Friday, March 27, 2015

DA Takeaway

I don’t suppose it was any kind of surprise that the MORE-sponsored anti-testing resolution died on the floor of the DA last Wednesday. I really admire their tenacity for placing this before the DA after the “I refuse” resolution was killed on technical grounds. I’m not sure whether or not it’s a good use of their time.

For one thing, once Leroy Barr, or pretty much anyone in leadership gets up and speaks against it, everyone in UFT Unity Caucus knows how their votes are supposed to go. After all, once you take an oath to support Unity Caucus in public, that’s pretty much what you have to do. This is a time-honored tradition, and it dates back to the days when Al Shanker bounced Unity members for opposing the Vietnam War. Everyone in Unity Caucus understands bloc voting, and within the DA, everyone outside of Unity Caucus understands there’s absolutely nothing that happens without leadership’s OK. I'd argue most teachers have not a clue or care what goes on, and that this is a fundamental flaw of our union.

Still, it’s good to see someone as intelligent and thoughtful as Lauren Cohen speaking truth to the Flock. At least this time they didn’t boo her en masse, as they did when she dared mention the loyalty oath. It was inspiring to hear common sense, pro-teacher rhetoric in between all the talk about how we could become administrators without becoming administrators, and about how we couldn’t possibly endorse something strongly endorsing a growing New York movement.

I’m becoming increasingly skeptical of Mulgrew’s folksy talk about how he was a carpenter, and about how he can’t use good language to talk about certain people. Where was all this good old blue collar hostility when Andrew Cuomo was running for governor? Didn’t the mighty UFT cede its authority to Revive NYSUT, which displayed its wrath against Cuomo by doing nothing whatsoever?

There were several other low points for me, though I honestly could not have anticipated them. After all, failing to substantively oppose nonsensical testing that will hurt public school children, parents and teachers is fundamentally problematic. In my opinion, it shows the very same lack of foresight leadership displayed when they failed to oppose Cuomo term two, and Bloomberg terms two and three.

Beyond that, as UFT Chapter Leader Mary Ahern pointed out in the comments. UFT failed to bring up its own watered-down testing resolution. It won’t get another chance to do even that until April, by which time who knows what nonsense the legislature will have enabled?

Finally, I was more or less startled by an exchange following leadership’s rather innocuous attempt to celebrate the union’s birthday. A delegate got up and started talking about racism, communism, and UFT history. I didn’t completely follow what he was talking about. Then Leroy Barr got up and started shouting about how he was delighted to oppose the delegate, and how dare the delegate denigrate the founders who fought for the right for him to speak there?

It was kind of amazing, and completely uncalled for. Here we are, under attack from Cuomo, under attack in the press, many of us working under less than optimal conditions, and if we dare speak our minds at the delegate assembly, we are attacked by our own leadership. Actually, it’s the job of leadership to represent us. I often get the impression they think it ought to be the other way around.

I was very pleased when Yelena Siwinski got up and said it was inappropriate and disrespectful to insult someone for introducing an amendment. It certainly is. But when you’ve got 800 acolytes who will vote a ham sandwich for President if you ask them to, that’s what you get.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

UFT Unity Kills Clear, Strong Anti-Testing Resolution

Mulgrew thanks DA for what we’ve accomplished. Says we’ve killed Cuomo’s rating in 2 months, while it took us two years to hit Bloomberg.

Video about teacher leader positions comes on. Plays “Feels so Good,” by Chuck Mangione in background. Narrator speaks very fast. Tough to focus on what he’s selling. Various teachers explain why they’ve taken these jobs. Chuck Mangione plays again as teachers explain how wonderful this program is. One teacher speaks of walls between classrooms falling down, and it’s hard for me to imagine it isn’t literal. Narrator blabbers again as Mangione music rises to crescendo and video mercifully ends.

Mulgrew speaks of a college he visited, which he won’t name, ridicules professors for saying Obama plans failed, that poverty affects education, that teachers should be involved, and says he told them we didn’t want their help and could do things ourselves. Apparently the solution is improving things involves keeping higher ed. teachers away from us.

Amy Arundell introduces chapter leaders and model and master teachers. Mulgrew tells them they are master and model teachers and should talk about what they do.  Master and model teachers oblige. Students of one master teacher, who appears to have a sense of humor, refer to themselves as “master students.”  Chapter leader says she shifted the negative mindset of teachers by calling model teachers “public learners” so as to avoid stigma.

Mulgrew says it’s important that we’re figuring things out with model and master teachers, says we can figure things out while people outside cannot.

Mulgrew praises city’s recognition of Muslim holidays. Says first day meeting will mostly be used to set up classroom.

Mulgrew says Eva taking Lobby Day for Eva day was a mistake. Says difference between her and us is we would never drag students on buses mid-winter to make political point. Says he got best reports ever from legislators this year, and that they know the fight is in Albany this year rather than in NYC. Says he lobbied with teachers from PROSE schools. Says we will move our school system and demanded that if legislators wouldn’t help they should get out of the way.

Mulgrew, who is on neither Facebook nor Twitter, speaks of the millions of hits UFT has received on Facebook recently. Mulgrew says we like to work in difficult situations. Says message we get from Albany is that we should avoid teaching needy kids, that we will fight it. Thanks those who went to Lobby Day. Says he said many bad words about Cuomo and doesn’t know how to use good words. Blames it on years of being a carpenter.

Says legislators all wonder why Cuomo won’t pay the 2.5 billion he owes us. Praises us for being on social media.

Says in first such 13% case, arbitrator ruled for chapter leader who got bad rating for doing her job. Crowd applauds.  Says nothing of 87% who don't get benefit of arbitrators. Mulgrew says that principal needs to go.

Mulgrew says kids can still be suspended. Says only real change is schools should first and foremost focus on culture that says school is managed well. Says Bloomberg overdid it and would place 4 lawyers in a room with a kid who cursed at someone.

