Tuesday, September 02, 2014

It's Rating Time!

For several years now I've been writing about the junk science ratings to which we've been subject. I've gotten in shouting matches with people who thought it was a great thing that the principal's judgment would no longer dictate how we'd be rated. They gave examples of how the junk science could contradict the principal's opinion. I'm with another chapter leader who got a rating almost identical to mine.

And golly gee, the junk science didn't help us at all. In fact, both of our administrations declared us highly effective, but the junk science said we were merely effective, and that brought both of our ratings down. Imagine that. My colleague just said, "It's the only test I can get an A on and then not get an A."

Of course, this could work differently for other teachers. If admin had deemed me developing or ineffective, it would have brought up my score.

Here's another thing to consider. All of our schools choose different MOSL models, and even within schools different departments utilize different models. If any of this were remotely scientific, how could we apply completely different standards to not only teachers of different departments, but also teachers of different schools? Had we chosen different methods, would we have different ratings? If so, on which astral plane does that have any validity?

My top secret rating is below. How did you do? How do you feel about it?

I think it's utter nonsense.

The overall APPR rating is based on the sum of three subcomponent scores: Measures of Teacher Practice (60%), State Measures (20%), and Local Measures (20%). Ratings are determined using the scoring chart below.
Measures of Teacher

State Measures
Local Measures
0-60 points:

0-20 points:

0-20 points:
Highly Effective
HEDI Rating

HEDI Rating

HEDI Rating
Overall Rating
0-100 Points:
HEDI Rating

Safety Net Result: N/A

No Comparison

When I was very young, my mom decided to cook a tongue. I'm not sure what possessed her. I saw it, and said, "That looks like a tongue."

My mom said, "It is a tongue. It's a cow's tongue."

I said, "Well, I'm not gonna eat that." And I didn't.

The next day, my mom gave me a sandwich. "Is that good?" she asked. "Yeah, it is," I told her. "It's the tongue," she informed me, and I spit it out onto the plate. Afterward, we had a long discussion about it being the principle of the thing, and how I was on a strict no-tongue diet. Somehow we never saw eye to eye on this particular topic.

Last week, I was in Port Stanley, Ontario with my daughter. We were in a diner, and she ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. My wife had one too, and she gave me half. It was really very good. It was cheddar and Swiss cheese, and better than any grilled cheese sandwich I'd ever had before. I was fascinated because my daughter would never, ever order anything but American cheese. You know, it comes in that cellophane, and it has enough chemicals in it so it'll still be around when only cockroaches and Rudy Giuliani roam the post-apocolyptic world.

I can imagine Rudy and the cockroach army living forever on a diet of American cheese and Twinkies.

Anyway, only after my daughter ate the whole sandwich, commenting on how good it was, did I reveal the awful secret. I had learned from my mom's mistake. She was horrified, and had the audacity to compare this incident with that of the tongue. While I understand the parallels, it seemed a lot different to me.

I mean, the notion of eating tongue is far more gross than that of eating Swiss cheese, isn't it?

I need some unbiased opinions.

And welcome back to work everyone. I wish you a happy, healthy, and rewarding year. Ignore the grinches. They come and go, but we will prevail.

We're the ones the kids need.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Happy Labor Day, Back at You, Randi!

Randi Weingarten (with help from Lorretta Johnson and Mary Cathryn Ricker) sent along Labor Day thoughts and wishes to me and probably many thousands of others.  I read the e-mail just as I read Mulgrew's, to see how much I can agree with before the red flags are thrown up--or how much I can stomach before I throw up.  In this case, I made it a ways.

Then, I got to the part that said, "Together, by being member-mobilized, community-engaged, solution-driven and, yes, a little bad ass, we can reclaim the promise of America.  We can create a nation fueled by democracy, justice and opportunity for all, instead of for the very few."

These sentiments are all very nice, but as AFT president, Randi knows her UFT answers to her.  She knows it controls NYSUT and the AFT, among other things.  And, as she very well knows, as long as the UFT keeps the doors of lucrative union offices and advancement closed to any who refuse to take a solid (loyalty) oath to carry out leadership's marching orders with ne'er a second thought to conscience or constituency, there can be no democracy.

When we spend $2 million of our union dues to pay 800 delegates to parade around at the AFT Convention in Los Angeles under the charade of democracy to vote exactly as they're told by Randi's voice coming through Mulgrew's "megaphone," union democracy is a sham.  When Common Core is pushed forward under threats of punching and pushing in the dirt with an obviously thrilled Randi beaming from the podium, we are not listening to the voices of teachers, parents, students or reason.  

When 800 people all cast the same vote eight-hundred times because they're told to do so, the inanity of it all is beyond belief, more so, when you realize that these are teachers supposedly helping people develop their cognitive capacities.  The arguments used to support the Core at the AFT Convention were absurd.  Leroy Barr:  We all have to be on exactly the same page at the same time from New York to California so his son can seamlessly make a switch, if necessary.  UFT President Mulgrew:  Take our standards away and I'll crush and trample you.  NYSUT president Magee:  If we don't use their standards, we'll have no standards at all.

