Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Chalkbeat, Arithmetic, and the Pattern

Chalkbeat departed from its wall to wall coverage of Eva Moskowitz and Educators4Excellence the other day to take a peek at those of us who work in what they call "district schools," and what you and I call "public schools." You see, it's important for Chalkbeat to employ the reformy lingo, and try to work it into the mainstream, just as it's important for Fox News to write up the nonsense that comes from the lunatic fringe and hope mainstream media thinks it's real.

I promised arithmetic, though, and my math teacher friends are sitting on the edge of their seats wondering how I will screw it up. I don't promise not to, but I'm pretty sure I can't rival Chalkbeat:

Unlike the first contract under Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2014, the pay increases included in the new contract are marginal. In that contract, starting teacher pay jumped by almost 20 percent — nearly $10,000 — because city teachers had gone without an updated contract for five years.

Now that's interesting. Not only that, but it's also partially correct. Well, except for the part that makes the last contract look like it paid more than this one. You see, it's true that we had gone without an updated contract for five years. What Chalkbeat couldn't be bothered checking out was that the new contract was for nine years. 

I'm going by memory here, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but what we got was first, the double four percent raises that NYPD and FDNY got. In addition to that, we tacked on 10% for seven years. Now here's where the promised arithmetic comes in---We got 4, plus 4, plus 10. That adds up to 18. If you divide that by 9, that means we got 2 percent a year. 

Except the other thing Chalkbeat couldn't be bothered with was the fact that much of this was deferred. For example, this week most of us got a pretty nice check we probably earned 8 years ago. Now if you take the three raises, 2, plus 2.5, plus 3, and divide that by 43 months, well, that's not as easy as 18 divided by two so I'm not gonna bother. But actually, it's about the same, and we don't have to wait ten years for it, which almost certainly makes it worth more.

I have read a lot about how it doesn't keep up with inflation, and I cannot argue that point. I will argue another, though, one that Chalkbeat couldn't be bothered with, and that is New York City has done pattern bargaining for around forever. In this century at least, the only way we've beaten the pattern was via givebacks. We beat the pattern in 2005, for example. 

All we had to do in 2005 to beat the pattern was work extra hours, enable the ATR, give up the right to grieve letters to the file, and I don't recall just what else off the top of my head. What I do recall is that the 2005 contract made me quite aware of union and turned me slowly into an activist. And it's quite clear to me that we cannot afford givebacks. You'd better believe that the same people screaming about how the new agreement sucks would be out with torches and pitchforks if there were givebacks, even for money.

There are gains in this contract, but you won't hear about them from its critics. Some of the same people who screamed for two observations now don't seem to care about them at all, and I have to tell you that is disappointing. It's particularly disappointing because I worked pretty hard to try and get this. To me it's a win. A lot of members I see face to face tell me they are happy about it. I don't know what to say to internet voices who demanded this for years and are unhappy now that we've got it. 

In any case, you won't be reading any of this in Chalkbeat. Here's what you will read, in another Chalkbeat piece full of the same errors as the last one:

City teachers will now be able to opt out of supporting the United Federation of Teachers, a dynamic that crept into UFT members’ reactions to the contract deal.

Hey, I'll bet the Walmart Family and Bill Gates, both of whom contribute to Chalkbeat, adore their allusions to union-busting. I'll bet they love watching Chalkbeat made transparently false comparisons of this contract to the last one, and I'll bet they love seeing the same writer trash our union using the same misinformation in two articles one after the other.

I wrote to Chalkbeat, and asked why they didn't write about fewer observations, or enhanced due process for paraprofessionals. I got a letter back saying that they didn't know about the paras. It hadn't been released until Friday, so they didn't know. But I released that info on Thursday, right here.


That's a tweet from Ben Chapman, education reporter for the New York Daily News. He's linking to this blog on Thursday, when I released highlights from the contract, after the city did pretty much the same. Evidently no one at Chalkbeat reads this blog. Evidently they don't follow the New York Daily News education reporter on Twitter. You know, if I were an education reporter, I would read teacher blogs and follow Ben Chapman on Twitter. In fact, I'm not an education reporter and I do both.

I guess I just don't have what it takes to make it in the big time reformy Chalkbeat news biz. My arithmetic is too good, and I don't like to brag, but I happen to be a high school graduate. My teachers told me that would pay off one day and look, they were right after all.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Blogger's Day Off...

...but feel free to read about why I support the new Collective Bargaining Agreement over at Diane Ravitch's place.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

On Observations and Sandwiches

Members of the UFT High School Executive Board have been very focused on observations. As chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, I get frequent complaints about them. In fact, I've made some myself. On blogs I've seen demands for two, the state minimum. I thought that was a very fair ask, and I worked both publicly and behind the scenes to try to make that happen.

We now have an agreement that achieves this goal for a great many teachers. I'm very happy about it, and I'm very proud to have played a role, directly or otherwise, in having made this happen. In fact, a few months ago, we brought a resolution to this effect at Executive Board. This was debated fiercely on both sides.

LeRoy Barr said he was not taking a side, but that this issue should be relegated to the Contract Committee. Others said this was a terrible idea because more observations tend to result in more favorable ratings. People spoke passionately on this issue. I was a little confused, because our resolution called for additional observations only for those who were not rated effective or higher.

Carol Burris, former principal of South Side High School, and current Executive Director of the Network for Public Education, told me she used to observe her teachers once a year. If they were doing well and no complaints came forward, she didn't feel she needed to revisit them. She would do additional observations only if teachers needed further support. That made sense to me. The current NY State Law mandates two, which doesn't make as much sense, but we had to go with that as a minimum.

