Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pay Up, Mayor de Blasio

To my mind, the worst thing about the 2005 UFT Contract was giving up seniority transfers and the UFT transfer plan so that veteran teachers could become ATR teachers. Rendering them week to week wandering subs a few years back made that even worse. And the cherry on that cake was giving them second-tier due process rights, the very worst thing about the 2014 UFT Contract.

The second worst thing about the new UFT Contract is kind of a toss-up for me. But right up there in the running was screwing the members who resigned rather than retired. After all, they did the work. Maybe if we'd gotten a timely contract some of them would still be doing the work. Who knows? But now some of them have a lawsuit demanding back pay, and there is no reason on God's green earth they don't deserve it. Cops, firefighters, DC37 members, and just about everyone else got it already.

I'm not a lawyer, so maybe there's something I'm missing here, but why are they suing the UFT? Is the union financially liable for negotiating a substandard contract? If so, they're liable to be tied up in litigation for decades. Perhaps the UFT should know that union means we are one, and that people who can no longer vote in elections ought to be entitled to whatever everyone else was entitled to at the time. But to me, this seems more a question of definition of a word, or fundamental ethics.

It seems to me the city should be liable to pay the prevailing rate for actual work done. I have no idea why UFT, which does not pay salaries, ought to pay salaries. But if I were UFT I'd be very wary about these cases, because if one person wins, every single other person will be suing them too. I don't know how much money that cost, but they may find themselves wondering whether it was a great idea to send those 800 rubber stamps to Los Angeles when they could've just sent one person to vote however leadership decided.

On the other hand, the whole "ethics-shmethics" tone of this contract was bound to become problematic. Still, it's the city who should pay every single person who worked when the contract was in force. Maybe they can pay them over 20 years or whatever, like they're doing with us, but they have to pay them nonetheless. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Deformer Formula for "De-Motivating" Kids


testunderduress (2)
In all the discussion of higher standards, I doubt the "reformers" have given much consideration to the complexities of motivation.

Some "reformers" seem to think that students who fail will seize the day.  They will harness their inner grit, work harder than ever and power their way to success.  Some may.  Most will not.  Many will wonder what is the purpose of trying.  Many will grow resentful.  Some will shut down their young minds.  These tests and the people who make them do a disservice to humanity.

I learned my first year on the job that a classroom test which fails nearly everybody represents a failure on the part of the teacher who created the test.  Teachers must deal in realities, meet students where they are and try to raise them up.  It is no good to aim far over students' heads to try to smugly prove one's own "smarts."  When NY State sets cut scores to fail 70% of its 2013 Common-Core test takers, the State turned a blind eye to reality and, itself, failed.

Some reformers seem to think that everything meaningful must be measured under conditions of time-pressure.  They think students will be motivated to show off their best stuff.  But, many kids can't sit for that long, let alone, for six days of testing.  They have young minds that wander and sometimes their legs need to do so, also.  Words and numbers may swim on the page.  Kids may over think some questions and tune out others.  They may grow nervous, agitated, fidgety and uncomfortable.  The classroom teacher best understands a child's academic strengths and weaknesses, not a cold, cruel and calculating standardized test.  These tests and the people who make them do a disservice to humanity.

Some "reformers" think that students will be motivated by the promise of becoming "college and career ready."  With the price of college and the lack of meaningful careers, however, the promise may prove false.  Reformers tout their own definition of success, measured primarily in terms of test points and, ultimately, salary figures.  It fails to motivate me.  I don't deal in their definitions, nor do most of the people I know.  To do so would be a disservice to humanity.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

UFT Unity Introduces New and Improved Election Procedures

One of the biggest reasons we lowly teachers have no voice in the UFT is because many, many delegates are "at large." In fact, most of the million names on the UFT ballot are AFT and NYSUT delegates. These delegates are chapter leaders, delegates from the DA, or simply people leadership finds useful.

Delegates come from all kinds of schools, and a delegate from a school with 12 members has just as much of a vote as a delegate with 300 members. In fact, for all we know, the school with 12 members could have ten delegates while the school with 300 could have zero. Does that sound fair?

It doesn't really matter, since they are all bound to vote the same way.

Our union leadership loves "at large" voting. That means any potentially insurgent groups are drowned out by more predictable groups, like the retirees who make up 52% of our electorate. If UFT ran the country and didn't like the way New York voted, it would give Oklahoma and Texas votes to correct what it perceived as our misjudgment.