The e-mail states "we must fight forward to move forward, and that means never being afraid to both engage in conflict and find common ground...."  I would have to say the same holds true for the relationship of NYC teachers to their Union.  We hold so many interests in common, but a compromise with the deep pockets of the Common Core and a refusal to truly listen to the voices of our communities is not in our best interests.  And, it makes all the promise of her lofty words truly ring hollow this Labor Day.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Another Prospective Teacher Bites the Dust

Yesterday I was in a truck stop outside Albany, buying important supplies like the Oreo cookies my daughter demanded to make the last leg of our trip home. The young woman behind the counter started talking about how long the hours were at that particular job. I told her a good solution was to find a job she loved, and then she wouldn't think about the hours that way.

She revealed the not-very-well hidden secret that she didn't love her current job and went on to tell me she wanted to be a corrections officer. I was pretty surprised. I guess there are people who want that job but its allure eludes me utterly. She spoke of how you didn't know what would happen from one day to the next. Though I couldn't argue with that, that was a pretty strong reason I'd never want that job. I guess we should be grateful there are people who want jobs we don't, or there'd be a whole lot more of us doing jobs we didn't like.

I told her I was a teacher, and she said that involved doing the same thing every day. I told her she was wrong, and that you never know what kids are gonna do from one day to the next. I told her that was one of the things I really loved about this job. I didn't get to mention that kids do troublesome and difficult things all the time as well. Personally, I have a lot more patience for behavior like this from kids than I do for adults. Kids are supposed to test us. They're supposed to do all sorts of crazy nonsense and we're supposed to guide them to use their energies to find happiness, even if it doesn't earn us credit on VAM scorers.

Her next argument came pretty quickly. She told me she had a son in second grade, and that he struggled with math. She said there were complicated formulas he had to use to draw conclusions, and that he didn't have a textbook, that she didn't understand how it was supposed to be done, that she knew no one who did, and that she didn't think his teacher understood either. Doubtless Campbell Brown would blame the teacher and demand we kill tenure as the only way to resolve this situation.

But these are the sort of things that happen when John King sits around making reformy mandates and not caring how they affect people. After all, his kids, like those of Bill Gates and Andy Cuomo, go to private schools, so what the hell's the difference how Common Core affects her kid, or mine or yours? When millions of kids suffer through age-inappropriate, incomprehensible nonsense, they can attribute it to rollout, or whatever, and continue on their merry reformy path.

But the young woman made a pretty strong case about how she would not wish to do to kids what her school was doing. It's pretty sad that this is the impression with which Common Core leaves people. And yes I know that there are books available, and it's entirely possible this case could be a particularly bad one, but parents of young children tell me variations of this story on a pretty regular basis. As CL of a large school I hear a lot of complaints, and over the last year or two I've been surprised just how many of them were about CCSS---not about what we were doing in our school, but rather what was being done to their kids elsewhere.

If I'd thought that I'd have to teach things that wouldn't help kids I'd never have taken these jobs. One way or another, Cuomo and King have to go. There's not a whole lot of love for Governor Andy and his 30-million dollar war chest. Even if he wins, there will come a time when popular outrage might force him, however reluctantly, to do the right thing. Being reviled in his home state will not be the best calling card for his Quixotic presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, if you're a registered Democrat, don't forget to vote for Teachout and Wu this September 9th. Happy Labor Day to all, and I'll see you in the classroom. Or trailer, such as it is.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What Do the Reform Folk Do?

What Do the Reform Folk Do? 
By Learner and Loewe (Scorer)
Based on the Tune from Camelot

What do the reform folk do
To help them escape when they're blue?
The Duncan who is ailing, the Bill Gates who is glum
The Coleman who is wailing from branding kids dumb

When they're beset and harassed
The folk not of the common class
However do they manage to shed their weary lot?
Oh, what do reform folk do, we do not?

I have been informed by those who know them well
They find relief in quite a clever way
When they're sorely pressed, they craft tests for a spell
And testing seems to brighten up their day

And that's what reform folk do, so they say
They craft tests?
So they say

What else do the reform folk do
To pluck up the heart and get through?
The wee folk and the grown folk
Who wander to and fro
Have ways known to their own folk
We small folk don't know
When all the doldrums begin
What keeps each of them in his skin?

What modern native custom
Provides the needed glow?
Oh, what do reform folk do?, Do you know?

Once, upon the road, I came upon John King
VAMing in a voice three times his size
When I asked him why, he told me not a thing
But VAMing always made his spirits rise

So that's what reform folk do, I surmise
They VAM?
I surmise

What else do the reform folk do?
They must have a system or two
They obviously outshine us at turning tears to mirth
Have tricks an average joe is minus from birth

What, then, I wonder, do they
To chase all the goblins away?
They have some elite sorcery you haven't mentioned yet
Oh, what do reform folk do to forget?

Often, I am told, they raise funds for charter schools
And collect while they're completely free of rules
Soon they stuff their bank and all bring their candy
To an enthused Governor called Andy
And that's what reform folk do, so I'm told

What else do the reform folk do
To help them escape when they're blue?
They sit around and wonder what simple folk do
And that's what reform folk do

Oh, no, really
I have it on the best authority
Yes, that's what reform folk do

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ineffective City Teachers?

Capital NY has a piece about the relatively large percentage of city teachers rated ineffective. On first glance, one might conclude that teachers in upstate cities aren't as good as teachers elsewhere in the state. Doubtless talking heads and op-ed columnists around the state will gleefully come to that conclusion, and much of the nation has been led to believe there's a zombie-like plague of bad teachers that must be eradicated at any cost.

