trials and tribulations of her cooking projects, and other utterly useless information.

Neither she nor any teacher of education ever advised me on classroom control. The standing platitude was “A good lesson plan is the best way to control a class,” but I no longer believe that. I think a good lesson plan is the best thing to have after you control the class.

I also think a good lesson plan need not be written at all, as long as you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, neither the lesson plan nor the aim will be much help. (Note--neither the DOE nor your supervisor accepts that, so have a lesson plan available anyway. I do.)

The best trick, and it’s not much of a trick at all, is frequent home contact. It’s true that not all parents will be helpful, but I’ve found most of them to be. When kids know reports of their classroom behavior will reach their homes, they tend to save the acting out for your lazier colleagues—the ones who find it too inconvenient to call. You are not being "mean" or petty--you're doing your job, and probably helping the kid. If you want to really make a point, make a dozen calls after the first day of class. Or do it the day before a week-long vacation.

Now you could certainly send that ill-mannered kid to the dean, to your AP, to the guidance counselor, or any number of places. But when you do that, you’re sending a clear message that you cannot deal with that kid—he or she is just too much for you. You’ve already lost.

And what is that dean going to do anyway? Lecture the child? Call the home? Why not do it yourself?

You need to be positive when you call. Politely introduce yourself and say this:

“I’m very concerned about _______________. ___________ is a very bright kid. That’s why I’m shocked at these grades: 50, 14, 0, 12, and 43 (or whatever). I’d really like __________ to pass the class, and I know you would too.”

I’ve yet to encounter the parent who says no, my kids are stupid, and I don’t want them to pass.

“Also, I’ve noticed that ___________ is a leader. For example, every time ___________ (describe objectionable behavior here) or says (quote exact words here—always immediately write objectionable statements) many other students want to do/say that too.”

"I'm also concerned because ________ was absent on (insert dates here) and late (insert dates and lengths here).

I certainly hope you will give _________ some good advice so ___________ can pass the class.”

If the kid’s parents speak a foreign language you don’t know, find someone else who also speaks it, and write down what you want that person to tell the parent.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone in your room, next time you have a test, get on the phone in front of your class and call the homes of the kids who aren’t there. Express concern and ask where they are. If the kid is cutting, it will be a while before that happens again. If the kid is sick, thank the parent and wish for a speedy recovery.

The kids in your class will think twice about giving you a hard time.

Kids test you all the time. It’s hard not to lose your temper, but it’s a terrible loss for you if you do. When kids know you will call their homes, they will be far less likely to disrupt your class. The minutes you spend making calls are a very minor inconvenience compared to having a disruptive class.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a reasonable and supportive AP, God bless you. If not, like many teachers, you’ll just have to learn to take care of yourself. If you really like kids, if you really know your subject, and if you really want to teach, you’ll get the hang of it.

But make those phone calls. The longer you do it, the more kids will know it, and the fewer calls you’ll have to make.

Your AP, whether good, bad, or indifferent, will certainly appreciate having fewer discipline problems from you. More importantly, you might spend less time dealing with discipline problems, and more helping all those kids in your room.

Originally posted June 5, 2005

See also:

Ms. Cornelius with everything they forgot (or more likely, never knew about) at ed. school.   Here's something from Miss Malarkey. And whatever you do, don't forget Miss Eyre's excellent series on what no one will tell you about working for the DoE.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Reformy Chalkbeat Can't See a Public School

You have to see the headline here--After Blasting Success Board Chair Chancellor Rosa to Visit Success Academy on the First Day of School. Over at reformy Chalkbeat, it's Moskowitz now, Moskowitz later, and Moskowitz all the time, because that's what's important over there. Here's the thing--PS 55 is mentioned in passing:

“Chancellor Rosa selected two schools to visit in her hometown community in the Bronx, P.S. 55 and Bronx [Success] Academy 2, which are co-located in the same building,” said department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis. “These schools collaborate to provide the best learning environment possible for students in the school community. As chancellor of the Board of Regents, it is Chancellor Rosa’s duty to serve in the best interest of all schoolchildren.”

 That's a quote, of course. After that, the reporter goes back the Chalbeat beat--everything you ever wanted to know about the Moskowitz Academy. They rehash recent history, and fill us in on everything we read over the last two weeks. The writer says not one word about PS/ CS 55. For all we know from reading the article, it may as well be a lamppost. 

But I know for a fact that this is a very special school with a unique and activist principal. I met PS 55 principal Luis E. Torres at Fordham when we were on a panel together. I didn't agree with everything he said (what with his being a principal and all), but it was quite clear to everyone in the room that Torres was a passionate educator willing to go the extra mile for the students he served.