The only thing our NYSUT and AFT delegates have in common is that each and every one has signed a loyalty oath, and each and every one will either vote as instructed or face expulsion from the elite, invitation-only Unity Caucus. While it's true that the UFT could simply send one delegate with 800 votes and save us a ton of money (and why not since we all know in advance how UFT delegates will vote), that wouldn't look good. It looks better to send 800 people to LA and have them vote all the same. That gives a persuasive illusion of democracy and makes most of us think that all these folks somehow represent us.

They don't, of course.

When I first started teaching, I voted for New Action. I don't remember why. One year, a guy from New Action became Academic VP. The UFT contested his election and demanded a revote, in which the guy won by a larger margin. From all accounts, he did a terrible job and was not reelected. Nonetheless, UFT Unity did not care for this. It was unacceptable that high school teachers select their own representative. So they changed the rules, and rigged the election further.

Now the high school VP, and all VPs, are elected "at large." That means everyone votes for them. So we no longer get to choose our own rep. This is precisely because we committed the unspeakable crime of actually choosing our own rep, once. So now we must be punished and this must never happen again.

I've only been chapter leader for five years, but they tell me UFT District Reps used to be elected by the chapter leaders, perhaps even by closed ballot. The whole secret ballot thing does not exist in the "democratic" Delegate Assembly, so if you raise your hand the wrong way and you are Unity, you could be not Unity the next day. Anyway, several groups of chapter leaders had the temerity to elect District Reps who were not Unity. So guess what Unity did?

They changed the rules. Now, committees of Unity members select the District Reps, and guess what? There aren't any more non-Unity District Reps. I think Stalin said it's not who votes, it's who count the votes. But in this case, at least, it's most certainly who votes, and anyone who dares vote the wrong way will be overwhelmed and drowned out by someone more reliable.

What's next? Will Mike Mulgrew hand-pick chapter leaders? Will they pre-slug the ballots to save the expense of counting them? Will they do away with troublesome elections altogether?

Only time will tell.  

Thanks to AS for illustration!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Unity or Non-Unity, You Still Get No Voice in UFT

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about rigged UFT elections, and I will have more about those tomorrow. Today I'm going to focus on our system of appointing chapter leaders to our schools. Whether or not your chapter leader is Unity, a good one should be able to help you within the school building. A good chapter leader should be familiar with the contract and other work rules, or at least able to access them when necessary. A good CL can advise you of your options when you encounter problems within the building.

Outside of the building, it's another story. If your chapter leader isn't Unity, your chapter gets no voice in UFT politics. When decisions are made behind closed doors, as most are, your chapter leader won't be there. And when there are conventions, your non-Unity chapter leader won't be there either. So even though you've chosen this person to represent you, UFT leadership has decided that the million-name ballot take precedence over your personal choice.

What may be surprising, though, is that if your chapter leader is Unity, as are most, your chapter still gets no voice in UFT, NYSUT, or AFT. If your CL isn't Unity and someone else in your building is, you also get no voice. That's because every single person in Unity has signed the loyalty oath and will vote as instructed in all union elections at every level. In fact, this precludes representing you at all. What if, say, the majority of your members oppose mayoral control, Common Core, charter schools, colocation, VAM, two-tier due process, or any number of things that hurt working teachers?

Well, too bad for you. If your CL isn't Unity, you get no vote. If your CL is Unity, said vote must support whatever leadership decides.

And while leadership publicly maintains that the DA is the highest decision-making body, almost everything that happens there is determined behind closed doors. If you read James Eterno's accounts of what goes on there, and I've been there to witness a lot of what he writes about, you know that fairness and hearing both sides are not remote priorities. When Mulgrew was hyping the contract he pretty much squelched any and all discussion against it. A young delegate sitting next to me commented, "An elementary school student could see how unfair this is."

So UFT members have choices. They can choose chapter leaders, for now. But no matter who we choose, the fact is our voices are not heard. That's lesson two on the fundamental lack of democracy in our union. Look for part three tomorrow.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The UFT Million Name Ballot Subverts Democracy

When you tell members of the elite, invitation-only UFT Unity Caucus that you don't like the fact that everyone with a vote in UFT, NYSUT, and AFT has signed a loyalty oath and represents leadership rather than membership, they'll first deny it exists. When you show it to them, they'll say it's just a guideline, or that it's meaningless, or some other such nonsense. When you tell them you're still upset that every rep without exception represents leadership rather than membership, they'll say no, there are elections, and everyone was elected. They'll forget that almost no one in rank and file knows about the loyalty oath.