And yet there's an important factor these folks will fail to consider--New York's junk science law allowed locals to negotiate agreements in how teachers were rated, and every single local has a different system with different criteria. I'm not an expert, but people in the know have told me the upstate city systems are among the very worst. I've no doubt that teachers rated "ineffective" will agree with that. More likely than inferior teaching quality is their union leaders are ineffective negotiators. There's certainly a lot of that going around.

While I have reason to believe the NYC system will not result in as many ineffective ratings, I know our system is cumbersome, unwieldy, and largely incomprehensible. We have complicated formulas with 15% of this and 40% of that, and there's simply no way such estimations can accurately rate what it is we actually do. Anyone who really believes it does knows nothing about our jobs.

Almost the entire rationale for this system was that teachers must be judged by test scores. The fact that teachers account for somewhere between 1 and 14% of test score variation is neither here nor there. That's why Diane Ravitch routinely refers to "value-added" ratings as junk science. So what we have here, basically, is a comparison of rotten apples and rotten oranges.

Of course, the fact that this story has no validity or relevance to what's really happening will not stop it from being widely discussed and more widely misunderstood. Corporate reformers will cry that 1% isn't enough and that more teachers must stink than the junk science indicates. They'll call for even worse systems. Our union leaders, the once who punch you in the face if you don't like Common Core, will stick their fingers up in the air to decide whether or not to further appease Bill Gates. Since they are highly principled, they will surely not be influenced by the millions of dollars they've already taken from him.

When nonsense like this is released, I suppose reporters have to write about it. But I don't really expect editorial writers and talking heads to think about it or discuss it in more than a very superficial fashion. Ironically, many of these same people will tell us we need Common Core because people aren't thinking deeply enough.

Given that, you have to give Mike Mulgrew some credit. When he says he'll punch you in the face if you touch his Common Core at least he doesn't make any pretense of having thought about anything at all.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Role Model Among Role Models

Ask yourself this--what do you do when your own kids fail classes? Do you talk to them? Get them extra help? Take away some electronic device? Well, if you happen to be assistant principal of the school they attend, you have other options. You can simply change their grades. After all, you have the super-duper master password to the school computer. Who's gonna question you? Some teacher who you can fire after two ineffective ratings?

The only real flaw about this line of thinking is you can get caught, which is never good. But it's not that bad either. You get fined 7,000 bucks and get reassigned. Of course this is inconvenient, because you can't change your kids' grades anymore. You're out seven grand and looking at paying tutors. You can't bully the teachers in your school to tutor them and you've obviously failed at bullying them into passing the kids for no reason already.

But at least you aren't a teacher. Can you imagine the stink Campbell Brown would raise if you'd been a teacher and done that? It would surely be all over the tabloids instead of just Chalkbeat NY. Hopefully your neighbors don't read that anyway.

If you were a teacher you'd surely be facing 3020a dismissal charges for this. Thank goodness the Tweedies haven't changed since Bloomberg and are still slapping administrators on the wrist. When they see a school in trouble, they pick someone like you to run it. That's how much they care about schools in trouble. Undoubtedly that's why they were able to close so many schools in the first place.

But it's not your fault. Where the hell are you supposed to find time to look after your own kids when there are so many others running around? I mean, it's not like your kids are running around starting fires, stealing lunch money, and beating up other children, as far as you know. As far as you know, the only problem your kids have is that they're failing a few classes. And you took care of that, didn't you?

You are an instructional leader, setting a tone for your underlings. In this day and time, the important thing is grades. If grades are no good, they come and close your school. Haven't you set an example for assistant principals, teachers and students by dealing with poor grades? Why on earth can't those under you simply follow your example? You saw an issue and found a solution. If only they'd watch and emulate what you did, there would be no target on the school.

But no. Some rat bastard turned you in. Now your school has a one-way ticket to Palookaville and you're out seven thousand bucks that could've been the down payment on that red BMW X3. The reason that school is failing is because it's full of wimps who just aren't willing to do what it takes to turn it around.

But you are not gonna be discouraged by this. As soon as the DOE sends you to another school, you'll move your kids into it, set a no-nonsense tone for the rest of the staff, get rid of the first troublemaker teacher who opens a fat mouth to you, and get the job done.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Revive NYSUT Supporters School Me

Yesterday on Twitter, I was barraged with various defenses of Revive NYSUT's double-pension grab. I'm going to recount a few here.

1. You aren't telling the whole story.

I paint what I see. If there's another side of the story, you're free to tell it. And if you do a good enough job of it, you might persuade me. Thus far, I've seen little or nothing that does that.

2. Former President Iannuzzi had two pensions.

That's true. But Iannuzzi worked 34 years as a teacher and earned his first pension. Whatever he gets from NYSUT he earned after the fact. He did not earn the pensions concurrently.

3. You're siding with the Koch Brothers when you criticize the union.

That's what you call a strawman fallacy, combined with a guilt by association fallacy. I've never sided with the Koch Brothers. It's easier, though, to say that I did than to face my arguments outright. I'm just a little rankled by outright hypocrisy. I traveled all over the state listening to the Revive team complain about perks taken by leadership, and yet when it came to feathering their own nests, they didn't hesitate for a moment.

They specifically stated they opposed Common Core, yet Magee just suggested to AFT the alternative was chaos. In their campaign literature they compared Cuomo to Scott Walker, yet they failed to endorse pro-teacher Zephyr Teachout against him. They did this not once, but twice, and it was particularly egregious that they failed to support her on the Working Families line. Why on earth isn't Working Families supporting a pro-working families candidate, and if they aren't, why do we even need them?