Says networks will be gone June 30th, to applause. Says this is last big piece of reorganization, but chancellor has been reorganizing throughout.

Mulgrew praises Chuy Garcia in Chicago, who Rahm outspent 12 to 1. Says UFT raised money for fundraiser last Monday. Praises retirees who have helped in Chicago.

Mulgrew describes week of March 12th, shows video he says has gone viral, discussing things that happened one day in classrooms. Video describes human contact that cannot be measured by test scores. Says children will suffer from reformy nonsense, and that education is not a business.

Mulgrew says we are fighting Cuomo, that he hits us and we hit back. Says Cuomo is having a bad week and book is coming out about him. Says governor came out saying he wouldn’t compromise but it hasn’t worked out for him as he is fought across state. Approval rating on ed. gone from 60s to 23%. Calls Cuomo a liar.

Mulgrew speaks of Saturday rally. Says NYSUT will bus people from Buffalo. Says we did it on a Saturday in NYC on purpose, that it doesn’t matter whether or not budget is done because fight won’t end this year. Praises Heastie. Says GOP leader will not vote on budget that ties funding to APPR, that we must make our voices heard and be out in force on Saturday. Says governor is dug in on his positions, but that parents do not want increased use of tests.

Mulgrew wants Saturday to be celebration of all the work we’ve done with all of our partners. Says there will be bands playing, media coverage, but we will send message we will not allow our schools to be destroyed. Asks us all to come. Ends report.

Leroy Barr says 1,000 people came to para luncheon. Speaks of high school awards, 5K run. Says March 16th was UFT’s birthday. Ends report.

Mulgrew, discussing consultation committee decorum in response to a question, speaks of how collaboration is defined by action, not words. Piques my interest.

Mulgrew says there must be more flexibility in parent engagement. Says time is very valuable and we don’t want to waste it. Asks if anyone wants to go back to 37.5 minutes and crowd says no. Says teachers tell him PD is OK but they really like Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Question—what is matrix model for evaluation? Mulgrew says it’s a box graph. Says UFT opposed 100 point system. Says “we” introduced box graph now known as the matrix. Says it will solve anomalies in 100 point system. Issue is what goes into score in terms of student achievement. Mulgrew says we use a growth model, that we’re comfortable with it, but that state wants a value-added model. Criticizes system he helped pass and heralded as wonderful a few years ago, says we prefer box graph, which is much simpler. Says school districts where all teachers were rated with very good or very bad ratings are result of 100 point system.

Motion—for this months agenda—Lauren Cohen, wearing MORE shirt, springs from her seat and proposes resolution for this month opposing standardized testing, prominently labeled from MORE caucus of UFT.  Mulgrew says she can present, and it will take 2/3 motion to place on agenda.

Editorial comment—I love it.  This is a really strong resolution supporting opt-out and opposing high-stakes testing, Common Core based testing until it has been tested. Sparse applause.

Lauren reads resolution.

James Vasquez questions whether resolution is appropriate, as there is similar one on agenda. Mulgrew says it can be voted on.

Mulgrew says motion fails. I am not persuaded. Motion that people stand for and against resolution and UFT Unity kills it conclusively

Jonathan Halabi calls for support of fast food worker strike. Mulgrew says he can’t speak to it. Motion is placed on this month’s agenda.

Motion for next month’s agenda—that UFT endorse Progressive labor party’s Mayday march. Leroy Barr opposes. Says we support worker and immigrant rights, but suggests we cannot combine different issues.  Resolution voted down.

Fast food reso moved up. Halabi speaks of fast food worker campaign. Resolution carries.

Resolution to honor 55th anniversary of union, one week after anniversary. Member proposes amendments. Leroy Barr speaks against. Passionately speaks of founders who gave him benefits, right to speak out. We are keepers of the flame, and apparently pride entails criticizing the very voice he claims our founders enabled.

Yelena Siwinski raises point of order, states it is inappropriate and disrespectful to insult the speaker who offered an amendment. Mulgrew says it isn't a point of order.

Motion to celebrate anniversary passes.

Motion to extend 15 minutes so we can discuss testing. Motion fails. Mulgrew leads singing of happy birthday to UFT.

UFT Chapter Leader, Yours Truly

My message to Cuomo is shaped by what a colleague, who wishes to remain anonymous, casually said to me one day. "Is Cuomo the biggest deadbeat dad in the state?" It made a lot of sense to me. I wrote a piece about it and tried to place it beyond this blog, but a lot of potential publishers were offended by it. Personally, I'm offended this man, who blocks aid for our kids in favor of sending it to his contributors, musters the audacity to label himself a student lobbyist.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Soon Will It Be Before CCSS Branding Becomes Obsolete?



Do you use any of the new CCSS textbooks?  We had a sample copy in our workroom.  Due to factors of cost, most of our texts appear to be created ten-years ago.

The CCSS texts don't seem significantly different from the older texts.  History hasn't changed much.  Both books have questions for critical thinking at the end of each section.  It doesn't seem to me that there is any great difference in the level of the questions.  Perhaps, it's just me.


A CCSS question page.  Notice the branding next to the word "REVIEW"


A pre-Core question page
I don't have the official formula to measure the lexile level (and if I did, I wouldn't use it), but compare two pages with similar content, a discussion of cuneiform.  Although the books may differ slightly in the information provided to the reader, I do not recognize one as superior to the other.  Both texts even discuss Gilgamesh.

In my classroom, at some point, we look at cuneiform symbols.  We compare them to the symbols of other early writing systems.  We read a primary source on a child's day at school in Sumer and a  summarized version of Gilgamesh.  It may seem like I have always been Common-Core aligned.  No, it's just good teaching.  No branding necessary.  Keep your Pearson tests with cut scores set just so.

A CCSS-Aligned Page on Cunieform

A pre-Core book on Cuneiform

A pre-Core book on Sumer
Where the two books seem the most different is in their branding.  Notice so many of the pages of the new text contain the CCSS emblem, the educational equivalent of  FDA- or Gates-approved.