Get up in public and talk about the oath and they'll shout you down. The truth hurts.

But they are right. There is a ballot, and you can vote. You can place a big X next to Unity, MORE, or New Action. You might know that former opposition New Action now supports the Unity presidential candidate, and you might not. But you almost certainly don't know the thousands of names on the ballot, and it's unlikely you want to split the ballot and pick names one by one. There are some Unity people I really like, but I wouldn't do that even if I found their politics acceptable.

One year I did, though, and it took me almost an hour. About twenty years ago Randi Weingarten came to our school. She came with the then-UFT VP for academic high schools, some guy whose name I forget. He got up and insisted that there was no truth to the rumor that UFT was going to make it 25 years to hit maximum pay, and that anyone who said so was a filthy liar. I raised my hand and asked why, then, did Sandra Feldman send me something in the mail asking me to vote for a contract in which it took 25 years to hit maximum pay.

The VP had no idea what to say to that. Randi quickly stood up and got him off the hook. I have no recollection of what she said but it was a tough question and she did give an answer. I decided she was the smartest person in the room. She also made very vulgar remarks about Rudy Giuliani, which I adored. I went home, voted for her, but everyone else on New Action's slate that year. My Unity chapter leader chided me for not voting for him. I had no idea he was even on the ballot, and like most teachers I had no idea how the small perks given the likes of him motivated so many people to join Unity.

A big issue with Unity is that of voting "at large" and in no place is that more apparent than in the ballot with a million names. Most of the small portion of working UFT members who take the time to vote are Unity, or encouraged by Unity leaders, and thus they get a huge portion of the fewer than 20% of members who are not too cynical to vote.

Here's the thing--this shuts out some of the most active and well-informed unionists in the city. It ensures that our union has no independent voice whatsoever. That's unhealthy, but that's what it's designed to be. It's designed to maintain a stranglehold on power, to squelch debate, and keep a remarkably ineffectual political machine at 52 Broadway.

Your chapter knows your chapter leader. Your chapter selects your chapter leader. But if your chapter leader isn't Unity, and beholden to represent leadership rather than you, your chapter leader gets no voice in union.

And that's just the way leadership wants it. That's why those of us who are activists have to concurrently fight on a dual front--the corporate reformers, and the union leaders who enable them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Does AFT Merit a Member Boycott?


AFT reps, not a single one of whom represents me or my school, took time out to assemble at a local Staples to protest their use of private workers to replace US Post Office workers. The President of NYSUT cut her Staples card in half to show she meant business. After all, we value union, and we don't want unqualified people handling the mail.

But according to the AFT reps, none of whom represent me or my school, it's OK for unqualified people who aren't in a nurses' union to issue medical care, and so they passed a resolution saying people could get a little training and do the work of medical professionals. Perhaps the AFT reps have determined the work of medical professionals is a lot less demanding than that of delivering packages and envelopes. It's tough to say since none of them consult with me or anyone I represent about anything, ever.

But since one action so mirrors the other, it's only fair that one reaction mirror the other as well. So I guess the only logical thing to do is boycott the AFT. This begs the question--how do we do that?

After all, AFT simply takes money from our paychecks. We have no say on that. Then they hold conventions, on our dime, conventions in which we get no representation whatsoever. I'm chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, and they don't give a golly gosh darn what any of us think about anything. Otherwise, how could they fail to demand the removal of corporate clown Arne Duncan? How could they continue with the preposterous charade that the problem of Common Core is how it was rolled out?

In fact, it was rolled out exactly as it should have, and that's why 70% of our kids failed the tests. It's pretty clear to me, when Arne Duncan slanders suburban moms, that it was designed to make us think all public schools are failing. The problem, for demagogues like Duncan and Reformy John King, is that neither working teachers nor working parents accept their corporate-backed conclusions.

Now here's the thing. Maybe your school has a Unity chapter leader, a chapter leader who actually went to the convention. But if that's the case, your chapter leader has signed a loyalty oath and in fact is not permitted to represent you at all. Your chapter leader must vote as directed or be banished, a longstanding Unity tradition, dating back to when Albert Shanker expelled Unity members for opposing the Vietnam War. We all know how that turned out, and we all know how all the reformy nonsense they support now is turning out.

So, because their actions mirror those of Staples, and because no one in UFT is represented in AFT, it's time to boycott the AFT.