Thoughtful supervisors I know will observe people and tell them look, this was a bad day, let's try this another time. Boy Wonder supervisors (and despite the name, they come in all genders) will walk in on a day when there are 20 minute classes and write you up because half the students are out cutting at the Pep Rally, where there's free food or whatever.

Boy Wonder supervisors don't do things like giving teachers second chances. Lots of them are lazy, wanting to get away with as little as possible. If I'm Boy Wonder, I may be observing you, but what I'm really thinking about is going to Arby's and using my coupons on the new Roast Beef, Cheddar, and Artichoke Heart Sandwich with Ecstasy Sauce. I can get two for six bucks. Each and every time I have to observe you means two fewer sandwich.

Every time I rate a teacher developing under the new system, that's two fewer sandwiches for me. If I rate a teacher ineffective, holy crap, that will cost me six sandwiches. Oh, and if I hire a new teacher instead of an ATR, that's four sandwiches a year, for each one, and for four years! So by using this new program, we give Boy Wonder an incentive to sit at Arby's, eat whatever that thing in the photo may be, and leave you alone.

On the other hand, there is a possibility, believe it or not, that you could have a supervisor who, you know, wants to do his or her job, and maybe help you. A supervisor like that could come in multiple times and show you things that may be worth knowing. I have had supervisors like that. The second supervisor I had was kind of like that. I was an English teacher, teaching music, with no experience. He would sit down and talk to me and say things like, "Fake it until you make it." He also gave me advice on specific things I could do to get closer to the latter.

The smart supervisors we have need to focus on helping those who need it. They can do the required two for everyone else. The crazy supervisors are another issue altogether. The only viable solution, as far as I can tell, is to put them all in a large room with the DOE lawyers and let them make each other miserable for all eternity.

That's kind of a win-win. DOE legal and Boy Wonders can yell and scream to their hearts' content for all eternity, and the rest of us can, you know, do our jobs.

Friday, October 12, 2018

UFT Delegate Assembly Votes to Send Contract to Rank and File for Ratification

4:29 UFT President Michael Mulgrew asks for a delay to allow more people to enter.

4:48  Mulgrew welcomes us. Official order of business—Mulgrew makes a motion for the agenda to be the UFT Contract—passes

Asks new delegates to stand up. Many do and are applauded.

Mulgrew thanks them for taking on this role and getting involved. Says that’s why we are strong. Workers under attack, people don’t believe we should have voice, process, or collective bargaining rights.

Mulgrew starts presentation about new contract. Says all registered delegates now have entire MOA in email. Thanks attorney Adam Ross for getting it done quickly.

Says union changed way it negotiated. Trained people. Many unions no longer do negotiations and use law firms. UFT trained many people. Did not use single lawyer from outside, not done since 1962. We have 400 member negotiating committee. Negotiated across summer. Members went face to face with DOE. Told truth to their lies.

Decisions made by committee drove all we did. Had to make tough decisions, e.g. class size. Years ago UFT gave up raise to lower class size limits. Committee voted against doing that and decided to give more emphasis to rights we had. DOE likes to mess around and doesn’t clear up Sept. until March or April.

We will debate here, but entire committee recognized that paraprofessionals needed things achieved. First they are lowest paid workers. % increase therefore didn’t mean much to them. Also they had very little due process. In last years of Bloomberg they used that as intimidation tool. Suspended without pay for yelling, would be without pay for years. More and more frequent. Thought new admin would stop but was accelerated by Bloomberg era lawyers.

Sorry font is so small but you may read MOA. Calls Tom Murphy, CL of retirees.

Murphy—We want to say while elected retiree delegates have right to vote on whatever comes before this body, we want in service folks to speak and vote, since it doesn’t directly affect us.

Mulgrew—Usually we would talk about how this DA works at first meeting, but we are deciding not to approve or not, but whether to send it to membership. Retirees inside of this body do have the right to debate and vote, though CL asks they do not.

Sent out surveys last year. Collected results. Used them as priorities. Goal was to empower people at the workplace. Bloomberg was like fighting in the streets, but this time we wanted day to day work to be better environment. Working conditions and collaboration were priorities.

We hate when reformers tell us what to do. Always wrong anyway. Maybe admin needs feedback.

Compensation. 2%, 2.5, 3 Based on DC37, wanted to elongate and add value.

There are longevity boosts. 1200 paras 500 all with salary lower than 100K, and others effective February. Lump sum remains in place, not part of negotiation.

Teacher starting salary goes from 56 to 61K. MA + 30 119-128

New rights at school level. Safety, curriculum, PD, supplies, workload, space—
Based on new process for paperwork complaints. At first it didn’t move, We boosted it up. Formed aggressive committee at central. Were largely resolved quickly. CL can now bring these issues and principal has five days to remedy. If they do not, it goes to superintendent, and district rep. None came to me because they all got dealt with.

Every school has to organize and have a committee to use this tool. We are extremely proud of this. Principals probably calling saying they hate this.

Safety—always top three issues. Went from zero tolerance to kid throws a chair, let’s talk about feelings. We agree with neither. Principals were told not to suspend. We decided to boost process. We needed change in contract. DOE doesn’t want CL to see OORS reports. Now they can.

Will be more deans, up to 3 for 1500 with no SBO. CL now gets all of safety plan. Will be new standards, based on state law, chancellor’s regs and our contract. Chancellor’s regs require real student removal process in every school. SAVE room is in NY State Law. Now will be covered.

Faster class size process. Now average for remedy is 4-8 months. That is absurd. People get class sizes remedied in March. Teachers say leave kid by then. We understand lower class sizes lead to better outcomes. Had to change system. Principal has ten days to fix, then goes to supe who has another ten days, then it goes to central committee until all are remedied or going into arbitration. We believe 90% will be remedied early, leaving us opportunity to use arbitration days. Now we have to choose and prioritize. We believe they force ridiculous cases on purpose so we can lose days. Will now be six class size grievances a day. We will save many days.