CCSS label appears next to the "HELP DESK" above.  Help!
My hope is the Core can be killed before the City has to purchase loads of these bogus texts, touting college and career readiness above and beyond the days of old.  It is so unpopular in my circles, the sooner CCSS becomes obsolete, the better.  Perhaps, in the case of the textbooks, given the influence of business upon education, it is just another case of planned obsolescence.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why NYSED Doesn't Trust Us to Grade Our Students' Tests

Looks like the geniuses at NYSED have done it again. Even after they field test the questions, they still don't work, so they get to erase them. These, of course, are the tests written by Pearson, which are much better than tests you or I could write. After all, the folks at Pearson have never met any of your students, don't know them from a hole in the wall, and are therefore the only people on earth who are qualified to judge them, or you, or whether your schools stay open.

One of the coolest things about the state tests is that they set the cut scores after they grade them. So if John King says 70% of our kids are gonna fail, well, that's just the way it is. If they say you need to answer 50 questions to pass, and too many kids do it, they can say they need 55. Or if not enough kids pass, they can say they need 45, and so on. Nice work if you can get it, and when you can toss out any questions that skew your results the wrong way, your success is fairly assured.

Here's the thing--that's exactly why head ed. Merryl Tisch decided we couldn't grade our students' Regents exams. Some teachers, horror of horrors, were finding kids who scored 64, and finding ways to bump the scores up to 65. What an awful thing to do, when the kid who scored 64 could simply spend another year studying whatever it was he or she missed by one point. Spending an entire year agonizing over one stinking point builds grit, or rigor, or whatever the hell it is that we're supposed to want for our kids.

Now NY State doesn't go scrimping around for one stinking point. NY State determines what results it wants, and manipulates the scores so they prove whatever. Want all the kids to pass so you look like geniuses? Want all the kids to fail so you can give more schools to Moskowitz? Want to have a sudden improvement? Want a crisis? You can get anything you want in Merryl Tisch's restaurant.

Now, since NYSED blatantly twists the scores to do whatever, they kind of assume we will too. I mean, have you known people who lie and cheat and say any damn thing to suit their purposes? In my experience, people like that tend to suspect the worst of others. They're very free with accusations, usually angry ones, that other people behave as they do. So don't take it personally if NYSED doesn't trust you.

They don't trust anyone, since they can't trust themselves. Because they are a bunch of lying manipulative weasels, they assume we are too. The only bad thing is how many people believe it.

We're gonna have to do something about that.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Out of the Mouths of Babes…Come Words Telling Us Things Have Got to Change

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by special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

Yesterday, as I sat in the waiting room of a hospital radiology center, waiting to get an MRI for an injured knee, I observed the following:

Joining me in the waiting room was a typical assortment of New Yorkers, including two elderly black women and the three year-old grandson of one of them, Justice (yes, that was his name).

Justice was curious and energetic, and soaked up most of the attention in the room, as three year-olds are prone to do.

At one point, a gentleman, tall, white and in late middle age, started engaging with the child. After conversing for a few minutes, the boy asked the man if he was a doctor. He answered, “No, I’m a policeman.” Justice, kneeling at the foot of the man, gazed big-eyed almost straight up at the face looming above him, paused for half a beat, and asked in toddler voice, “Are you going to kill me?”

The man did not react physically, but responded with surprise and hurt in his voice, and said, “No, policemen are here to help you.” He then reached down, shook the boy’s hand and walked out.

All the other adults in the room kept their eyes averted, acknowledging nothing…

PTA President Speaks in Support

In these times, teachers are accustomed to being punching bags for every tinhorn politician that wants a dollar from DFER. But all over the state parents are supporting the people whose job it is to support their children. Here, our PTA President has encouraging words for us. The only way we win a battle against a demagogue like Cuomo is by working together.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Class Size Matters in Queens

Sometimes Manhattanites venture forth into the outer boroughs, and Leonie Haimson was brave enough to travel to Francis Lewis High School for our Protect Our Schools event. Leonie tells us that enormous sucking sound we keep hearing is Governor Cuomo's vacuum cleaner. He just can't wait to suck every drop of support from our children and place it on a platter for his reformy pals. Leonie gives chapter and verse below.


Friday, March 20, 2015

No Magic School Bus for You

Since the advent of Common Core, well before Mike Mulgrew offered to punch us in the face for opposing it, I've been getting complaints about it. They don't just come from the teachers, but from the supervisors and pretty much any parent who catches my ear.

I've heard stories of people surreptitiously sneaking into classrooms to photograph textbooks, and people with very young children who had to read about genocide. Not precisely sure 7 is the optimal age to introduce such concepts, but there you go.

The other day I was in earshot of someone whose kid was bringing Magic School Bus books into school, but the school found them unacceptable. Why? Because they weren't non-fiction. Too bad for the kids who love those books, because loving books is no longer rigorous or gritty enough. If you want them to be full of grit, second graders should be reading The History of Cement, from ancient Babylonian times right up to Roosevelt Island. That's the only way they'll be college ready, and Arne Duncan says we need to look second graders right in the eye and tell them whether or not they're college ready.

Most parents who are not insane don't worry much about whether or not their second graders are college ready. Of course Arne Duncan doesn't represent them, but rather Bill Gates and whatever education programs he's able to produce from his abundant and fertile hind quarters. That's why we're racing to the top, common coring, judging teachers by junk science, and Danielsoning our blues away. And not to put too fine a point on it, but who among us has ever seen Arne speak while Bill Gates drank a glass of water?

We are teaching children to hate reading, doing precisely the opposite of what we should be. We are relying on standardized tests and training our kids to pass them rather than to think. Thinking children choose their own books. Discouraging that at a young age is borderline criminal. What is the message we give children when we tell them what they love is prohibited? What will happen to kids who are told to read things in which they have no interest? 