How the hell do we do that?

I actually don't believe union dues should be optional. But representing the largest local in the country ought not to be optional either.

What say you, AFT?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cuomo Is Awful, but Astorino Is No Better

It's sad that New Yorkers have such miserable choices in our two-party system. Lately I've been encountering a sea of "anybody but Cuomo" tweets and anti-Cuomo tweeters, but they seem to regard Rob Astorino as an alternative. In his favor, he publicly opposes Common Core, and is unequivocal about it. But there are issues.

Execrable though Cuomo is, he at least has to pose as a Democrat from time to time. That's not enough to make me support him, but it means he has to think twice before he goes after, say, the Triborough Amendment that keeps our contracts in force until we negotiate new ones. This is particularly important to UFT members who've just gone 6 years without a contract. Imagine what Mike Bloomberg would have done if he'd had carte blanche to impose whatever he felt like. Doubtless we'd be working for 8 bucks an hour with no health benefits and he'd have pulled our pensions to pay for a better penthouse for Cathie Black.

Astorino has no such compunctions. He's not only criticized Cuomo for failing to attack the Triborough amendment, but he's also written an op-ed in the NY Post expressing opposition:

Consider the situation now in Westchester: All eight public unions are now working without a contract — one of them in its fourth year. But wages aren’t frozen at previous contract levels. Workers still get the longevity and step increases built into the old contract — hikes that often equal or exceed “regular” salary increases.

This is the same thing Bloomberg often said of teachers as he denied us a contract. Astorino interprets step increases he agreed to as raises. Actually they aren't. They are agreements between labor and management. Note also that Astorino had allowed all of his union contracts to expire. Does that remind you of a certain NY ex-mayor?

Astorino claims we have no incentive to negotiate because we're already getting raises, and compares demands for retro pay to Alice in Wonderland. If that's not enough, Mr. Astorino is a charter enthusiast. We haven't seen him criticize Cuomo for standing with Moskowitz against our progressive mayor, and we have no reason to expect he'll do so. His positions on women's rights, which he claims are irrelevant, are less than inspiring. He opposes gay marriage and gun control.

If we are to discount his opposition to the Triborough Amendment, most troubling is Astorino's position on taxes. Astorino's got a great point when he points to our illustrious governor as a tax evader, but when he complains of how high NY State taxes are, those are dangerous waters for those of us who support public education.

Districts have been pretty much robbed by the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which cut much-needed state aid. Combine with that Cuomo's limit on raising property taxes to 2% or cost of living, whichever is less, and districts are being forced to do more with less. The reality is many districts can only do less with less as teachers and support staff are laid off and class sizes skyrocket. If that's not enough, ask yourself why Wisconsin's notorious Governor Scott Walker is fundraising for Astorino. Is there a single public school supporter who wants a Scott Walker system in NY State?

If you're a registered Democrat run, don't walk, to support Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu in the Democratic Primary. If that fails, vote for Green Howie Hawkins in November. Neither of the major candidates merits our support, and Astorino appears to be nothing less than an incipient disaster for those of us who actually have to work for a living.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

New NYSUT Leadership Breaks Fundamental Promise

Last spring I was recruited to run for NYSUT Executive Vice President, and I ran all over the state to forums. NYSUT leadership was challenged by a UFT-supported group called "Revive NYSUT."

The first forum, in Melville NY, was the most open. All candidates were asked questions, and all got equal time to answer. At the second, mostly the presidential candidates spoke, which kind of irritated me as I had to travel all the way to Lake Placid to mostly sit and listen. The third had no interaction, and people just read statements. The fourth was in Newburgh, and Revive said they couldn't come because they had to teach. Not all of them did, actually, but I did, both that day and the next. At the final forum, Revive got to speak twice while we only got to speak once on each issue. It was bizarre.

A big Revive message was that they were grassroots. This was odd, because they had the support of the loyalty-oath bound UFT, and thus had 34% of the vote before they even got out of bed on any given morning. It was an uphill battle, and we lost, but I met many passionate unionists, even some on the other side, and many, many people for whom loyalty oath was anathema. People still don't believe it, but there it is.

One of the things I kept hearing was that Revive would fight the power, as it were. They specifically stated opposition to Common Core. In a discussion on Facebook, my friend Leonie Haimson wrote:

Magee said if not standards then what: a free for all? [what about better standards?] added that if the AFT came out against the Common core the tabloids wd attack us.