Did any of these positions help them get their sweetheart bill passed? Is it a coincidence it happened concurrently with an evaluation deal? I can't prove it one way or the other. But they can't either, circumstance is not in their favor, and their actions certainly do little to enhance their credibility.

4. They aren't perks because a lot of people have them.

That's ridiculous. UFT just sent 800 people to Los Angeles at a cost of 2 million dollars. It's not like we didn't know how each and every one of them was going to vote. They could just as easily have sent Mulgrew there to cast 800 votes. There's a reason 100% of UFT reps sign a loyalty oath, support Common Core, mayoral control, junk science evaluations, and what have you, and it's simply not based on principle. No matter how many people receive perks, they're still perks. And again, I listened to Revive rail against perks all over the state of New York last spring. 

5. You're just looking for reasons to criticize.

If that's the case, I don't have to look very hard. I didn't send Mike Mulgrew a letter asking him to behave like a professional wrestler when he addressed the AFT convention. And I didn't tell Revive leadership to quietly push a piece of legislation that benefited themselves rather than membership.

This is an old canard UFT trots out to vilify opponents. I will stand with leadership when they do the right thing. Last week I marched with UFT to protest police violence. This particular march faced a lot of opposition among UFT, but I thought they were doing the right thing. I'm not Mulgrew's biggest fan, but I didn't sign the petition demanding his resignation for participating in the march.

I will stand with the union leadership when they're right, and there are few things that would make me happier than seeing them right more frequently.

I stand for democracy and transparency, and to anyone offended by that, too bad for you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Would You Like to Drink at the Bar?

Would you like to drink at the bar?
Stay in the Hilton instead of your car,
And be better off than you are,
Or should I punch you in the face?

A punch in the face will shut your festering craw,
It might bust your nose or break your jaw,
The dues you're paying are what you're here for,
So shut your gob and love the Common Core,
Cause if your don't get in line and know your place,
I'm gonna punch you in the face.

Or would you like to drink at the bar?
Stay in the Hilton instead of your car,
And be better off than you are,
Or would you rather be a drone?

A drone is a teacher who does classes each day,
He just doesn't know another way,
He doesn't like to see the kids all fail,
So he stands up instead of eating quail,
So if you're outraged and shout and bitch and moan,
Well then you just might be a drone.

Or would you like to drink at the bar?
Stay in the Hilton instead of your car,
And be better off than you are,
Or would you rather be in MORE?

A MORE is a teacher who speaks out every day,
She might be a pinko so they say,
She thinks that voting should be fair and free,
She won't sign a simple oath of loyalty,
And if you think lavish trips are just a bore,
Well then you just might be in MORE.

Or would you like to drink at the bar?
Stay in the Hilton instead of your car,
And be better off than you are,
Or let your conscience be your guide.

A conscience will hinder you at every step,
You'll think of the people that you rep,
You won't support all that reformy crap,
You'll tell the truth and let us take the rap,
And your advancement and privilege will slide,
Because your conscience is your guide.

Or would you like to drink at the bar?
Stay in the Hilton instead of your car,
And be better off than you are,
You could be drinking at the bar.

And all the flunkies ain't in the zoo.
52 Broadway has their share too,
Pays really well and it could be you.
You could make money more by far,
You cold be better than you are,
You could be drinking at the bar.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Even Ed. "Reformers" Gotta Serve Somebody

Based on the song by Bob Dylan...

You may be head of Kipps or Success Academies
You may counsel out kids and keep entry fees
You may have a padded cell to suspend kids with habits
You may be Joel Klein with a stash of Amplify tablets
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
You might be a computer geek, making millions of bucks
You might give grants and stipends for curriculum that sucks
You may be a hedge-fund manager or even a diva
They may call you Bee Eater or they may call you Eva
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
You may be a state regent, you might be John B. King
You may set the cut scores to really, really sting
You may teach kids the Core, you may teach kids to fail
You may spare your kids in private school before sending them onto Yale
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
You may be Mister Dave Coleman, crafting a Common Core
You may be Secretary Arne Duncan, showing moms the door
You might own Pearson, you might own some school
You might be a super genius, you might be a plain old fool
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
You may be a teacher trying to do your work
You may be an oath-swearing Union rep, looking for a perk
You may know how to do what you're told, you may know how to rubber stamp
You may be an AFT president, you may be a tramp
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Might like to wear medals, might like to wear strings
Might like to fly high, might like to clip your wings
You might like your tenure, you might like to fire ATRs
You may like helping kids, you may like exploding S-T-ARS
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
You may call me Mrs., you may call me Teacher
You may call me Mommy, you may call me Creature
You may call me Arwen, you may call me Dear
You may call me anything but no matter what I hear
You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New York's Passion for Crap in Education Means No Flexibility in APPR

Over at Perdido Street School he's pierced the bazillion-dollar Capital NY paywall and discovered that Arne Duncan's flexibility with APPR does not extend to states that have already begun Common Core testing. For those of you who are dancing in the streets because it will be two years before you can be rated ineffective based on these particular tests, be advised that there are multiple other ways junk science can take you down. Apparently, since we were brilliant enough to start testing early, junk science rules in NY.