Is that how we reach the proverbial Top we're Racing to? Or will it produce a bumper crop of disenchanted, disinterested, unimaginative drones ready to populate Walmart as associates? I'm grateful my daughter graduated last year, avoiding quite a bit of this stuff. I'd certainly be opting her out if she were still in high school. 

Just for laughs, here's a list of the groups that have passed the I Refuse resolution, as opposed to the watered down nonsense from UFT that endorses "multiple measures," meaning junk science, to evaluate working teachers.

Amityville Teachers' Association
Associated Teachers of Huntington
Baldwin Teachers Association
Bay Shore Classroom Teachers Association
Bellmore-Merrick United Secondary Teachers
Bellport Teachers Association
Bethpage Congress of Teachers
Brentwood Teachers Association
Brockport Teachers Association
Camden Teachers Association
Carmel Teachers' Association
Center Moriches Teachers' Association
Central Islip Teachers Association
Clarkstown Teachers Association
Commack Teachers Association
Connetquot Teachers Association
Deer Park Teachers' Association
Farmingdale Federation of Teachers
Freeport Teachers Association
Fulton Teachers Association
Garden City Teachers' Association
Glen Cove Teachers' Association
Half Hollow Hills Teachers' Association
Hamburg Teachers Association
Hastings Teachers Association
Hewlett-Woodmere Faculty Association
Ichabod Crane Teachers Association
Islip Teachers Association
Kingston Teachers Federation
Lancaster Central Teachers Association
Lake Shore Central Teachers' Association
Lakeland Federation of Teachers
Lawrence Teachers' Association
Levittown Teachers Union
Lindenhurst Teachers Association
Little Flower Teachers Association
Locust Valley School Employees Association
Lynbrook Teachers Association
Merrick Faculty Association
Middle Country Teachers Association
Miller Place Teachers Association
MORE Caucus (NYC)
New Hartford Teachers Association
New Paltz United Teachers
New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees
New York Mills Teachers' Association
North Babylon Teachers' Organization
North Bellmore Teachers Association
North Rockland Teachers Association
North Shore Schools Federated Employees
North Syracuse Education Association
Oneonta Teachers' Association
Orchard Park Teachers Association
Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers
Plainedge Federation of Teachers
Plainview-Old Beth Page Congress of Teachers
Port Jefferson Teachers Association
Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association
Ramapo Teachers Association
Rocky Point Teachers Association
Rockville Centre Teachers' Association
Rome Teachers Association
Sherburne-Earlville Teachers' Association
Smithtown Teachers Association
Spencerport Teachers Association
Springville Faculty Association
Shoreham Wading River Teachers Association

I'm grateful for all the union leaders who stand up for public school teachers, parents and children. One day I, too, hope to have one.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ethics in the Classroom

I got in a long discussion with one of my classes about honesty. The topic ran to cheating, and a bunch of kids said it was rampant in their home country. They swore up and down they didn't do it here. It was odd to hear that America had sparked such a fundamental change. They were adamant about it, though I hadn't accused any of them of cheating. I spoke of how some students placed notes on water bottles, and one of my most serious students commented on how smart that was. I was pretty surprised to hear that from him.

They pretty much described cheating as a national pastime. They rationalized it by saying the tests were so hard they had no choice. They said they'd often have practice tests that were so hard they were ridiculous, and then sometimes the actual tests would be far less challenging. In any case they had that whole cheating thing to fall back on. A girl from another country swore that everyone was honest in her country, all the time, but a guy from the same country kept rolling his eyes at her.

Somehow the issue of consequences came up, and getting hit by teachers became the theme. A group of students said it was frequent where they came from, though it was prohibited. I asked how the teachers got away with it and the kids insisted the teachers always lied (a line I've heard once or twice before). My students had no love for such teachers, insisting they made them pointlessly copy things for hours. I was glad I didn't go to a school like that.

If I understood my students correctly, in their country, when you get hit by a teacher you don't tell your parents about it. That, evidently, puts you at risk for double punishment. A young teacher who came from the same country assured me that things like this never happened to her, and wanted to know which part of the country those kids came from. Are kids just making things up to get a rise out of me? If so, I hope they do it every day. This was probably the most interesting class I had all year.

The kids asked me what I thought about hitting students. I shook my head. A large point of being a teacher seems to be to demonstrate to kids you can think things through, that you can function in challenging situations. You'd hope, with experience, you'd have some kind of repertoire of ways to deal with issues, and could work your way through things. Anyone who hits someone has run out of ideas. I don't hit my kid, I wouldn't hit anyone else's kid, and the idea of any teacher hitting my kid is completely unacceptable. I'm grateful I've never had to deal with it.

The closest I came was when my daughter was in a summer camp, and I got a call saying she had uttered an obscenity at a counselor. Apparently the kids were misbehaving, and the genius counselor made all the kids run around in circles for a long time. Daughter had foot pain, had had it with running and told the counselor exactly what he could do with himself. I went to the camp and pointed out their liability had a kid collapsed, or worse. It never happened again. I told daughter she shouldn't talk like that, to stop and call me if anything like that happened again, but was secretly proud of her.

The counselor was young and stupid. I hope he has found a new line of work, Maybe he has grown up. Otherwise, the only career paths for him are fast food or governor somewhere on the eastern seaboard. For teachers,  the whole stupid thing can't work. If your only idea entails inflicting physical pain on those you're paid to serve, you can either spit on the burgers or go into politics. It seems to me that people who physically abuse children ought to be in prison, where they can more easily meet others who share their interests. Cuomo and Christie would fit right in.

I've been with these kids all year, and this was the most passionate I've seen them. Maybe I'm naive to entertain the notion that they're truthful about cheating abroad but not here. It doesn't really make sense that a habit like that would die. But most of these kids haven't given me any reason to mistrust them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Thank Goodness for the Hard-Working Unity Caucus

It's a great honor to pay 800 rubber stamps $749 each, plus whatever it costs for subs, to send them to Buffalo. It's important they confer with NYSUT, to build upon their past decisions. Their most recent, of course, was to oppose Cuomo after he was elected and in office. It turned out their big plan for the gubernatorial election, doing nothing whatsoever, did not prove to benefit us. Apparently Cuomo does not care for unions. There was a small clue, when he ran four years ago and said he would go after unions, but our leadership does not like to rush into decisions.