Please forgive Leonie's shorthand, but you get the idea. I guess NYSUT President Karen Magee thought we'd have forgotten her slate's promises by now. After all, they scrubbed their "Revive NYSUT" website and disappeared into the netherworld, or wherever old websites go. But James Eterno saved their position paper. It said:

Revive NYSUT is...

Against Common Core...

That was their very first point.  Clearly they thought it was important if they made it number one. And now the NYSUT President is implying the only alternative is a "free for all." That's a logical fallacy known as the "black or white" fallacy--suggesting that there is only one alternative when many exist.  In fact, if Karen Magee cannot envision another alternative, she ought not to be our leader. Leadership demands imagination.






In other news, the AFT failed to demand Arne Duncan step down. Instead, as Kevin Glynn of Lace to the Top wrote, they gave him a stern warning, placing him on "double secret probation."




As usual, UFT President Michael Mulgrew speaks passionately in defense of Common Core, offering to punch people in the face and rub their faces in the dirt if they pry our precious Common Core from us, or some other such insightful comment. I don't know, because like most UFT members I'm not there. Only loyalty-oath signing invited UFT Unity Caucus members get a vote, and if they're asked to vote for a cheese sandwich for US President, they'll do so gladly.

Such is the State of our Union. Only question standing is what are we gonna do about it?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Will Weingarten Pledge to Stand with Us in Supporting True Union Democracy?


Ms. Weingarten sent me a pledge from the halls of the AFT Convention in L.A. today.  The pledge concluded with these words:  "While we're fighting for big things, no action is too small.  We need you to do whatever you can.  Commit to engage your colleagues in the fight.  To build power at the ballot box.  To share our work online and in person.  To work hand in hand with the communities we serve."

I must know whether Ms. Weingarten is sincere and if her invitation applies to all.  Will UFT Unity delegates be able to engage their colleagues and their communities if the views differ from those of Unity's leadership?  The AFT can never truly represent the views of its rank and file in a democratic sense so long as UFT Unity, the tail that wags two dogs,  both NYSUT and the AFT, is not truly democratic.

Some of the most committed and experienced individuals have faced a Unity lockout for years now because, put quite simply, they refuse to swear to vote the Unity line and adhere to all Unity policies in public.

How will I know whether our Union truly wishes to represent its rank and file and tolerate free discussion or whether it merely wishes to represent the views of a mysterious few in leadership positions whom largely seem out of touch with active members?

1.  UFT Unity would need to discard loyalty oaths and palm cards (which instruct delegates how to vote), cutting the purse strings of a vast patronage system that provides lucrative employment in union offices, double pensions, fancy trips and other privileges only to those who sign away the right to vote their conscience or that of their constituency if they differ from the Unity party line.

2.  The slate voting tied to a winner-take-all system in UFT elections would need to change.  MORE received 40% of the high school vote in the last election.  Yet, not a single MORE rep. is allowed to sit on the Executive Board.  This is not democracy.

3.  District Reps. would need to be elected.  In the past, chapter leaders were allowed to pick their reps.  Now, they are appointed, in a completely undemocratic way, and they are all Unity.

4.  The UFT would need to allow more debate in which all sides are allowed equal time and the voice of critics, who are die-hard unionists, are not summarily dismissed or stifled.  There would need to be far greater transparency as well. We deserve to know a lot more about how our representatives vote on each issue and we need to hold them accountable.

5.  The U.F.T. should stop the charade of empowering retirees with greater voting power as a means to guarantee its stranglehold on elections.

If Unity cannot share power with those who have differing views, it is really no better than a bully on the playground. It intimidates its own caucus members to fall in line by threatening to withdraw lucrative benefits and access to the party.  It bullies nonmembers by marginalizing them and failing to give them the representation they deserve.

As an educator, I favor free thought and expression.  As it stands now, UFT Unity doesn't want its delegates to choose wisely, as advised by Roosevelt in the quote above; it simply wants them to rubber stamp leadership decisions.  They don't need much of a brain to do that.  And, it's a terrible shame; as an educator I hate to see intelligence go unrecognized.  Yet, independence of thought is a liability in Unity.  The democracy is a sham and I pledge to challenge it as I also pledge to challenge misguided corporate reforms.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Myth of the Myth of the Blogger Beast


As the UFT lines up its delegates to march in uniform rows to all vote the Unity line at the AFT convention in Los Angeles, I am sorry to say you probably won't see many Blogger Beasts present.