If you want to sent a thank you card, you can start with our union leaders, all of whom adore Common Core. AFT President Randi Weingarten says it's the implementation and high-stakes that are the problems. NYSUT's Karen Magee, who specifically ran against Common Core, now claims we need Common Core or we'll be reduced to utter anarchy. And UFT Prez Mike Mulgrew will punch you in the face and push you in the dirt if you lay your stinking hands on his Common Core.

And of course, we helped every step of the way to fail 70%, and, in a great victory for Reformy John King, now only 65% of our children. How many "attaboys" would your principal be sending your way if you failed 65% of your kids? And make no mistake, UFT President Mulgrew was proud as Moses bearing the Ten Commandments when he came down to us with New York's junk science law. Oddly, he supported Karen Magee and Revive NYSUT as they blamed Dick Iannuzzi for it all over New York State.

And now, despite Revive NYSUT's bold opposition, thus far followed up with a whole lot of nothing except covering their own pensions, we seem to be stuck with this. I traveled all over the state last year and met many local presidents who'd negotiated reasonable APPR plans, but the one in NY is so complicated that the people I know who best understand it barely understand it at all. I hear that upstate cities also have awful systems, as evidenced by large numbers of teachers receiving poor ratings. It will be tough for us to improve these systems, with editorial writers in every major newspaper having conniptions over anything that might improve teaching and learning that isn't pre-blessed by Emperor Bill Gates.

The enthusiasm of our leaders for reforminess has proven helpful neither to us nor the children we serve. In fact, even our leaders agree that Common Core has been a statewide and national disaster. The only problem is, having taken millions from Gates to support it, it's hard for them to say, "Gee, we screwed up." Instead, they press on with bold calls for moderation. Those of us on the ground see clearly that Common Core is doing precisely what it's designed to do--fail a large number of students.

The problem with Common Core is not the massive failure rate, but rather New York's unwillingness to conclude either our children are stupid or our teachers are incompetent. Despite Governor Cuomo's best efforts, the public is simply not clamoring to burn down the public schools and rebuild them as Moskowitz Academies.

That's why there was a huge public outcry against this nonsense. When thin-skinned John King was faced with angry teachers and parents, his first response was to label them "special interests," take his ball and go home. Only later was he pretty much forced to listen. Yet while he sends his kids to a Montessori school, Common Core is good enough for us commoners.

And because we were so eager to judge our kids by junk science, our teachers are stuck with it too.

It's time to reject Race to the Top, dump Common Core, and give Arne Duncan back his blood money. And that's what's gonna happen, eventually, no matter how many people Mulgrew punches in the face. Because all his tough talk won't mean much to you after you watch this.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

UFT Unity Caucus Adopts New Slogan, Aims to Rival Starbucks for World Domination

BREAKING--Since UFT President Mike Mulgrew's momentous speech at the AFT convention, UFT-Unity has been reinvigorated and is looking to expand. For fifty years it has dominated the UFT, controlling every office and insisting all members vote in a bloc no matter what.

When an opposition caucus member won VP high schools, they changed the rules so it would never happen again. When another took over the high school exec. board seats, they made a deal with another caucus to give them a few seats to keep the real opposition out.

UFT Unity Caucus controls every vote in NYSUT and AFT, and broaches no opposition whatsoever. At Delegate Assemblies they do whatever they like, prevent the other side from even speaking,  and claim they're following Robert's Rules.

But nothing stays the same, and ever since Mike Mulgrew suggested the way to preserve Common Core was to punch opponents in the face and push them in the dirt, there's been a new spirit at UFT Unity. It turns out when you punch people in the face and push them in the dirt, they offer less resistance than they might otherwise. Thus there's a new movement in UFT-Unity.

Previously, only the elite few who signed up for the Unity Caucus have been able to publicly evince enthusiasm for things that clearly hurt teachers and students. A great example is Common Core, currently failing 65% of New York's children. Yet Mulgrew wants to punch anyone in the face who tries to take it away from him. So why not extend it to things like VAM, mayoral control, two-tier due process, and supporting politicians who hate us and everything we stand for?

That's why all UFT-Unity chapter leaders will now be taking boxing lessons at 52 Broadway. While UFT can't afford to make all members sign loyalty oaths, since there are lavish privileges and trips that come along with the promise to vote how you're told, a single chapter leader can punch out dozens of people in a typical day. Each chapter leader will be issued sky blue UFT boxing gloves so as to cause minimal physical damage during year one of intimidation. There will be a two-year moratorium on high-stakes results, and then the gloves come off, literally.

Pull out of COPE? You get punched in the face and pushed in the dirt.  Vote against Mulgrew? You get punched in the face and pushed in the dirt. Vote for Zephyr Teachout? That's just a punch. If she wins? You get punched in the face and pushed in the dirt.  

UFT Unity leadership states that after the original punch and push campaign with members, they will be expanding it to include non-members as well.

Nice little town you've got here.  Wouldn't want anything to happen to it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Lathe of Heaven...or Hell?

In Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, the main character, George Orr, has the power to change reality through his dreams.  A psychiatrist attempts to harness the power of his dreams to create a better world, but every attempt backfires in completely unexpected ways.

The premise of the story reminds me of the predicaments we will find ourselves in if left in the hands of some educational "reformers."  There are those with well-meaning intentions, loads of money and political pull; and then, there are others, only too happy to do most anything if there is profit to be had.

Just as the side effects of Orr's dreams create terrible nightmares, so, too, do the plans of ed. reformers, wearing thick blinders to unintended consequences.  Some abbreviated examples follow.

