Monday, April 22, 2019

Mayor Pete Puts Foot in Mouth

I was kind of excited about Mayor Pete with the unpronounceable last name. He seemed like a breath of fresh air. Then he started talking about issues with free college and I thought, oh well, no one's perfect. Then, he said this:

"I think the sense of anger and disaffection that comes from seeing that the numbers are fine, like unemployment's low, like all that, like you said GDP is growing and yet a lot of neighborhoods and families are living like this recovery never even happened. They're stuck," Buttigieg told high school Democrats in Nashua, N.H., on Friday. "It just kind of turns you against the system in general and then you're more likely to want to vote to blow up the system, which could lead you to somebody like Bernie and it could lead you to somebody like Trump. That's how we got where we are."

Of course there is anger and dissatisfaction. Of course the recovery is nonsense, and of course it's easy to turn against an unfair system. Right after that, though, Mayor Pete loses me pretty thoroughly. If you're dissatisfied, you "want to blow up the system." I'm not sure exactly what that means. 

I'm a Bernie supporter, and I want what a lot of Bernie supporters want. I want health care for all Americans. I want Americans to have a living wage. I want college available to all who can benefit from it, and yes, that means free at state-sponsored schools. I don't want young people committing suicide over college debt. Another thing I want is to stop having that painted as ultra-left or radical. That's ridiculous. Just about every other developed country on earth has those things. 

It's more offensive than I can express to be compared with people running around in MAGA hats, people who tolerate Trump's selfishness and narcissism. I'm not gonna go out and say every Trump supporter is a racist, but it's a pretty good bet that every racist is a Trump supporter. Sure they're angry. But what do they want? They want a president who will look at a nazi rally and say there are good people on both sides. Well, there aren't.

I've seen a lot of people I respect rationalizing this. Oh, he's just saying there's anger and frustration on both sides. Hey, there was anger and frustration on both sides of the nazi rally too. The thing is, I wouldn't compare the nazis to the people who opposed them. I further wouldn't compare Bernie supporters to Trump supporters. I find Trump's positions reprehensible, disgusting, disgraceful. He's stacking the Supreme Court with people who want to kill union, and he'd be more than happy to outlaw picketing. 

If Mayor Pete were not suggesting that Bernie is extremist, at the very least, then he's a very poor speaker of English. Is he just trying to be cute, and put that out there as though that were not a clear and obvious implication? It's hard to say, as I'm not a mind-reader. (Maybe it's some big DNC strategy, or a balloon or something. My own congressional rep, Kathleen Rice, just compared Trump and AOC, something I find equally offensive and ignorant.)

I'm sufficiently offended that there is no way on earth I'd vote for Mayor Pete in a primary. So far the only Democrat for whom I'd vote under no circumstance whatsoever is Cory Booker, who's Betsy DeVos in a tie, but Mayor Pete is cutting it very, very close.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Reformy Chalkbeat Pretends to Care About Union

Chalkbeat, in an effort to be "fair and balanced," ran a piece on whether unions help or hurt schools. I can't really say whether they do this out of sheer ignorance or a desire to appear less reformy thank they obviously are, but either way it's shallow misleading nonsense. Here are the two sides of the story, according to Chalkbeat:

One finds that states with stronger unions saw more of the money earmarked for education actually reach classrooms, which in turn helps student learning.

Another shows that weakening unions in Wisconsin led to increases in the share of college students training to be teachers, potentially reducing teacher shortages.

So let's look at these two things--One says more money reaches classrooms. That's a clear benefit, and there's no ambivalence there. School money ought to be spent in classrooms, as opposed to 800K salaries for the likes of Eva Moskowitz. Of course that's likely as not debatable over at reformy Chalkbeat. Those of us who actually work in classrooms (or trailers, or half-classrooms) certainly know better.

The other says more people want to be teachers. So the first question in my mind is this--why are people stupid enough to want to work for less money and pay more for health insurance? The second is whether or not these people are qualified to be teachers. (There is, of course the wave of teacher walkouts across America. Chalkbeat, evidently, has not noticed that when you suppress union, this is a predictable and repeated side effect. Chalkbeat can't be bothered to factor a national phenomenon that shows no sign of abating into their analysis. And why should they? Isn't it better to just ignore what's going on and play to their base?)

It turns out that somehow, under the complicated agreements developed after Wisconsin trashed union, beginning teachers might get paid more money. There are incentives, or something. I can see how that might be a draw. No more of that paying people who are there longer, because who cares about integrity,let alone institutional memory"  Nonetheless, if they aren't making more in the long run, there are a few issues that pop to my mind.