Before, arbitrator had to accept ridiculous city proposals, now arbitrator will tell DOE what they may do. This is major game changer.

In the end, our members may not want to get involved. Our harassment language in contract allowed us to go to arbitration, but arbitrator was bound that decision was just recommendation. Worked well for decades. No one thought that when arbitrator deemed harassment, that employer would do nothing. We presented so much evidence we embarrassed and shamed UFT. We have retaliation and harassment language that is much stronger. Now, whatever arbitrator rules, goes. Principal can get letter in file.

Paras—due process rights, Personnel file rights, parity with teacher grievance, no longer taken off payroll because principal says there is allegation against you. Now that can only happen for same reasons as teachers. Can only be held off for 60 days without arbitration. Days of abusing and intimidating paras are over.

Prose plus—City said with new chancellor, they loved Prose. Said there was myth they didn’t like it. Mulgrew said he’d heard it, and previous chancellor didn’t like it. Said they wanted to send statement they valued it. They came up with idea, but Mulgrew wanted something different. Prose schools more than two years can apply and take votes of confidence or no confidence—important when new principals come in. We never know what they’ll do. If they’re uncooperative they have option to leave.

City wants to try remote teaching pilot for AP for all. Many not good at this. DeVos invested. We will try as pilot. Class size lower than regular groups. Want to see what happens. Should be under control of teachers. If it works, we might enhance.

New teacher leader positions. Always like to expand where members can do work other than instruction. Would hope people who do this would be at top of list to run schools, having proven they can work and collaborate with others.

Evaluation—DOE let this go to last. Resolved 2:30 AM Wednesday morning. We tried to see who liked which part and go to them. DOE went from 6 to 4, said they wouldn’t move any more. Became contentious, we didn’t understand because there was only a minimum, no maximum. Last contract, priority was retro pay, this time was evaluation.

City and mayor and chancellor wanted Bronx plan. DOE did not. We said we can’t move on Bronx plan unless eval goes where we need it. Finally that worked. They wanted good scores on domain 3 to have two. We envisioned bad results, and that this would be all anyone worried about. HE and E 2X is 2.. Prob and D 4. I 5. Over 90% of membership now falls into 2. You said you wanted this. Thanks committee.

We also got a joint training at every worksite in beginning of year. DOE opposed. Odd because this is good management practice. We now have observation windows and cycles. Over 80% have been done in April and May. How does that help?

At end new Deputy Chancellor agreed eval is broken, done as compliance exercise, people need to feel safe, and feel good about observations. We appreciate she will try. Everyone is going to be retrained.

Bronx collaborative schools—majority in Bronx but not all. Mayor wanted to make statement that Bronx faced challenges. Mayor wanted to face this. Wanted to take on most challenging situation. Reformers never want to touch it, wanted to see if he could do something before leaving office. Gives him great credit for doing this.

Will be set of criteria, collaboratively designed. Not just for “struggling” schools. After schools are chosen, they will need CL and principal’s approval. Will not waste time on schools that are not collaborative. Decision making must be by consensus, not caveat. Differential only one tool, may be subject area or title. Can be used by all UFT members. May be need for math teachers, or to retain math teachers. Is a pilot, sunsets with this agreement. If we fail, you can imagine what Betsy DeVos and reformers will say. But they would never go near this.

MA plus 30 most used differential. More options for lower cost credits. Joint UFT/ DOE control on selecting and approving. Want education schools to teach things that mirror what we actually do. Piaget’s theories are not altogether useful. Let’s approve things that are practical, like CTLE. Make them A plus credits. DOE will give at least 3 CTLE during work day. These will not be A plus, though.

Pre-employment screening—DOE does not need UFT agreement for this. They said this would be like fingerprinting. New teachers are mandated already to do two days of prep in August. DOE can require them to do it outside of work day. DOE wanted four days of training. Agreed if they used mandated days during school year. Already lost 100 teachers this year. People don’t understand the stress.

Contract Feb 19-Sept. 2022.

Mulgrew wants motion to extend meeting.

Motion proposed—we accept MOA for general membership for vote.

Mulgrew—floor open for discussion.
Shelvy Abrams—chair paraprofessionals—says it’s no-brainer. Thanks 400 member committee and leaders who negotiated. For first time I sat across table with other functional leaders. If you agree paras should get due process, congratulate them. Took us 50 years to get here. Shouldn’t be any questions. If we vote it down it’s the end of the train. Vote it up. No other way

Mulgrew—Wants members to have facts in hands, not interpretation. That’s why MOA went out to entire membership.

CL—Against motion to vote, would rather do questions first.

Passes. Will be question period. One question each. Mulgrew extends from 10 to 15 with permission from body.

Q—reps members who get s and u. How many observations for us?

A—Two S—2  U-5

Q—Spoke about para due process. What about paras now suspended?

A—Continuing conversations about speeding this up. City also wants to speed up provisions. We are early, so it’s possible.

Q—Bronx plan sounds great, but if I go to school I don’t like where it doesn’t work can I go back?

A—You can still leave, but you have one year right of return.

Q—If you work with math example and ESL and math teachers work with them…

A—directly tied to license and title.

Q—What about space? Many classrooms not conducive to learning.

A—We know schools don’t have space, and others have it but leaders don’t know how to use. We have schools over 200%, but some with available space. Now they must use it. Supe and DR will enforce.

Q—What did we have to give up to get contract?

A—No givebacks in contract.

Q—Shared space—in school with multiple principals where they won’t give space back—

A—Shame we have to enforce getting children out of bad situations but we will.