The federal and state promotion of Charter Schools has

1.  led to co-location, strangling and starving  NYC public schools
2.  led to the exclusion of some students with special needs from these "special" schools and the over-suspension and expulsion of others who do not make the grade.
3.  forced the City to pay charter-school rent when public schools are strapped for funds.
4.  led to Test-Prep mania to please donors with high scores.
5.  led to increased segregation.

If tenure or due process is eliminated:

1.  Teachers will be more fearful than ever to point out policies that endanger the community or threaten the legally mandated rights of students.
2.  Academic freedom will be squashed.
3.  Teachers may be run out of town by patronage-loving principals.
4.  Older teachers may face more fluffed-up charges so that cheaper, less-experienced teachers may replace them.  We have witnessed how cheap labor filled vacancies in schools while older ATRs languished as subs.
5.  Teachers may be subject to written or unwritten loyalty oaths--like those faced by our Unity "reps" who will rubber stamp probably even a rubber chicken to retain their privileges.

The promotion of the Common Core has

1.  attempted to make us march in lockstep to the tune of destructive and sometimes inane test questions.
2.  replaced the love of learning with nonsensical and dull test prep.
3.  made so many supposedly civil servants deaf to the pleas of parents, teachers and students.
4.  turned so many teachers off from the profession by ignoring so many needs and interests of students and teachers.
5.  made me wonder which planet we're living on, where one set of standards supported by a power elite academically massacres the majority and pulls down even the successful.

Obviously, there is always room for improvement, but when one set of copyrighted standards by an SAT-worshiping crew is seen as a golden solution for all, it's time for everyone to remember that we live in a democracy and that young people need something more than Stanley Kaplan and his test-driven curriculum as their teacher.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Revive NYSUT Leadership Takes Care of Revive NYSUT Leadership

 It was inspiring to a lot of people when the Revive NYSUT ticket appeared last year. Naturally, there were frustrations with NYSUT, and a few people I respect explained some of them to me. In fact, when I first saw them, I thought it might be a good idea. Like most UFT members, I had little contact with NYSUT, but I knew UFT needed a revival, so why not try this? It wasn't until weeks later I discovered that UFT leadership was actually behind this movement. I was recruited to run for Executive VP of NYSUT, and I traveled all over the state going to forums. I learned an awful lot about NYSUT.

For one thing, it's clear new NYSUT leadership follows UFT in every way. UFT makes up 28% of NYSUT, but has a 34% voting bloc, because many locals simply cannot afford to spend a weekend at the NY Hilton. Therefore, they get no vote. Of course all UFT reps have signed loyalty oaths. They vote as Mulgrew dicates or risk not only a punch in the face, but also expulsion from the elite, invitation-only Unity Caucus and all the privileges membership entails.
This is ironic because one of Revive NYSUT's biggest cheerleaders criticized the old leadership for belonging to the Fort Orange Club. NYSUT claimed membership was 15K a year, that the membership preceded their tenure for decates, and that the space was needed. Current Secretary Treasurer Martin Messner, in particular was vocally livid about this "perk." Not only this, said Messner, but NYSUT officers were taking first-class flights. He was gonna get to the bottom of this and make sure there was transparency, and no more perks! NYSUT could hold high-level meetings at Starbucks, suggested Revive, and save these crucial member dollars. Ya think they invited Cuomo to Starbucks to discuss endorsement plans?

Here's the thing, though. It was tough to recruit people willing to run for NYSUT office. You see, the UFT has a deal with the city that while its members work union jobs, it compensates the city for salary. Full disclosure--I'm chapter leader at a large school, and I get one period off to take care of union business. I believe UFT covers 20% of my salary. For those who do more work, or even all work for UFT, their salaries are covered too.  Even more full disclosure--I don't think it's a bad idea.

Of course, I didn't run for office bitching and moaning that current officers had too many perks, were living like kings and lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills. In fact, I ran demanding representative democracy, saying there was precious little of it in UFT and that this model was not one we ought to emulate. I ran complaining about anti-teacher legislation, particularly APPR, Cuomo's punishing tax rule that districts need a supermajority to help kids, and Tier 6 pension. I was amazed to see the APPR labeled as an Iannuzzi bill, and  that no one from Revive seemed to remember their staunch supporter Mike Mulgrew taking credit for it.

 Anyway, while NYSUT leadership can't oppose Common Core, while it can't oppose Cuomo, while VAM is still enshrined in law, and while pension is still severely diminished for members, it managed to quickly and quietly get legislation passed to make sure leaders Magee, Messner, and Pecorale have their pensions covered. Unlike Iannuzzi, none of them have thirty years in. Now NYSUT will make sure that if they resign or retire, or even if they get blackballed by Mulgrew, it will be like they were at their old jobs.

When is Martin Messner gonna take a principled stand, resign his old job, and demand a salary cut from hard-working NYSUT members? When is he gonna protest that this bill was passed so surreptitiously and demand transparency? Personally, I suggest you sit while you wait for that to happen. 

This is hypocritical not only because they, particularly Messner, were so adamant about not taking perks and being transparent. It's also hypocritical because former Secretary Treasurer Lee Cutler was denied the transition pay that ex-officers receive, and NYSUT is fighting to make sure he doesn't get it. Not only that, but Cutler resigned from his position to work with NYSUT. Neither Magee, Messner, nor Pecorale are showing this level of commitment, even as they work to make sure Cutler isn't compensated.