One is the fact that merit pay has been around for a hundred years. It's never worked anywhere. Factors that really affect education, like poverty, are ignored by reformies from Bill Gates right on down to the drones at E4E. If the parents work 200 hours a week each and still can't pay the rent or electricity, it must be the teacher's fault. If students arrive with a language deficit, or missing formal education, that's the teacher's fault too. If we pay them more money, they'll take a serious look at things and fix them. Except it's never, ever worked that way. I had a principal who said he'd want to fire anyone waiting on merit pay, anyone who wasn't already giving 100%.

Another, of course, is the one that afflicts teachers all over. Are these teachers going to last? Because half do not, even under the best of conditions. I have to say that under the worst of conditions, as in Wisconsin, this will be seriously exacerbated. Wisconsin has let it be known it does not want working teachers to do well. My best assumption is they won't, and they'll have a really hard time in the long run. Of course, like all reformies, Chalkbeat can't be bothered thinking long-term.

Another is whether or not we want teaching to be a career, as opposed to a gig. I know charter school teachers who have no expectations of hanging around for more that a few short years. When your contract's up, they offer you a new one, or they don't. But it doesn't matter. Someone will always hire you. In fact, someone will always hire almost anyone. Where do DOE teachers go when they get discontinued or suspended? I'll give you ten guesses. And no, I'm not saying the DOE teachers deserve that, since Tweed is dominated by fanatical ideologues left there by Bloomberg. But even if they did, it wouldn't matter.

It's pretty well-established in American history that what brings working people up, what creates a vibrant middle class is union. Of course I can't expect Chalkbeat to be bothered with what's good for America. After all, they take money from multiple Gates and Walton sources, sources that certainly aren't paying to hear about the benefits of union (let alone public school).

Here's the thing that really gets me--reformies are always going on with how we could save money by screwing working teachers. Let's just pay those with merit. Jesus, who hired all those teachers who haven't got merit? It wasn't the unions, who have no say whatsoever over hiring. Who gave them tenure? Guess what? That wasn't the union either. Who needs tenure anyway?

Well, I do, for one. I couldn't write this without tenure. I couldn't stand up and say that my state education department writes the crappiest tests on earth without tenure. I couldn't say the DOE is rife with Bloomberg-approved incompetence and anti-teacher bias, even though every working teacher in the city knows it as well as I do.

I don't know about you, but I want a confident teacher in front of my kid, and yours. I want a teacher smart enough to question the top-down nonsense from NYSED, from Tweed, from Leadership Academy Principals who failed to learn to play nice in kindergarten. I want teachers who will advocate for what's best for children. I want teachers to know that someone will stand with them in times of adversity. In fact, I want the same for the children we teach.

And make no mistake, the only way we achieve that is via union. Union isn't perfect, but it's the best option for working people and our children. We are under assault as a direct result, and Donald Trump wants to go so far as to outlaw picket lines. Meanwhile, as outlets like Chalkbeat and Fox News spew nonsense, I'll teach my students to question. And I can do that without fear precisely because I'm union.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Time to Move Forward

First of all, thanks to all who voted for me. I'm honored to serve another term on UFT Executive Board representing high schools. I hope my voice will help us advance in some small way. Thanks to all who voted at all, because apathy is our biggest enemy. Congratulations to all my brothers and sisters who ran on the Unity slate with me and won.

I know some people are disappointed I went this way. It's beyond odd for me, because I'd been on the other side for so long. I started this blog back in 2005, with the intention of defending my union against the slings and arrows of the local papers. The editorial boards seemed to hate the fact that we drew breath (let alone salary). But I was taken aback by that year's contract, the worst I'd ever seen. It turned me into a pain-in-the-ass blogger, which turned me into a UFT chapter leader, which turned me into who I am right now.

Odd though this journey has been, odder still was finally winning a union election a few years back and getting no support whatsoever from the caucus with which I ran. For a long time I thought I was promoting them and their brand, emphasizing it with every word any of us said at Executive Board. I thought we could expand our victory. I had no idea that wasn't what they wanted. I was pretty shocked when they moved to waste my time and tie my hands. I thought, if I wanted to be treated like that I'd have joined Unity. Given that, it was a great surprise to me when Unity approached Mike Schirtzer and me and said keep doing what you're doing, sign nothing, and work with us.

People have told me yeah, you can do that, but now you won't be able to publicly trash Unity anymore. Here's the thing, though--I'm not in the habit of trashing people with whom I work. I'm not in the habit of trashing people who actively support my work. (I'm not even sure I know anyone with those habits.)