For example, when mayoral control proved to be an unmitigated disaster, leadership backed its renewal. Because you never know whether someone like Bloomberg might wake up and say, "Hey, I'm going to stop representing my BFFs and maybe appoint a chancellor who actually has experience in education." Of course that didn't happen, but that isn't leadership's fault. Nothing ever is.

And of course their brain trust took a pattern that was 4% a year, and cleverly managed to manipulate it until it was a far more attractive 2% a year. That is, of course, unless you are one of the many unions that actually got 4% a year. As a result of the UFT's brilliant negotiations, they will all get 10% over 7 years. Mulgrew got quite exercised when James Eterno told the DA that this was the lowest pattern in history, going so far as to turn off his microphone (another great moment in UFT democracy), but it's the lowest pattern in the thirty years I've been doing this, and I've yet to hear an actual retort from leadership. Fortunately for them, since they turn off microphones they don't have to bother answering questions.

Now those 800 loyalty-oath bound Unity Caucus members will have to go to Buffalo, and do the hard work of whatever the hell it is Leroy Barr says they have to do. They may have to go to meetings, or sit on the floor. This is a great ordeal, according to the comments on the ICE blog. Apparently it's backbreaking work doing the bidding of leadership. But without them, who would fail to support Zephyr Teachout? Who would sacrifice their time to fly to California on our dime and cheer Mulgrew as he threatened to punch our faces and push us in the dirt? And, for goodness sake, who would ridicule those who disrespected our good buddy Bill Gates when he served as AFT keynote, just before he publicly attacked our pensions?

These people do important work. If they weren't out supporting junk science evaluation, Common Core, mayoral control, scuttling the WFP nomination of Zephyr Teachout, failing to endorse her in the Democratic Primary, endorsing a mayoral hopeful who publicly announced that we couldn't afford to give UFT members the raise most city workers got in 2008-2010, who would do these things? Who would work to sell a contract that offered our most vulnerable members second-tier due process?

Thank goodness we have these people in position to take trips, stay in hotels, go to restaurants, and aspire to patronage gigs. Thank goodness we have these people to support positions that hurt public school children, parents and teachers.

Because I sure as hell will never do it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Andrew Cuomo—Deadbeat Dad in Chief

There’s an odd drama being played out in New York State this year. Andrew Cuomo, who awards himself the mantle of student lobbyist, has quite publicly refused to support our children. And we’re not talking chicken feed here. Under the CFE lawsuit, Andy Cuomo owes our kids 5.5 billion dollars. In fact, he owes the city alone 2.5 billion. Of course, there was a crisis, and he couldn’t pay for a while, but now that it’s over, where’s the money?

Not only won’t Cuomo pay what he owes, but he’s set preconditions for giving kids even a sliver. In fact, he wants to take power away from the communities he owes and award it to himself. I shudder to imagine what Judge Judy would say to someone who failed to pay child support for years and demanded not only primary custody, but also the right to dictate parenting techniques.

Instead of paying his debts, Andrew Cuomo demands more state testing to rate teachers. This is odd, because studies show that school grades, not standardized test grades, are a better predictor of student success. That doesn’t work for Cuomo, because he can’t control school grades. When the state sets cut scores, it can make it look like 90% of our kids are geniuses or 70% are failing. The governor can either say he’s doing a fabulous job and take credit, or that we’re in crisis and assign blame. Its a win-win as far as he’s concerned.

Cuomo also wants to take control of negotiating contracts away from local school boards and offer some kind of merit pay system, basing teacher pay on the very test scores he will be manipulating. Merit pay has been kicking around for a hundred years and has never worked anywhere. It’s even more absurd when we base it on test scores based on the druthers of Andrew M. Cuomo. Personally, I’d argue that any teacher holding back the good stuff waiting on merit pay merits immediate dismissal, with prejudice.

The governor further demands that communities relinquish almost all local decision making regarding teacher ratings. Under his proposal, 50% of a teacher’s rating will be based on classroom observation. But the people communities choose to run their schools will only get input on 15 out of those 50 points. Thus, Deadbeat Andy will have control over 85% of teacher ratings, while communities are left with largely irrelevant scraps.

Perhaps worst of all, Cuomo wants to place troubled schools into receivership, taking control over schools he determines to be failing. Would they be doing better if the governor paid them the millions he owes them? Could that money be used to address the special needs of these children? Governor Cuomo doesn’t care. He knows better.  Yet those of us who’ve watched NY state work its magic in Roosevelt have abundant reason for skepticism.

Cuomo attacks our Long Island schools, largely regarded as excellent, because it’s the epicenter of the opt-out movement, loudly questioning his beloved tests. But the fact is all schools could do better if Governor Cuomo lived up to his obligations. Suburban communities face the triple whammy of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, Cuomo’s punitive tax cap, and his stubborn unwillingness to fork over what he owes us.

It’s time for this deadbeat to pay up or shut up. If Governor Cuomo can’t be bothered following court orders to support our kids, he’s no student lobbyist. In this country, in 2015, deadbeat dads don’t get to make the rules. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Waiting for My U.F.T. to Catch Up


It's hard to be an optimist when the UFT seems an immovable object.  Indeed, leadership practices a self-professed, peculiar form of parliamentarian rule that seems to negate democracy.  It justifies 800 people voting as leadership dictates instead of heeding the rank and file, the ones whose dues pay their salaries.

Still, I think the U.F.T. is a moving object, albeit very slowly.  To some, it may change with all the speed of natural erosion, painfully slow.  Given its traditional focus on business unionism, it sometimes seems to take the side of business-oriented principles over that of its constituency.  I could mention UFT charters and ties with highly suspect persons or foundations as a starter.