Current NYSUT leadership takes good care of current NYSUT leadership. You and me? Meh. Why do they support Common Core, despite explicity promising they were against it? Why do they support Jeff Klein? Why won't they oppose Governor Cuomo in favor of pro-teacher, pro-labor Zephyr Teachout? Why did Governor Andrew Cuomo sign a bill that protects NYSUT leadership when we have such a hard time getting substantive pro-education bills realized? Why is Tier 6 good enough for new members?

I'll leave that to your imagination. You might also be interested to know that, far from a principled salary cut, NYSUT Board of Directors voted a 2% raise for officers, already making at least 250-300K or more. And why not? What does 250-300K even buy nowadays?

I can't be sure. I only know it's a hell of a lot more than most working teachers will ever be able to afford.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All's Fair in Love and Teacher-Bashing

I'm a teacher, so I write about education. But if I were a NY Times columnist, I could write about hedge funds. I probably wouldn't write very well about them because I'm not really clear on what they are. But, like NY Times columnists, hedge fund guys are education experts no matter what, and turnabout is fair play, so there you go.

Frank Bruni used to be a food writer. I'm sure if you want to know where you can get a souffle, he's your guy. Now he's writing about tenure. Here's how he begins:

Mike Johnston’s mother was a public-school teacher. So were her mother and father. And his godfather taught in both public and private schools.

What Mr. Bruni has here is an appeal to authority, a logical fallacy designed to make us accept an argument whether or not it has merit. And there's more of that here.

Arne Duncan, the education secretary, praised the decision. Tenure even drew scrutiny from Whoopi Goldberg on the TV talk show “The View.” She repeatedly questioned the way it sometimes shielded bad teachers.

Well, if they think so, then it must be true, right? After all, they're famous, so they must know. Is that a good argument, or another appeal to authority? Or is it the bandwagon fallacy--Everyone's doing it, so it must me right. Let's take a look at the background of Colorado State Senator Johnston, on whose say-so Bruni appears to have determined tenure is no good:

Johnston spent two years with Teach for America in Mississippi in the late 1990s. Then, after getting a master’s in education from Harvard, he worked for six years as a principal in public schools in the Denver area, including one whose success drew so much attention that President Obama gave a major education speech there during his 2008 presidential campaign.

There's an expert for you. After all, he spent two whole years as a teacher. (That's almost as long as Reformy John King, who spent two in a charter and one in a public school.) Now me, I'd suggest that's not nearly enough time to be a qualified principal, let alone an expert on teachers or tenure. The fact is most teachers love the classroom, and want to be there. I know I do. I question the dedication and ability of anyone who needs to get out after two years.

Take a look at how vague that paragraph is. Six years as a principal, including one that was, supposedly, very successful. First, he was not principal of any single school for six years. Second, who knows how long he was principal of this successful school, who knows whether he was principal when Obama showed up, and who really thinks Obama, who hired DFER stooge Duncan as Education Secretary, knows or cares what a good public school is? Doesn't Obama send his own kids to Sidwell Friends, where they aren't subject to the reformy nonsense he and Arne impose on the rest of us?

And isn't this entire paragraph yet another appeal to authority--authority that is plainly questionable? Isn't TFA a political organization that sends five-week teachers to public schools, an organization that happily sends its young dilettantes to take the positions of Chicago teachers who've been dismissed by Rahm, an organization that got Arne Duncan to declare its five-week wonders were "highly qualified?" I'm left questioning not only Bruni's appeal to authority, but the authority with which we're presented. Let's take a look at what passes for actual argument in Bruni's piece:

“Do you have people who all share the same vision and are willing to walk through the fire together?” he said. Principals with control over that coax better outcomes from students, he said, citing not only his own experience but also the test scores of kids in Harlem who attend the Success Academy Charter Schools.

We've already explored Johnston's experience. Now let's take a look at the Moskowitz academies he so reveres. They have fewer kids with special needs than public schools do, and when kids don't meet expectations, they simply get rid of them. If you let public schools pick and choose, their test scores will go up too. What neither Bruni nor his expert understand is that we serve all kids, we take them as they come, and we don't dump them simply because they struggle, or misbehave, or whatever.

“You saw that when you could hire for talent and release for talent, you could actually demonstrate amazing results in places where that was never thought possible,” he said. “Ah, so it’s not the kids who are the problem! It’s the system.”

And yet, even disregarding Johnson's limited experience and poor grasp of Moskowitz schools, as well as his and Bruni's total lack of documented evidence, this entire concept is an anecdote. We don't even know what he bases it on. But it's the same reformy boilerplate--no excuses. We'll ignore poverty and just focus on the test scores. Was Johnston's school consistently successful? If so, how? If so, why? Who knows?

We need to pay good teachers much more.

Note that it's not "teachers," but rather "good teachers." There are several assumptions implicit here. One, of course, is that of the zombie plague of bad teachers that threatens both mom and apple pie. The other, of course, is that we need merit pay. This indicates that Bruni has not bothered to research merit pay, which has been rearing its ugly head for a hundred years and has never worked anywhere.

Here is Johnston's brainchild, the model to which Bruni sees us aspiring:

I sat down with Johnston, a Democrat who represents a racially diverse chunk of this city in the State Senate, because he was the leading proponent of a 2010 law that essentially abolished tenure in Colorado. To earn what is now called “non-probationary status,” a new teacher must demonstrate student progress three years in a row, and any teacher whose students show no progress for two consecutive years loses his or her job protection.