Q—What is UFT doing for special ed teachers overworked with meetings, IEP?

A—Workload now covered under new process. Bring to principal or CL.

Q—Why not close gaps for physical therapists?

A—DOE and OLR said that title not something they wanted to give more, except for raises. We created longevity for that chapter. Just because we demand doesn’t mean they say yes. Said they’re over other agency PT and OT.
Q—Staff delighted by evaluation. Can they choose formal?

A—E and HE all informal. Maybe teacher can request. We assume serious principals would adhere, if not would be evidence principal not doing job.

Q—Who is labor management committee?

A—CL decides. DOE wanted principal to choose UFT members. Recommends process.

Q—Is there anything about freedom of teacher to use chosen methodology?

A—I would tie that to PD and curriculum. We don’t believe in scripted approach. Evidence says it doesn’t produce good results.

Motion to extend question period—fails

Mulgrew—motion to recommend to membership for vote. Open to discussion and debate.

Q—What does Bronx thing have to do with Renewal schools?


Janella Hinds—Asks for support to move forward. Contract negotiated by membership who sat across from DOE. Said what we want to see I evaluation system. We have better system because of work of union. Committee was willing to see change, but wanted protections. Hopes members will support this contract.

Erica Brown, para, supports contract. Wants to send to membership. Due process big opportunity. Asks for support.

Scott McMillan—CL—Opposes motion—meeting called suddenly. Not enough time to read 63 pages. Told these things are good, but does not fully understand. Needs time. Concerns about screenings. Not major progress on class size, erosion of rights for new teachers. Shouldn’t rush in and take word. When raise does not keep up with inflation it is not a raise. Skyrocketing housing in NYC. Bigger numbers will be worth less. Not ready.

Mulgrew—Health care has nothing to do with this agreement. We are only saying this should go to membership. They will have plenty of time to read. We rushed MOA out for that reason.

Adam Marcus—Wanted to vote against. Hard to go to membership without understanding pattern bargaining. NYSUT says looming teacher shortage. Why can’t we go beyond pattern for this. Health benefits not mentioned. Anything else we give up?

Mulgrew—Health care negotiated with all unions. Done six months ago. MLC thought something bad could happen with health care because of DC. We wanted to lock in a deal. No additional copays, but made a change for all unions. We tried to get plan in better place. Was proactive approach. Has been out for six months. Was smart thing to lock down our health care with no significant cost ships to union membership. Others pay 3200 out of pocket. We are only workers who can get plans with no premiums attached. If UFT members get cancer they can go to Memorial Sloan Kettering—this is with HIP, also Hospital of Special Surgery. Go read it before you tie it to this contract.

Pattern bargaining simple. State gets 2 per year for five years. If we go to arbitration, our money would be tied to DC37. Moving months got extra quarter. DC37 did what was best for them.

Steven Goldman—Thanks union and committee for moving forward quickly. Might not have enough info. Afraid good is enemy of best. Is there plan to renegotiate?

Mulgrew—If contract not ratified, city would negotiate with other unions first. Would still continue to insist on pattern. Union has tried to break pattern for 30 years, unsuccessfully. We would go some time before city would come back to table. Exec Board, negotiation committee would not be here if we didn’t believe in it.

Para delegate—Opposes going to membership until paras get same longevity raises.

Mulgrew—Other side must also agree. I believe every UFT member deserves 10% each year. We can go for it and we can wait 30 years. Contract well over 2 billion dollars. Committee voted to make paras a priority. If you don’t feel its fulfilled, you have a vote. Not clear we would get those things.

Aqeel Williams—calls question.

Question called.

Motion to send to membership passes overwhelmingly.

DA Wednesday canceled as we vote this night to be the October DA 6:40

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Proposed UFT Contract Highlights

Money—2% February 2019, 2.5% May 2020 and 3% May 2021.

Evaluation—Anyone rated HE gets two. Anyone rated E or higher for two years running gets two. Anyone rated I plus E gets 3 informal. Developing and probationers 3 plus one formal. Ineffective 4 plus one formal.  UFT has asked for joint training in evaluation rather than simply supervisors norming. Feedback will be given in 30 days rather than 45.

Paraprofessionals will get enhanced due process rights. They will be subject to teacher grievance timelines and will no longer be suspended without pay as a result of a single incident.

ATRs will be placed day one if there are openings in their license areas.

Safety, Curriculum, PD, Supplies, Workload issues will go to committees, districtwide and then citywide. This will mirror the current paperwork process, as I understand it. Hopefully grievances will be utilized less frequently.

Schools must have and adhere to student removal process.

Chapter leaders will have access to OORs.

Dean positions can be created for each 500 students, up to 1500, without need for SBO.

Class size  will not change. Action for oversized classes must be taken within 21 days. Chronically oversized schools will have only ten days. These will go to superintendent and chancellor and will hopefully result in fewer arbitrations.

DOE shall maintain an environment free of harassment and retaliation. I believe complaints of such will also go directly to superintendent and chancellor.

There will be additional teacher leadership roles aside from previously established ones.

There will be a Bronx Collaborative School Model, though it will not be restricted to the Bronx. No, I don’t know why they named it that. This will help schools via consensus building. Chapter leader must buy in or school will not be considered. This will apply to up to 120 schools. There will be a hard to staff differential for all UFT titles.

MA plus 30 will be more flexible. Various lower-cost credits will be permitted, including some CTLE credits. DOE will offer a minimum of 3 CTLE credits per year in school, and will promote and support further CTLE.