Yet, amid the foul stenches emitted by modern-day educational "reform," there lurk in cavernous depths, close to the unbearable heat of the Common Core, strange breeds of creatures known to Michael Mulgrew simply as mythological ed. bloggers.

According to Mr. Mulgrew, these Blogger Beasts traffic in myth.  They are not to be trusted.  It is better that you self-censor yourself and never dare to visit their dens, such as this one, or any of those in the right-hand margin of this web page, lest the foundations of your worldview begin to shake.

Blogger Beasts sometimes spew forth venom.  They even question policies supported by the Union, for example:

1.  the "myth" of increasing retiree votes at the expense of drowning out the voices of the active rank and file.

2.  the "myth" of mayoral control of education for the best interests of all

3.  the "myth" that Unity members are discouraged from blogging or from reading most ed. blogs

4.  the "myth" of a loyalty oath tied to powerful purse strings

5.  the "myth" of a million buckaroos accepted from Eli Broad for its UFT charter school and then the pairing with Steve Barr of Green-Dot schools and parent-trigger-law fame

6.  the "myth" of gumming up the works for teachers as well as administrators by supporting 22 domains of evaluation

7.  the AFT "myth" of fighting corporate reformers while accepting millions from them

8.  the AFT-UFT "myth" of supporting anti-Teacher, anti-Union politicians like Malloy in Connecticut and Cuomo in N.Y. state

9.  the "myth" of striking at the heart of solidarity and tenure by accepting a second-tier status of due-process for ATRs

10.  the "myth" of listening to its concerned members, parents and even its own delegates, before pushing its own sometimes sub-par policies along as the best that we can do--or, go to the back of the line, # 151

How will you know a Blogger Beast if you see one?  Good question.

These Blogger Beasts, come in many sizes, shapes and forms, but all hail from a breed which works tirelessly, without recompense to promote the interests of public-school children.  They refuse to take "mythological" loyalty oaths or to vote against the desires of their constituency or of their conscience (because they actually take time to consider the issues and discuss them with their colleagues and people who comment at their sites).  And, as is fitting in the best democracies, whether Blogger Beasts have wings, clawed feet, or five or more heads, they will always refuse when told to raise them reflex style.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Battle of the Titans

In California, a bunch of rich guys got together and pushed a lawsuit designed to shoot teacher tenure right smack between the eyes. After all, if you can't get the law changed, you go wherever your wallet takes you. So in the case of Vergara they've won for the moment, and those awful teachers will have fewer job protections if appeals aren't sustained.

Here in NY it's a little tougher. First of all, the arguments in California were crap to begin with. Firing more teachers will not address the conditions in America that lead children to fail in school. But it's a whole lot cheaper and more efficient to blame teachers than deal with poverty, or people who need to work multiple jobs to barely keep their heads above water. After all, how will Whitney Tilson's hedge fund profit from Walmart and McDonald's if they have to pay workers a living wage?

So here in New York, we heard a great deal from self-appointed education/ legal expert Campbell Brown about how we needed to get rid of teacher tenure. But wait--before Campbell Brown could do it, another self-appointed education/ legal expert, Mona Davids, filed a suit. So the question now becomes which one of these people is out to get us more?

It's tough to say. Brown is married to some bigshot on Students First NY, and is an ex-talking head on CNN. Davids runs something called the NY Parents Union, and vacillates between supporting charters, supporting public education, and going for the throat of working teachers. It appears the whole attacking teachers thing garners more attention this week, so that's what the NY Parents Union is doing. Who knows when they meet, or who's a member other than some unsuccessful Staten Island politician whose name I can't remember? Like Brown, she has a group, it has a name, and that's good enough for the papers.

But there's still the question of who hates working teachers more. How can this be settled? Can they wait until the first day of school, get a bushel of Jersey tomatoes, and see which one can hit the most teachers? I'd say they should save that for when they go after the Jersey teachers, but neither of them is from Jersey. Of course they could both move to Jersey and race to see who can file the suit fastest. That would suit me.

Perhaps they could have a stereotype contest. Which one of them can find the most outrageous story and manage to tar as many working teachers as possible with it? I have to give Brown the edge at this, since it's pretty much her MO. But I think Davids is a quick learner and can give Brown a run for her money if given half a chance. One of the great things about this is that you don't really have to prove anything. I regularly see in the press that the DOE agencies had already found them guilty. But few people understand that OEO is kind of like the police. The police aren't really supposed to arrest people unless they think they're guilty. But guilt is decided by a judge. In our system arbitrators judge.