This is entirely based on value-added, judging from what Bruni says. This method is dubious at best, and junk science at worst. Regular readers of this blog know I see it as the latter. Bruni also bemoans job protections many Americans would envy. I don't blame them. I'm reminded of the story where one farmer says of another, "He has a cow, and I don't. I want his cow to die." For goodness sake, wouldn't it be better if both farmers had cows? My favorite argument in the column, though, comes from newly self-proclaimed education expert Whoopi Goldberg:

“Parents are not going to stand for it anymore,” she said. “And you teachers, in your union, you need to say, ‘These bad teachers are making us look bad.’ ”

This reminds me of nothing so much as the favored argument of bigots. "The bad ones spoil it for the good ones." Why not apply the same logic to criminal justice? Some of those criminals are just bad, so no due process for them. Just toss them in jail without any costly and inconvenient jury trial, because Whoopi Goldberg and Frank Bruni think it's OK.

Another argument bigots favor is, "I'm not a bigot. I know some of those people."

And waddya know, Johnston has teachers in his family. So he must be totally objective. And Bruni writes for the NY Times. So he must also be objective, with no ax to grind whatsoever. Doubtless it's mere coincidence that he was a guest at the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Campbell Brown, and that he failed to disclose it.

After all, Campbell Brown herself forgot to mention that her husband was a bigshot at Students First, so stuff like that raises no question whatsoever in what passes for journalism these days.

Update: From Leonie Haimson--you left out the most pathetically outrageous thing Johnston said: 

"[Tenure] has a decimating impact on morale among staff, because some people can work hard, some can do nothing, and it doesn’t matter.” 

You see, tenure is what hurting teacher morale, see, not widespread teacher bashing by policymakers and the media, and their insistence that bad teaching is to blame for low student achievement, and/or the concomitant move to diminish their autonomy, disrespect their expertise, and take away their job security, pension, etc.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NYSUT Opts for Ignorance

This year, NYSUT once again declined to endorse Andrew Cuomo, and now the AFL-CIO, for the moment at least, is doing the same. All over the Twittersphere NYSUT patronage employees are trumpeting their great victory. From where I sit, a bold move would have been endorsing Zephyr Teachout and taking a principled stand against Cuomo's crippling anti-public education policies.

As Perdido Street School pointed out yesterday, a truly bold move would have been getting behind Teachout's bid to get on the Working Families ticket. In fact, UFT, which controls NYSUT, was discussing pulling support from WFP over the spectre of actually nominating a pro-teacher candidate. Threatening the status quo of pols who hate us and everything we stand for was unacceptable to our leadership. As always, leadership could not be bothered consulting with those of us who actually work in classrooms and trailers.

Yesterday, Beth Dimino, President of the Port Jefferson Station Teacher Association, rose to speak in favor of a Teachout endorsement. Sergeant at arms told the chair, who refused to recognize her. Obviously, the decision had already been made, and there was no point whatsoever in allowing the other side even to speak.

Revive NYSUT compared Cuomo to Scott Walker in its campaign literature, but won't even go so far as to endorse his opponent. This reminds me the great victory UFT enjoyed when it declined to endorse Bloomberg's opponent term 3. Some of you may recall going 6 years without a raise and finally getting a contract that was not only inferior to that of other municipal unions, but also seriously compromised due process for ATRs.

Revive NYSUT's primary selling point, of course, was that it was against Common Core. Karen Magee became President with 34% of the vote coming from the UFT machine. At the AFT convention, Magee suggested without Common Core, the entire country could become be the Wild West, with cowboys testing whatever they wanted. The notion that there are no standards without CCSS is not only preposterous, but downright insulting to those of us who've done our jobs for years before it even existed.

Perhaps the most revealing Common Core talking point, though, came from NYSUT spokesperson Carl Korn. Though the Newsday article that printed this quote has been revised, I have the original text:

“The vast majority of test questions released appear to be educationally and age-appropriate. Unfortunately, we can’t tell if that is true of all test questions, because only 50 percent have been released. We reiterate our call for release of 100 percent of questions.”

NYSUT is happy with what it saw in tests that failed 65% of our children. Are you? Are the parents of the children you teach?

I'm chapter leader of a very large school, and I'm accustomed to hearing complaints. For the most part, I get complaints about programs, observations, carelessness, and various things that trouble people working in schools. Lately, though, I get an inordinate percentage of complaints from young parents. Why is my third grader reading about genocide? Why does my daughter no longer love to read? Why is my little boy spending three hours a day on homework? Even administrators with whom I'm often at odds ask me these questions.

And here's the thing--we, UFT and NYSUT, are behind the curve, on the wrong side yet again. I don't know exactly what supernatural senses union leaders have that bring them regularly to the wrong side of pivotal issues, but they're uncannily accurate. Cuomo isn't gonna help us. Teachout would stand by us, but we won't stand by her.

Our natural allies in the fight against corporate reform are public school parents, and rather than stand with them, we cower away and place our heads in the sand. We tremor in the faces of Bloomberg and Cuomo, accept a third-rate contract from a labor-friendly mayor, fail to oppose the man who set up a system in which those who say no to children have more say than those who say yes. At the same time, we threaten violence on anyone who dares question the corporate reform that labels our precious children as failures.

We are behind the times and behind the curve. It's time for us to pull our collective head out of the sand and get our eye on the prize, which entails helping children rather than failing them.