There will be an employment screening process in the summer. Those employed after September will get five months to complete the process.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Event Was Not an Occurrence

This is the state of the New York City Department of Education these days. I mean, you hope the new chancellor is not crazy. He fired the idiot who was in charge of transportation. He's shaken up things over at Tweed. We don't really know what will come of that yet. I mean, you hope he will take an ax to legal, the clown car that tells principals to do Any Damn Thing They Please, but time's a-wasting, and they're all sitting around in their air-conditioned offices saying, sure, that's fine, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement is just a list of suggestions.

Meanwhile you get down to the actual work of enforcing the contract, and man is it discouraging. I may have mentioned once or twice that I have ten outstanding grievances and that they've all been to step two. Of course we lost at step two. Just about everyone loses at step two. Then you get back something, rubber stamped with the chancellor's signature, saying something like it's true that you only have three months to place an occurrence in a letter to file, but this event was not an occurrence.

You know, it happened, but it didn't occur. The DOE hires hundreds of lawyers to think these things up. I have to suppose it must beat working, or they wouldn't do it. Nonetheless, how do you look yourself in the mirror when your life's mission entails lying day in and day out? I suppose for Donald Trump's lawyers, they at least make a high salary, assuming he pays them and they don't end up having to cop a plea. I don't think these lawyers are raking it in, though.

Still, writing "the event was not an occurrence" ought to win a prize of some sort. I'm trying to think of how I can use that kind of logic to fight disciplinary letters. Let's say I get called into the principal's office because I didn't show up to work yesterday. He'll say I have this job to do, I have to be there to do it, and you know the whole deal. Blah, blah blah.

I can tell him I was there in spirit, and that this was much better than being there in person. I can contend that a lot of teachers COULDN'T be there in spirit, and that they only showed up in person because they were too lazy to be there in spirit. And after all, our bodies are mere shells, and after all we are but spiritual beings. I can claim I was there in my astral form and who is he to say I wasn't?

Did you call someone a vile name? You could say you only did that as an example of bad behavior, so you could contrast it with today, when you DIDN'T call someone a vile name. You see how much better that is? You wouldn't have appreciated it without the contrast. You now know, by absence of the vile name, how much better it is when people don't call you that. And after all, you are a teacher, so it's your job to show people the infinite possibilities we have in this life.

Did you give a terrible lesson? Did it rate ones on every step of Danielson? Here's where you can use DOE logic. You can say the terrible lesson was not a horrible lesson, and therefore you were effective. After all, it was not horrible. What more do they want? What's good for the goose is good for the lawyer.

Honestly, on this astral plane, I have no idea how they dream this stuff up. I have no idea how any arbitrator who hasn't spent the entire morning smoking crack could entertain these ideas as anything remotely acceptable. If I were the chancellor, I would abide by the contract I took part in bargaining. I wouldn't fight tooth and nail over nonsense, because that would make me a petty little bureaucrat concerned only with winning petty little battles.

And while that may be something, it's certainly not leadership.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Baby Steps? UFT Finally Takes Stand Against High-Stakes Testing

I'm always hopeful that leadership will change with the times. I change with the times. It's very hard to be a teacher if you aren't willing to adjust. People tell me, hey, things were different twenty years ago, and they're always right. I'm more careful than I was twenty years ago. I've become chapter leader, and I'm hyper-aware of what can cause issues. I've probably written this before, but I distinctly recall a student who reminded me very much of my daughter. She asked me a question, I have no idea what, but I remember saying, "No, sweetie, it's not," while thinking, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to the rubber room."

The student took the word as I meant it. There was no complaint, we got along fine for the rest of the year, but I never called her "sweetie" again. It had just come out of my mouth that day. I found ways to be kind to her without using that word. It's kind of what we do, or at least what we hope to do. She was a great kid, and she's grown into a great adult with a great kid of her own.

Let's talk change a little more. For years, I've had this impression of 52 Broadway as some kind of impregnable fortress, where no matter what happened, new ideas never got in. But I'm seeing cracks in the no-new-idea force-field lately. Some of them I cannot share here, but here's one I can.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who a few years back was ready to defend Common Core with fisticuffs, has an op-ed in the NY Daily News opposing high-stakes testing. This is remarkable because I remember UFT officials defending the tests, saying that minority communities liked them. I also recall Unity handouts full of nonsensical criticism of those of us who supported opt-out activism.

Now, this all seems in the past, and Michael Mulgrew is alluding to Campbell's Law, which is usually done by people like Diane Ravitch (and yours truly).

In the 1970s, social scientist Donald T. Campbell predicted that “…when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process.”

Campbell thought that all this pressure would lead to massive corruption, and indeed we've seen that. Decades ago, I knew for a fact that a former supervisor would take all the ESL state tests and sit and erase and adjust them until they suited her needs.  More recently, such things have led to scandal. And closer to 2018, Eva Moskowitz sheds most of her "scholars" before graduation, ends up with a few dozen or so, and declares 100% success, even though public schools graduate a higher percentage than she does.

It’s ironic that lost in the debate over this issue was the fact that all these tests have been of little or no use to the people who need the results the most. Most teachers I know would welcome the state’s creation of timely diagnostic tests that would help them do their jobs — to identify each child’s strengths and weaknesses in time to help remedy them.

I would like that, actually. The tests they use to place the kids I serve are abysmal. What they've done is promote everyone to levels higher than they should have. As a result, I no longer have two classes of beginners in the largest high school in Queens. Instead they're promoted, Many students who would benefit from my beginner class are sitting in my advanced class, saddled with reading a novel and a whole lot of writing. I'm stuck preparing them for the English Regents exam, which none of them should be taking.

I'm very glad, though, to be part of a union that will support a parent's right to opt out of ridiculous tests.  Perhaps we can now stand in solidarity with the amazing grassroots activists on Long Island instead of sneaking around corners and hoping they don't see us. Maybe we can take our whole union in an activist direction and fight for sanity in this preposterous era of mandated corporate testing for Other People's Kids.