I don't really care which one of them wins. I fully support tenure. Those of us who choose this profession do so because we care about children. We speak up when they're neglected, even if said neglect is committed by those who supervise us or sign our paychecks. That's our job.

And neither Brown nor Davids is any help whatsoever.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Who Will Be a Jedi Teacher?

Under the new NYC contract, teachers in some schools will be picked from among the highly effective, effective (and satisfactory, where applicable) for leadership positions designated as ambassador, model and master teachers.  Teachers who apply must be approved by a committee composed of D.o.E. and Union officials with the Chancellor, in most cases, having power over the last word.   
These teachers will share their expertise with other teachers throughout the school year as well as work 2-3 days prior to Labor Day and 2-4 additional hours per month outside of contractual obligations.  Ambassador teachers will bring their expertise to an exchange school for one year and receive an additional $7,500.  Master teachers will provide instructional support activities within their schools, leading teacher teams, coaching, "debriefing," assisting teachers with professional goals and modeling best practices.  They will teach one less period.  They will receive an additional $20,000 per year.  Model teachers will open up their classrooms as laboratories for observation of best practices.  Model teachers will receive an additional $7,500 per year.  

My recommendation:  Hold out for the position of Jedi Teacher.  Experience counts for much more here.  Teachers who fit this category will be drawn from the ranks of the ridiculously effective.  They will need to levitate the scores of students through their own sheer mind power.  They will wield dry erase markers with all the dexterity of a master with his light saber.  They will prove themselves completely incorruptible by the dark side, working additional hours every day, helping people whenever an opportunity presents itself without any thought of recompense.  They fight day and night to save public education.  If you'll be applying for this position, may the force be with you!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Cyber Charter Whoppers on TV

I was pretty surprised to turn on my TV this morning and see a commercial for a company called K12. This company sells education via computer. The commercial showed loving parents, and suggested that if you really loved your kids you'd sign up right away. There's no charge because K12 is a public school. That's true in the sense that you won't be paying out of pocket. But we're most certainly subsidizing the company via our tax dollars.

In less than a minute I pulled up what Diane Ravitch had to say about K12. It appears even DFER guru Whitney Tilson finds it subpar. That's saying a lot. Whitney Tilson runs a hedge fund and is bullish on anti-worker companies like McDonald's and Walmart. It's tough to imagine the depths to which a company must sink to incur his disapproval.

My kid is not a scholar, but she's very social. Had I placed her in front of a computer rather than with a peer group, she'd probably hate me. One of the most shortsighted things about corporate reform is the notion that standardized test scores tell the story of how well kids do in school. We're always reading about college readiness, and how students need so many points on a Regents exam to demonstrate it. Of course that's arbitrary and ridiculous.

I know very few people who get through life by taking standardized tests, more precisely zero. But getting along with people is key to pretty much any profession. I'm not personally persuaded sitting kids in front of computers is any substitute for interaction with peers and teachers. Ravitch's most recent book, Reign of Error, is full of tales of cyber-charters that fail to help our kids.

Sadly, few people who see this commercial will bother to look up anything about this company. It's kind of remarkable that we're publicly funding a virtual school that has the cash to promote itself on television. I guess when you don't need to pay for brick and mortar, and when you hire very few teachers with who knows what qualifications you can use your money elsewhere.

But I'd rather see my kid facing a real teacher every day. For me, much as I love computers, I don't see them as role models. And the neediest of our children are those most in need of role models, real people who can show them they have a chance of success. As we eliminate teacher jobs, we also eliminate opportunities for our children.

More importantly, children are in the process of learning. They need supervision, even if they fight us tooth and nail. They need guidance, and no matter how good we may be as parents, they need more and more varied role models.

Cyber charters are a bad idea, and everything I read about them (aside from their advertising) indicates they're cash cows for entrepreneurs. Schools ought to be about helping our children, not making people rich. It's particularly egregious when those getting rich appear to care about nothing beyond their own enrichment.

I wouldn't pay them to babysit my kid if they came to my house. No way in hell would I trust their computer programs to provide my kid education.

It's borderline criminal that people watching these commercials can't know what they're buying.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Summer Reading Suggestion

One of my favorite bloggers, José Luis Vilson, actually sat down and wrote a book. A book! I'm pretty impressed by this. First of all, it had hundreds of pages, and each one was filled with words. That in itself was impressive to me. Even better, it kept me turning pages, which many books fail to do nowadays.