I regularly follow the news at ctunet.com, the website of the Chicago Teachers Union, as well uft.org, the website of the United Federation of Teachers.  It seems my UFT is in a race.  They just always seem behind.  At times, the UFT seems to stop or stall.  At other times, it picks up the pace.  Sometimes, it changes course.  Yet, it is always behind.  And, I watch and wait and wonder when it will finally catch up on one issue, perhaps, while falling further behind on others.  

Both unions are busy staving off attacks from politicians funded by corporate-minded businessmen, showering millions into campaign donations as they promote the destruction of public education.  In Chicago, the arch enemy is Mayor Rahm Emanuel, now fighting to maintain his power in the face of a powerful challenge by Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.  The CTU is stoutly behind Garcia.  In NY, Governor Andrew Cuomo is now the arch enemy.  Backed by the 1%ers, he has made it his personal crusade to destroy the "public-school monopoly."  It seems that by failing to do enough to try to stop him, we enabled him and with a vengeance.




Both the CTU and UFT sites favor fairer funding for our public schools.  The UFT has a great link to a site which will inform you just how much money your school has lost through the Governor's reluctance to abide by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's school-funding lawsuit.  There's not much here that is not also a concern of the CTU.



Both sites share concerns over class sizes.  Here is a link to the CTU's discussion of the issue.  Here is a link to the UFT's tax proposal to help reduce class size.

At faculty conferences, we hear dire projections of more students due to crowd our already overcrowded floors next year.  When I consider that an arbitrator's solution to the problem this year was excusing teachers of over-sized classes (34+ at the high-school level) from a period of  professional duty, I am severely dismayed.  The remedy shows a tragic misunderstanding of the nature of the problem and it bodes badly for the future.  It seemed the UFT could fight a hell of a lot harder to relieve students and teachers of overcrowded learning environments.



Despite the similar predicaments which indeed affect public schools across the nation, there are key differences between the CTU and the UFT.  Since CORE gained control of the CTU, the union became far more active in issues of social justice and political action.  In addition, the CTU is far more active in attacking the crippling testing regime.  On March 6th, the CTU had two pieces on the opt-out movement.  Here is a sign from their site:

Right to Refuse


The UFT now has its own version of a testing resolution.  Whereas Sterling Roberson seemed to originally state teachers need testing as "tools to help drive instruction," the resolution states assessments must be a "servant to curriculum."  Mulgrew indicated at the D.A. his belief that parents desire regular testing.  (These are not the same parents who move in my circles.)

So, the UFT supports annual exams administered for diagnostic purposes only.  The resolution applauds standards--which, in my mind, implies support for the Common Core.  (The U.S. Chamber of Commerce must be loving them.)  The resolution further applauds multiple measures of evaluation.  It affirms parents' rights to opt out their children from exams.  It affirms that the power of Pearson must be curbed.

The CTU always seems several steps in advance of the UFT.  The Common Core will ultimately be doomed, perhaps, even as the UFT clings to it.  The national standards are intensely unpopular with those who are not paid endorsers.  The question of it constitutionality may be one of its lesser worries.

Last year, while the UFT (at the AFT) worried about bathwater--which the baby wasn't even able to get inthe CTU passed a resolution clearly in opposition to the Core:

"that enjoins the city’s educators to growing national opposition to the Common Core State Standards, saying the assessments disrupt student learning and consume tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration"

Both the CTU and the UFT recognize we are at war with those who would destroy public education.  The UFT in the past month has taken great strides in mobilizing its membership through twitter campaigns, public forums and petitions.  They have organized a week of action, culminating in teachers joining with the community in human chains about their buildings.

Chicago, given the leadership of Karen Lewis, has taken far more serious actions in mobilizing its membership.  The difference probably goes in part to the  different situations faced by the two cities and the fact that UFT-Unity practices business unionism.  CTU, under the leadership of CORE, is far more versatile.  Instead of telling us that our communities want more Common-Core tests, they join with the community to overturn the system.

I am guessing some day my UFT will catch up on the issue of the Core, but by then there will be new issues, and we may, once again, lag behind.  It is only when your views truly reflect the views of the People that you can truly catch up.  Then you have the right pulse.  Then, you stand side by side, arm in arm with "People Power."

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Name

Every time I get observed, some kid calls me a big fat liar. I'm not sure precisely what in my classroom culture leads my kids to do that, but it seems to happen every time a supervisor walks in, like clockwork. In fairness, the last time it happened, a few days back, another kid corrected the first one, saying, "MISTER big fat liar." The first kid repeated the accusation with the honorific attached. I'm not certain that will aid in my rating, but it was something.

My students don't know a lot of English, so they don't speak as often as I'd like. Still, they tend to sense what I will and will not put up with, so there is a little freedom there. One time I was being observed, and I was talking about some grammar or writing thing, I have no idea what, when a very vocal student stood up and demanded, "Why did you give me an 85 in participation?" I had just begun to put my grades online, and I said, "Wow. You actually LOOKED at it." She said, "Yes I did and I'm not happy at all." I was thrilled anyone had actually examined the grades I put up, and I raised her participation grade to 92. I figured taking interest in her grades rated as positive participation.

Last year I had not yet been kicked out of the trailer, and I spent many inclement days in the auditorium. On one such day, a young girl saw fit to point out to me that I was a big fat liar, and did so in full hearing of the principal. I asked, "Did you hear that girl call me a big fat liar?" He immediately sprang to my defense, asking, "Well, what is it you lied about?"

I like to think my classroom is a happy place. Of course, not everyone is happy all the time, not even me. But I always hope to make kids feel free to express themselves. Sometimes kids, after ten years of being told to sit down and shut up, take a long time to open up. Sometimes it's very hard to coax a smile out of a kid whose idea of school is a place where no one ever talks. And by the way, the no one ever talks thing is a particularly awful way to teach language. That's why I often get kids who have studied English for years but can barely squeak out a coherent utterance.