I'm not entirely in sync with Mulgrew. He concludes we deserve credit for increased reading scores in NYC. Hey, I'm glad to take credit for whatever if I get half a chance. But a good part of his column is devoted to inconsistencies in testing. As someone who stands in front of misplaced students every working day, I can tell you that the tests mean nothing, at best. More likely they mean less than nothing.

There's an expression, "He knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing." That's kind of how I see testing. The state can make up stakes and consequences for testing. They can change the pass rates to make Michael Bloomberg look like a genius if they're high, or make NYC teachers look like a bunch of losers if they're low. There's one conclusion both Mulgrew and I have in common--the tests are gamed by the state to look however they want them to.

As such, they're thoroughly unreliable. I'm not a testing expert, but I know exactly what goes on in my classroom. When I give a test, it's to see whether or not students are getting what it is I'm teaching. I'm not trying to prove the class is good or bad. And whatever the results, I can go over the test, with the kids, to try and make them understand a little better for next time. I can stress problem areas and gloss over things everyone understands. As Mulgrew said, kids never see the state tests, and never know what they got right or wrong. It seems they never learn from them, short of a likely as not arbitrary score.

I don't understand the obsession with quantifying everything. I don't understand why we can't leave judgment of progress, or lack thereof, to teachers. I do understand why Merryl Tisch passed a regulation that we can't grade the state tests of our own students. She thinks, because she and the other Regents are crooks who juke the stats, that each and every one of us is a crooked cheat too. But we're not.

It's our job to assess students. If we can't do this without the help of the big shots in Albany, I don't know why they even hired us. I'm particularly mystified, given the terrible job they've done up there, why they can't just dump their pointless and unreliable tests, get out of our way and let us do our jobs.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Dear UFT--It's Time to Update Phone Banks

I just love Andy Griffith. Not only does he have all that folksy humor, but he also featured bluegrass music on his show--including visionary guitarist Clarence White and the Dillards. Yet when I saw him on the phone, I always wondered how that thing even worked. When I'm at the UFT phone bank, I'm dealing with similar antiques, yet no one plays Clarence White.

But we aren't in Mayberry anymore. Now that rapey Judge Biff has been nominated by our unelected President, now that the Senate who most of the country did not choose have confirmed him, and now that the targets on the backs of the United Federation of Teachers have been amplified and enlarged, we need to turn our attention to the upcoming elections. While the US Senate may stay in the hands of the racist, xenophobic, misogynist GOP, we have a good shot at turning our local Senate blue, for real this time.

For a long time, the Senate has been red in our blue state. Once it appeared to go blue, our reptilian governor saw fit to enable the Independent Democratic Caucus, a bunch of traitors elected as Democrats, who caucused with Republicans. I don't see any way we stop Cuomo from getting another term, and voting for a Republican governor may be even worse. Cuomo is posing as progressive right now, and one way to force him to put his money where his mouth is will be to elect a Democratic Senate.

We will lose in the highly partisan US Supreme Court, every time, and our only hope, for a while, is local. My priorities in politics are pretty simple. I am a unionist, and I support working people. Having seen people die for lack of it, I support universal health care. I don't believe people should work for less than a living wage. And I believe that college ought to be affordable. We need something better than Governor Cuomo's highly limited Excelsior Scholarship, serving fewer than 4% of our students.

Our Assembly has passed a bill to enable universal health care in NY State for a few years running now. This bill dies in the Senate every year. If we have a blue majority, we may be able to change that. And if we move, maybe California will, and maybe other states will follow. This, in fact, is how universal health care was enabled in Canada, one province at a time. Most Americans favor universal health care, despite the propaganda put forth by the morally bankrupt GOP and Fox News.

So what's up with the headline? I don't know whether or not you've ever phone banked for the UFT, but I have. We sit with printed lists and push button desk phones. We dial each number, sometimes several times. I'm not clear why, in 2018, we're using 1970-style technology. I'm absolutely sure we could tie phone calls to computers, and I know in Queens, at least, there are rooms full of them.

Why don't we find a program where you could sit with a screen, push one button, and have the call go forward? Why are we using paper? I actually did a bunch of calls last summer to sign up new members. I was happy to do it, but I pity the poor soul who had to read my notes. I find it remarkable when I can read my own notes, which is just one reason I'm virtually married to my computer.

We need to have a blue Senate in NY State and UFT can be a pivotal factor in that. Why doesn't someone take a look at modernizing one of the most important tools we have in this crucial election year?

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Judge Biff, the Burden of Proof, and Seven-Eleven

Lots of animated discussion goes on in teacher lounges. About two weeks ago, a colleague was really getting passionate about how Judge Biff was innocent until proven guilty. No one else could get a word in. Could anyone say that Judge Biff was proven guilty?

The thing is, that's the standard for keeping you out of prison. If the government wants to take away your liberty for thirty years, there really ought to be a high standard for that. On the other hand, it sure seems like rich people have an even higher standard. The President of the United States appears to have committed all sorts of crimes, but he's the one who hand-picked Judge Biff.

Why? Well, after having gone after President Bill Clinton tooth and nail, and after having proposed some of the most explicit, graphic, sexual questions you could imagine,  Judge Biff has come around to the position that you ought not to go around indicting sitting presidents. Also, questioning Judge Biff about his record of sexual abuse is tantamount to ruining his life, so you have no right to question him at all.

If you're in court and they aren't trying to place you in prison, the standard is preponderance of evidence. When you watch Judge Judy, she's acting largely on intuition, but I suppose preponderance of evidence is the standard she's supposed to use. It won't ruin your life, for example, if you have to pay to repair the car that your car hit.