Torres has been principal since 2004, and seems to have turned his school around without resorting to the endless test prep that characterizes Moskowitz Academies. Torres runs a public school and you won't see kids there peeing their pants because they're fearful of abandoning test prep. You see, in public schools, they consider denying basic human needs to constitute corporal punishment. (Of course, Chancellor's Regulations don't apply in Moskowitz Academies. They're public schools only in the sense that they take public money.)

I'm pretty sure that Torres doesn't simply toss kids out when they don't pass tests. For one thing, he seems to have been underestimated when he was a kid. Some counselor told him he wasn't college material. I cannot imagine that Torres, after having made a career of proving the counselor wrong, would treat kids the way that counselor treated him. Also, what with his school being public and all, he can't make up "got to go" lists.

I'm not a professional reporter. I'm just a lowly schoolteacher. So ask yourself this--how come I know about Luis E. Torres and Chalkbeat doesn't? Isn't it their job to know whether the school has a health, wellness and learning center, for example? Shouldn't they know if he won awards? I'm absolutely sure that Torres has done a whole lot of things I don't know about. But here's the thing--I did five minutes of research and I know more than Chalkbeat does.

If you read the Chalkbeat piece, you'd probably mistake PS 55 for a 99 cent store, or a laundromat, or something. I mean, it isn't a charter school so why bother doing even the most cursory research on it? And really, what's the difference between Luis E. Torres and Iggy Wochuck? You never heard of Iggy Wochuck? Well, reformy Chalkbeat has never heard of Luis E. Torres.

By focusing on charters and ignoring what's great in public schools, Chalkbeat ignores the vast majority of what's going on in New York City education. The writer goes to Moskowitz for a quote, but doesn't bother speaking to Torres. It's all about Eva over at Chalkbeat World.

I don't speak for Chancellor Rosa, and I can't read her mind. But what about this--could it be that she wishes to see PS 55, it happens to be in the same building as the Moskowitz Academy, and she's therefore visiting that too? I really don't know, but it's just as possible as any other explanation.

If you relied on Chalkbeat for education information, that thought would never cross your mind.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Physical Education Gets Short Shrift in NY

The Daily News has a piece today on how many schools aren't meeting minimum PE  requirements. I'm a little surprised. Minimum PE requirements in NY State are pathetic. For most of my career, students had PE one period per day. A lot of them would be off one day to go to lab. That's no longer the case in my school and others.

A few years ago, the geniuses in Albany gave an alternate formula that required only 90 minutes a week for gym. So many schools went with giving a 3-2 program, giving gym every other day alternating with some other subject. In my school, these subjects have included health, art, music and enrichment in social studies. It's a troubling trend.

First, despite all the crap you hear and read about gym teachers, it's pretty clear that physical activity is something we need more of in the United States. Our diets are among the worst in the world, if not the worst in the world. Other countries are beginning to suffer from obesity just as we do, and that's only because our national treasures, McDonald's and KFC, are replicated everywhere.

It's remarkable that in the face of such issues NY State sees fit to diminish PE and health rather than expand it. But that's pretty much to be expected when the only thing of importance is test scores. That's underlined by our standards, the much despised Common Core. This has caused 20% of students to boycott tests for the last three years. Regrettably, the geniuses in Albany have chosen to respond to this by renaming the standards, leaving us the same old crap, and hoping that no one notices.

I guess if you're working in Albany, you have priorities. What they are I have no idea. If the physical well-being of school children isn't paramount, there must be something that inspires your decision. Lobbyists? Bags full of cash? Opium dreams? It really could be anything. Maybe PE is flawed in its current form. I don't know. It's been a long time since I was in a gym class. If there are flaws, slashing it in half is probably not the optimal improvement.

Let's turn from negative effects on students and look at this from a teacher point of view. All of us are facing multiple observations based on the Danielson rubric. It's ironic that you have supervisors lecturing you on how you need to differentiate when we are all judged in exactly the same way. It's a little stupid too, actually.  Consider that gym teachers are somehow supposed to ask penetrating questions while students are playing volleyball. I mean, it's an absurd expectation, and when you consider that there's a 40-minute period less time to dress and undress, when are the kids supposed to play?

Consider also that PE classes run as high as 50, assuming city class size rules are even followed. This means that gym teachers have 500 students a week. How are they even supposed to learn student names, let alone form relationships with them? To me, that's a really important part of teaching, more important than tests. I don't know about you, but I remember a lot of students. I don't recall what grades they got on standardized tests, or even my own.

What message do students take when they see you only on Tuesdays and Thursdays? How is that message reinforced when the teacher struggles to remember who you are? And when we add classes like music, art and health to the mix, what are we telling our students about those subjects?

Hey, it's nice that you can get a 4 on some standardized test. But when you drop dead at 54 of a massive coronary while chomping that double cheese Whopper, will that be any consolation? Do we serve kids well while ignoring their health?

The geniuses in Albany think so, and that should be good enough for anyone.