Most ESL teachers I know don't like to teach beginners. You have to really exert yourself to reach these kids. You don't get to sit around and debate profound ideas. But there's a rapid progress that you can see and sense, and a huge difference in these kids from one year to the next. It's almost like watching children grow up.

One kid who was in my class about 7 years ago has come back and is working as a math teacher in my building. I'm extremely proud of her. She's a big reason I keep fighting for sanity in a world full of Cuomos. I think it's important that I be nice to her because any day now she will probably be my boss.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Flanagan and Me

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By special guest blogger Mary Ahern, UFT Chapter Leader, PS 182Q
Like most NYC teachers who are even remotely aware of what goes on in Albany, I don’t have a lot of love for NY State Senator and Education Committee Chair, John Flanagan.  It goes back to 2011 when The Flanagan Bill sought to eliminate seniority protection only for those teachers lucky enough to work in New York City.
So, when I saw Senator Flanagan this past Saturday marching in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Kings Park, I decided it was time to have a conversation with him. I caught up with him at the end of the parade and stood by patiently until he finished his conversation with Congressman Lee Zeldin.  I acknowledged that this was probably not the appropriate venue but said I would really appreciate a few minutes of his time to discuss education issues.  Surprisingly he said, “Sure.”
I introduced myself as a NYC public school ESL teacher and we spoke for nearly 15 minutes.  Well, to be honest, I was doing most of the talking and he occasionally interjected with an objection or explanation.
I’m not a politician so I tend to be more honest than is probably necessary or welcomed by those who are.   I didn’t waste any time in telling him how disappointed I was to learn that while I was up in Albany last week meeting with legislators during UFT Lobby Day he was once again attending a Success Academy rally and showing his support for charter schools over public schools.  I told him his lack of support for public education was troubling.
He said “I support public education.  Where are you getting your information from that I don’t?”  I told him I’d seen photographs of him at the Success Academy rally and to me that indicated that he supported them and what they stood for.  I said that I was also disappointed that Kathy Hochul had attended the SA rally and perhaps even more angry that AFT President, Randi Weingarten had campaigned for her, but that wasn’t what I wanted to speak to him about.
Some of the things we did speak about included:
·       How the original concept of Charter Schools may have been good one (incubators of innovative ideas that could be exported to public schools), but which has now been corrupted by the involvement of hedge-fund millionaires
·       That Students First and the other organization like Families for Excellent Schools are not grassroots organizations but are backed by people who are looking to make money off of our kids.   I pointed out that Rupert Murdoch has said that public education is a $500 billion dollar industry just waiting to be tapped. 
·       His acceptance of campaign contributions from Students First.   He tried to justify this by saying he attends a lot of events and accepts money from different groups but it doesn’t mean he supports everything they stand for.  He started to tell me that even NYSUT had contributed to his campaign but I stopped him by rolling my eyes and saying, “Well, as I said, I don’t agree with everything my unions do.”
·       Charter schools don’t serve the same students as public schools. They don’t accept the same number of ELLs or special education students.  They make demands on parents to volunteer a certain number of hours to the school.  Many “counsel out” students who they believe will bring down their scores or who may have behavioral issues.  They siphon off funding that should be going to help improve public schools. 
·       Success Academy was able to raise over $7 million dollars from wealthy supporters  in just one night yet the Governor included in the budget a mandate that the City has to provide space or pay charter schools’ rent while many of our public school students have to sit in trailers or over-crowded schools.
·       I asked if as Education Chair he had ever visited a struggling NYC public school or any inner city public school.  He told me that following the Success Academy rally he met for an hour with my union President, Michael Mulgrew, and teachers from NYC PROSE schools and that Mulgrew had invited him to visit which he said he would do.
I pointed to the elementary school we were standing in front of and told him that I had gone to school there and I had excellent teachers and had received a wonderful, well-rounded education.  I went on to say, “but I truly believe if you took every one of those excellent teachers and put them in a struggling NYC school you wouldn’t see much of an improvement, if any.”  I tried to explain that it was NOT the teachers that were failing.  I told him that for over 20 years I have been teaching in various NYC public schools.  I’ve seen the blood, sweat, and tears that teachers have put in to help our most vulnerable students. As teachers we WANT nothing more than for our students to succeed in school and in life. We wouldn’t have gone into teaching if we didn’t care about kids, but there are so many obstacles to success, much more so than the schools in the wealthier suburban districts and we need support.
I also pointed out that success cannot be based on a test score.  NYSED had manipulated the scores so that only 30% of all students in New York State would pass.  I asked “If nearly 70% of students in New York State failed, how well would you expect students in New York City schools, which were already performing well below schools in the suburbs, to do?”  I said, “My school had an 18% passing rate on the ELA and yes, that sounds terrible until you take into account that over 30% of our students are English Language Learners in addition to other factors including poverty”   I asked, “Do you think you would be able to go to a country where you don’t speak the language and be able to pass a difficult language exam after ONLY ONE YEAR of study?   It used to be 3 years, which could be extended to 5 but now it’s ONLY ONE YEAR!”
He said, “Well, that’s the Feds.”
I said, “Yes, it’s the Feds who decided to reduce the exemption but NY State is now using these flawed test results to label our students, our schools, and our teachers as failures when they’re NOT.”
I told him that in the past I’ve worked at SURR schools, Chancellor District Schools, etc., and there are so many needs students in impoverished neighborhoods have which are not being met: counseling for students, counseling and/or parenting classes for parents, a whole host of supports that aren’t being provided. Yet the teachers are there doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances.
He then said, “Well, I don’t have nearly the amount of experience you have so I wouldn’t even try to tell you you’re not correct.”
He asked me to find out more about him because he repeated that he does support public education.  He said he’s working to eliminate the GEA and he attends many events, most which are not covered by the news.  He said the “Smithtown News” is probably going to attack him for attending the Success Academy rally but again it does not mean he supports everything they stand for and he doesn’t support everything in the Governor’s agenda either. 
I ended by saying, “I appreciate your time. Please support public education and properly fund our schools.”
He thanked me, shook my hand (said it was cold) and we said goodbye.
I’m glad I finally had an opportunity to speak with him directly.  There was so much more I probably should have said.  I completely forgot to bring up class-size reduction (which I believe is crucial to improving student outcomes) but I think I touched on a lot of other important issues.  
While I don’t predict that our conversation will cause Senator Flanagan to completely change direction, I do know that he heard what I had to say.  He seemed concerned that he’s being seen as anti-public education and anti-teacher.  Thanks to the efforts of teachers and parents from around the State, that’s not a place where most NY politicians want to be these days.  He seemed surprised that I called him on his acceptance of campaign contributions from Students First and linking him to hedge-fund millionaires.  Maybe, just maybe, he will think about some of these things as he goes forward. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