On the other hand, Judge Biff wasn't facing Judge Judy. He was facing a highly partisan bunch of US Senators. I actually thought they were gonna unload him and find someone who'd have equally despicable voting inclinations. You know, if the person weren't so rapey, he'd at least appear to be more legitimate. As for legitimacy, there's a great quote in this Times column:

It’s worth noting that, of the five justices picked by Republicans, including Judge Kavanaugh, four were nominated by presidents who first took office after losing the popular vote.

I think about that a lot. Sure, you can say the Electoral College is the law of the land, but slavery used to be the law of the land too. The Electoral College is blatantly undemocratic, and it's served to give over much of the country to the Koch Brothers and their ilk. It's worth noting that, while they have more money than We, the People, that the majority of us don't support their policies, Trump's policies, or Judge Biff's policies.

Here's the thing--there is innocent until proven guilty, there is preponderance of evidence, and then there is a job application, which is what this was. Imagine you're trying to get a gig selling Slurpees over at Seven-Eleven. If the store owner thinks you might have an issue with alcohol, she's unlikely to place you in charge of her beer cooler. "I like beer," is not going to place you in her good graces. Furthermore, asking her whether she likes beer, let alone whether she's ever had blackouts, is virtually certain to get your application tossed into the trash.

As for ruining Judge Biff's life, remaining on the US Circuit Court is not precisely being tossed into a trash heap. I think of the burden of proof against my colleagues. which is often non-existent. I think of how the DOE treats my colleagues when administration breaks rules. For example, the UFT Contract says that you may not get letters in file for things that occurred over three months ago. The hacks at the DOE, when you grieve these things, maintain, "the event is not an occurrence," and Chancellor Richard Carranza, who appears not to be insane, endorses these decisions at Step Two.

Judge Biff is no more entitled to be Supreme Court Justice than I am to be Chancellor. That doesn't matter, though, because the United States today is run by the uber-wealthy, for the uber-wealthy, and if you don't like it, you can get up and tell your story, as did Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and they'll ignore it utterly. To them, truth is a diversion, alternate facts are a given, and they're entitled to do what they want, when they want, how they want.

Don't forget to vote on November 6th.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

The ELLs, the Regents, and the Meaning of Life

Tonight I'm going to the UFT ELL Focus Group over at 52. I go pretty much monthly. Though I do that, I'm not always sure why. To me, the only priority for our students is fixing CR Part 154. For the last few years ESL teachers have become dinosaurs. Here we are, knowing how English works, but we aren't supposed to explain or teach it. That's because the geniuses in Albany have gotten together and decided that English is not actually a subject.

OK, they haven't quite gone that far, I mean, if you were born here and have been speaking English all your life, you can study English. You can read novels. Of course that's become frowned upon over the last few years, so maybe instead of novels you can read non-fiction. Who isn't enthralled by The History of Cement? Not me. Not you either? So why are we making our kids read that stuff?

It's hard to say. I'm not breathing the rarefied air in some building in Albany that could be easily mistaken for Hogwarts. If I were, I might understand better. As things stand, I hate reading stuff like that, and it's hard for me to understand why I ought to teach things like that. As it happens, a colleague who always calls while I'm walking my dog has a very good answer. Because it will be on the Regents exam and they don't graduate unless they pass the Regents exam.

I don't want my kids stuck in high school until they're octogenarians, so I will help them. But this system doesn't make sense to me. I love to read. I grew up reading comic books, and graduated to paperbacks my mom left lying around the house. I'm fond of fiction, and if it's some trashy detective or lawyer saga, so much the better. But I will read whatever I have to in a pinch. When I was sitting in El Piñal, Venezuela for a few weeks I read The Godfather in Spanish. It was there. And let me tell you, there isn't a whole lot there in El Piñal, Venezuela.

If I have to read The History of Cement, I'll be okay with it. That's because I learned how to read via things I loved and enjoyed. We're using a different approach with ELLs. We're dumping all this crap into their laps, whether or not they know enough English to appreciate it, and hoping for the best. Quite possibly, we're making them pass the English Regents exam. But at what cost?

Right now in my advanced class we're reading The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, a beautiful little book that uses simple language to make points that border on profound. I'm kind of interspersing book discussion with things I know will be useful on the exam. This week we spoke about characterization. What is she like, and what in the book shows she's like that? This is probably the most common and easy to identify element that the Regents have offered.

Why are we taking a piece of art and reducing it into maybe half a dozen literary elements? I read book reviews in the New York Times and I don't see one paragraph about characterization, another about tone, and another about irony or whatever. Somehow we have to reduce everything to a formula. Writing is like that too. First we write an introductory paragraph. Then three paragraphs, each explaining one reason. Then a conclusion. See? Now I know how to write.

I haven't taught kids how to pass the Regents in almost ten years, so I'm not sure how it's changed since then. I'll find out. My inclination was, and will be, to give them very formulaic suggestions. Last time I worked out a formula for each essay, usually four rather than five paragraphs, that did what the Regents wanted them to do. I kind of hate that, because that is not teaching how to write. It's teaching how to pass one single test--nothing more. I don't write like that, and I don't know anyone who does.

Meanwhile, I have these kids handing me short pieces of writing as homework, and here's what I notice. They don't know subject-verb agreement. They don't know past tense. They don't know to capitalize the first letter of a sentence. They don't understand how to join clauses. But you know what? These things have little value in the Regents exam. I can ignore these things and just show them how to pass The Test, because that's what matters.

Until, of course, they go to college. Then, their professors will examine their writing and ask, "Hey, who is the idiot who taught you English?" What can I say in my defense? "Yeah, sure I sent them unprepared, with a poor to nonexistent understanding of English structure and usage, but hey, they passed the test." I'm not feeling particularly proud right now.