More impressive was finally seeing an extended reflection on teaching from a real teacher. I’m not used to that. Over the years I've become increasingly irritated by books from people who’ve given it up, who’ve taught for a year or two and have decided to share with us their insights. My insight is those people are failures. I don’t care what they think, and I have no idea why anyone else does. If anyone should be discussing the system, for better or worse, it should be us.

One of the best things José wrote was that feedback, the only meaningful feedback, is that which you get from the kids in front of you. I was at a book release party at UFT when someone read that, and it was kind of a "eureka" moment for me. I couldn’t agree more, and that’s just one reason all this corporate-produced nonsense about complex junk-science evaluation systems is just that. Maybe there are teachers who have no idea whether or not things are going well on a day to day basis. How they manage to drag themselves to work on a daily basis I have no idea.

If you're tuned in, as José clearly is, you don't need to wait until the principal wanders in to know how well you're doing your job. Teenagers tell you all the time, from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave. If you aren't tuned in, then I suppose you do need adminstrators to come in and explain objective reality. (I can only guess that's what all the E4E teachers who love junk-science based evaluation systems must need. I just can't figure how on earth they equate any such need with "excellence.")

The best feedback I ever got from an administrator was from a former principal, before Reformy John King decreed "Ye shall be observed 4-6 times, whether ye need it or not." This principal observed full classes of mine twice, promised to write both up, and never did. But when he walked out of the second one, he said, “Those kids love you.” That meant a lot to me. I have a pile of written observation reports stashed in a drawer somewhere. You look for the S on the bottom and likely as not it made no difference precisely what gobbledygook the rest contained. (Or you toss it away without even reading it, as a friend of mine used to do.)

I hadn’t really given a great deal of thought to what it’s like to be a person of color in this system. But having lived it, José writes about the odd perceptions and preconceptions that have followed him most of his life. As much as we want to be colorblind, it's clear in 2014 we still haven't arrived. I'm acutely aware that my students, all of whom come here with little or no English skill, have to endure disparate treatment on a pretty regular basis.

While José teaches math rather than English, like me (and while I'll never understand exactly why a poet and writer chooses that), his awareness is something I'd like to see in anyone teaching the kids I serve. I'm sure he'd take them one at a time, regardless of color, sex, religion, or whatever else the world may prejudge them by. That's not something the corporate reformers fret over, and it isn't a job requirement, as far as I know. But it ought to be.

I was a little surprised to learn José and I have a completely different concept on what "teacher voice" means. For him it's getting our voice out, and that's not only something he's not only been very active in, but also almost certainly what caused him to write the book. I fully agree that this is necessary, though to my mind that's a job we share with union leadership. (In fact, it's a job at which they've failed miserably, jumping on virtually every reformy notion that's come out of Bill Gates' abundant and fruitful hind quarters.)

I see teacher voice as the unique personality or style of individual teachers. I also think it’s being relentlessly squashed in a drive toward standardization, a drive that’s idiotic and ignorant. For example, I think José's a really good writer, but I wouldn’t try to write like him. In the same way, I wouldn't emulate the teacher I consider the best in my department. She’s very affectionate, calling kids honey and sweetie, and winning them over. She’s also very smart, getting them to write and think about things. But if I were to call kids honey and sweetie, I’d probably be in jail or something.

This notwithstanding, as a writer, José manages to find a new and more forthright voice here. I find José's blog often oblique, hinting at things but not always saying them outright. I was pretty surprised to find, from the very beginning of the book, that he's largely dropped this approach in favor of being quite direct. José's new teacher voice works well here, and this book will give you a great deal to consider.

The best thing the United Federation of Teachers has done in a long time was to give José a first-class book launch. For that we have to thank High School Academic VP Janella Hinds. Several readers got up and shared selections from the book, including the UFT President. Personally, I have never, ever seen Mike Mulgrew so thoughtful. He actually put on reading glasses and looked very much like a teacher. I hope someday to see that guy at the DA, rather than the one who gets up, claims not to follow the blogs, then publicly labels those of us who write them as liars anyway.

But give the union credit for recognizing a great achievement from such a thoughtful teacher. If only Tweed were half this thoughtful my students and I wouldn't be sitting in a trailer. If you're wondering what to do with a free moment during your summer break, I highly recommend this book.