UFT Leadership Takes a Stand on Testing

I was pretty surprised, after having sat through the convoluted explanation of why parents love testing at the DA, that UFT leadership would muster the temerity to pass something resembling a resolution on testing. I went to a seminar on testing this week, and I can tell you the room was not feeling the love for it. There is, of course, AFT President Randi Weingarten's position that she does not oppose testing, but rather the high stakes opposed to it. That sounds good, until you realize they are more or less inseparable and that the position is therefore meaningless. That's precisely the sense I get from the UFT resolution.

In particular, there is this line:

RESOLVED, that the UFT affirms its support of standards and its support of multiple measures to assess student progress, evaluate teachers and gauge the success of schools; 

I mean, what does that say? First of all, as for standards, it says that Mike Mulgrew will still punch you in the face and push you in the dirt if you lay a stinking hand on his Common Core. We know those are the standards he supports, and despite his sarcastic talk about Bill Gates and flying saucers, we know in fact that hundreds of millions of Gates dollars are behind it. When is Mulgrew gonna wake up and realize Gates is not our friend? When is he gonna empathize with the children labeled as failing due to developmentally inappropriate nonsense? 

What are multiple measures? They are in fact, the use of VAM, student test scores to evaluate teachers. The American Statistical Association estimates teachers move test scores from 1 to 14%. Mulgrew openly admits he doesn't understand these formulas, and I wish he'd openly admit about more things he doesn't understand. I don't understand why he went to Albany and helped negotiate a law that made test scores part of our assessment. I don't understand why he never considered the absurdity of music teachers being judged by English tests, whether or not they happen to be students taught by said music teachers. 

And this resolution clearly affirms support for evaluating teachers on such measures. Though Randi Weingarten has openly said, "VAM is a sham," nowhere in this resolution is it repudiated. The original resolution sought to "eliminate high stakes testing." That's pretty clear. UFT says they shouldn't be used to much, we maybe ought to do some other stuff, that we ought not to increase the weight of standardized testing, and so forth. 

Parents are sharp. Parents know all about these tests. They know that the state sets the cut scores and makes them look any damn way they please. Parents remember when the test scores were inflated, when every New York child was above average, when the New York Times reported the tests were dumbed down a full year after Diane Ravitch noticed it. She was right then and she's right now. Kids are overtested, VAM is junk science, and it's ridiculous to condemn schools full of high needs kids as failing simply because they don't get great test scores. It's particularly ridiculous with the Common Core tests, expressly designed to make our public schools appear to be failing. 

Personally, I find the following particularly offensive:


WHEREAS, setting standards is also a natural and appropriate part of education, as without them, students who may be struggling – such as English language learners, students from high-poverty neighborhoods or students with special needs – can fall through the cracks;

These are precisely the students whose schools we've sat by and watched as they close. These are the kids with whom I work every day. The tests they take are inappropriate, have been so for years, and are only getting worse. From what I hear, the placement tests are beginning to resemble Common Core tests. ESL students have particular needs that are not being met. The best tests my kids take are the one I write. It's not because I'm a brilliant writer of tests, it's simply because I see these kids every day, and base the tests on what they really need to learn. I write on each test how much each answer is worth. I grade it by the set rules, and usually give it back the next day. We go over it in class, and kids can say where they need to improve and how to do it.

That's a whole lot different from some test for which you sit hours, never get back, never see what you got wrong, and never even know whether or not the questions are just practice for Pearson. What stand is UFT leadership instructing the loyalty oath signers to approve here?

I'm not really sure. They've been concurrently for and against so many things for so long I just can't tell anymore.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When Students Weaken the Race (to the Top)

Herbert Spencer, the acclaimed Social Darwinist, would approve.  Give students rigorous tests.  Create a wave of educational reform.  Sort out the weak from the strong--because as we all know, doing well on tests, is a key survival skill.  It is crucial in the survival of our Race (to the Top).

From a video at commoncoreworks.org

Some students will academically sink, perhaps, 70%.  Oops!  They are weak.  With parents and teachers providing life preservers, they live a lie.  They weaken the Race (to the Top).

Some will seamlessly swim on.  They are the gold medal winners.  Was it all worth it?  Why even ask?  Isn't money the meaning of life and aren't high test scores the best way to earn your big bucks?


Another image from the commoncoreworks.org video

Some who possess grit may struggle.  They may hold their heads above water and tread.  Ignore their cries.  They must pull themselves up (by their bootstraps).  Too bad it's inconvenient to wear your boots when you swim.

Let rigorous tests sort children from the earliest ages.  Let the joy of childhood be replaced by the need to compete with children in Shanghai.

Yet another image from last year's video at commoncoreworks.org

Prep children like there's no tomorrow--because, if they fail, there may be no tomorrow.  Just look at the image above.  Americans are clearly inferior.  They have one measly big buck.

Don't forget teachers are the swim instructors, so to speak.  If students cannot survive the tsunami of ed. "reform," their teachers and schools need to sink as well.  After all, teachers weaken the Race (to the Top)!  Let us remember survival of the fittest, first and foremost.  Let unnatural selection prevail, only then will we strengthen our Race (to the top).