The more I think about it, the more I think the NY State Regents are a bunch of hacks who sit in fancy offices, go to gala luncheons and haven't got the remotest notion what my kids need. Nor do they care one whit.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Sit Back or Fight Back?

"Thank you sir, may I have another?" is the go-to response for a lot of members have when they face abusive administrators. I can't tell you how many times people have complained bitterly to me about this or that, only to refuse to have their names associated with any remedy. Sometimes they think that I should be able to fix things without their cooperation. Sometimes I can, but often not.

I'm not sure where the instinct to roll up like a little ball and hope no one sees you comes from. I know there are animals that do that, and I suppose it must work for them. Animals have great instincts. Our instincts are dulled from a modern world full of flashy and glittery things, full of video games that seem more exciting than our lives. Some students see no need to develop any discipline for anything whatsoever. Why should they, when they can play Call of Duty for 12 hours at a stretch? Some of us are essentially the same.

So we go to work every morning, teach whatever damn thing we're told to, using whatever method dictated to us, and then we marvel when supervisors tell us, "Hey, that thing you're doing? It sucks." For my money, the appropriate response is, "Well, why the hell did you ask me to do it then?" I really would like an answer, but usually there isn't one. And even if there were, the supervisor could say that was then, this is now. Yesterday you needed to do this, but today you need to do that.

Sometimes, when people are under attack, they're afraid even to talk to me. What if someone sees me consulting with my union rep? They'll think I'm union, and then I'll be in even more trouble. No one wants more trouble. So these people will either ask for secret meetings, a tough request in a preposterously overcrowded building, or say nothing until the crap really hits the fan.

I'm not sure why people do that. To my mind, standing with the union says hey, you can attack me, but I will fight back. I will enlist the help of my brothers and sisters and everyone else I can possibly think of and make this as uncomfortable for you as I possibly can. To me, that's a better message than please don't hurt me.

Bullies smell fear. They pounce on it. They use it. If they were attacking you at 100% today, and think you're still afraid, they will attack you at 200% tomorrow. Who knows where that will take them in a week?

I've seen people take on admin and win. They did this by pulling together as one. We do this every day, because that's what we are. That's what union is. If your administrators are abusive and hates union, it's my job and yours to make them hate it even more. Make them wake up in the middle of the night and worry about how to deal with us.

Alternatively, you can wake up in the middle of the night and worry about how to deal with them. That's hurtful and counter-productive. You need to stand up to bullies. You need to hit them back. You need to stand with your union and have everyone hit them back. You never cower.

It's a cliche that the only thing we need to fear is fear itself, but like a lot of cliches, there's truth in it. An injury to one of us, though, is an injury to all. We will feel the injury, but we need not invite another. We can stand tall and fight back.

If bullies are coming at you, or me, or your friend, they won't stop because they see we're compliant. Count on follow-up after follow-up. As long as they're doing that, we may as well fight back with every means at our disposal, and we may as well unite with everyone who will stand with us. I don't know about you, but I cannot for the life of me see the point in going down without a fight. Anyone wanting to take me down will know every sort of fight I can imagine, and I have yet to begin imagining.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The Principal and the Hornet's Nest

 If you're a chapter leader, you have frequent dealings with the principal. A whole lot of it is not good. For example, when UFT members get in trouble, they are always right and he is always wrong. Even though that goes without saying, you have to not only say it, but also repeat that message fairly consistently. Then when things look really wrong, you have to file grievances and fight them for, oh, a small number of years.

Even as you fight the battles, knowing he is 100% wrong, you have to continue on with the day to day business of negotiating things like MOSL, additional classes, health and safety, and a hundred other things. So being perpetually at war is not always the best way to go, though it's one way.

Sometimes things happen that surprise you. (Despite the title, this involves a wasp nest, and not a hornet's nest. I thought it sounded better the other way.) I started to get complaints maybe a week ago. No one seemed sure of exactly where they were. Some people said it was outside a classroom, and others said it was outside a trailer. But no one gave me an exact location.

Last week a teacher got stung and was out checking with a doctor. Those stings are pretty nasty. And if a teacher can get stung a whole lot of kids can be stung too. I reported this to the principal.

The next morning he came in with a big old can of wasp spray. I was pretty surprised. I asked why he was doing it and why no one else was. He said it was easy. All you have to do is spray the nest and that's pretty much it. Another teacher, who seemed to know what he was talking about, said yeah that's all there is to it.

I was impressed. I'm not what you'd call handy. If there's some issue in my house, I always hope we can pay someone to fix it. When I try to fix things, I tend to take a very long time. Also, when I'm finished, the things I fix tend to be in worse condition than they were before I undertook the task of improving them. So the idea of approaching a wasp nest with nothing more than a spray can holds little appeal for me.

Of course, I haven't been to principal school, where I suppose you learn about these things. And look at it this way--if a whole lot of principals were out spraying wasp nests, there's be a lot fewer issues in schools. Maybe they should make that a thing in the Leadership Academy, or wherever it is they're training principals nowadays.

Last night I got a text with photos. The wasp nest was by trailer four and we finally had proof. The principal passed by our office this morning and reported the nest was no more. The wasps had passed to that eternal nest in the sky.

I gotta say I was impressed. I'm not sure exactly what custodians are supposed to do about wasp nests, or what DOE exterminators are supposed to do. I don't doubt there are many Very Important People at Tweed getting paid very high salaries to have Deep Thoughts on this topic. But due to executive action on the part of our particular executive, fewer UFT members and fewer kids are going to be stung by wasps.

So that's good news. (Don't expect that too often. )