I see a change in direction post-Janus, and I'm sorry if you don't. I don't think we'll ever see another contract in the style of 2005. I've seen leadership changed, and I've seen it exemplified by the way in which they reached out to us. I've seen it in the bottom-up way parental leave and fewer observations were achieved. I can only paint what I see.  (However, for those who enjoy seeing people trashed, I pledge to do my fair share on worthy targets.)

As working people, we face great challenges in the near future. We have a President who hates us and everything we stand for. We have a governor whose loyalties sway with the wind, whose principles change from day to day. Let's hope he continues to try and be Bernie Lite, but we'd best be ready for anything.

Locally we have the most progressive mayor we've had in years, but his hands are tied by a state law that forces him to pay rent for the likes of Eva Moskowitz. (In fairness, Eva is forced to scrape by on less than 800K a year. Honestly, you can barely buy a house in Queens for that anymore.) We have a chancellor who is brilliant and articulate, but weighted down by Tweed, jam-packed with Bloomberg leftovers, all of whom should have been fired when de Blasio took office. 

I'm glad it's not my job to somehow twist this year's results as an opposition victory. This notwithstanding, I guess I should congratulate my former running mates on the MORE Caucus (or what's left of it after the various purges). They set out to lose the election and did so in spectacular fashion, garnering fewer than 25% of the votes they did last time. That's a remarkable achievement from one election to the next. However, if you pinpoint those who work the hardest and care the most, then do everything you can possibly do to alienate them, you can really reduce your numbers. Considering the years of name recognition they were burdened with, this was no simple task.

I've got a different vision. My vision is better conditions for working teachers and the students we serve. One thing MORE has right is that our working conditions are student learning conditions. There is now a well-financed movement that will pretend to care about giving us a raise, but which in reality wants to achieve precisely the opposite. Without union, we'd be like our red state colleagues. We'd have no tenure, and work on year to year contracts. My friend in Florida tells me the best contract she can get is a "permanent" one, which is good for five years.

That's not what I want for new teachers. That's not the kind of future I envision for my colleagues or my students. We need to move our union forward, and we need to be a beacon for those in red states. Of course we can actively support them. Beyond that, we need to keep battling straight ahead, and we need to win. By supporting ourselves, by thriving in the face of adversity, we support them too.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

UFT Delegate Assembly April 17--Change Specialized School Entry, and Don't Shoot Us, Not Even With Rubber Bullets

4:22 Mulgrew calls us to order

Moment of silence for Jeanine Camarata. Speaks of PS 18, where she taught, and actions we may take over domestic violence. Gives credit to staff, which wishes to process for a while before they decide what to do. Say union will be with them. Thanks them for their work under difficult circumstances.

After DA has to prep state convention delegation. Huge benefit of one night stay in beautiful vacation town of Albany NY. Important work—we need to stand up and rep UFT. Will try to move quickly.

National—Betsy DeVos giving Eva Moskowitz 10 million dollars. No special ed. kids, or anyone else. Moskowitz just bought 70 million dollar building. DeVos may get award in NYC, maybe at Manhattan Institute, who thinks we are overpaid and get too many benefits. Maybe we will go visit.

State—It is now official that teacher evaluation law is changed. As of last Friday. Fought for six years. Signed on the last possible day, at night, but signed. Moratorium is now permanent. Cannot mandate test scores in evaluation. Next year two observations minimum.

Billion dollar increase, but feeling effects from feds. Ten blue states targeted severely. Want to destabilize our infrastructure. We are at war with our federal government, as a state.

(Takes call from chancellor.)

Announces a student passed away. 5-7 years old. Was getting off bus and was hit by car in Queens.

Rent is a large union issue. Rent regulations sunset on July 1st. Assume it should not be problem. We will be supporting tenants associations. High percentage of members who rent. Another bill will be known as patient protection act. We will lobby hard for this. Now, if you go to an ER to hospital not in network, hospital may bill whatever it likes, $400 band-aids. You have no right to appeal or question. Has only become large problem recently.

Working on this inside of a coalition, with insurance companies, BBB in NY, AARP. For us costs are covered, but after that they come to us at negotiating table and ask we give something more back. In 2012 they passed a law because out of network doctors did it. We want same system for hospital. If you have families not in unions, they may have 90% coverage, which could cost thousands of dollars easily. We want hospitals solvent, but this is important.

You’ll also hear about single-payer. We believe there should be health care for all but we don’t want this or campaign finance to blow a hole in our state and local budgets. Will exacerbate our issues with feds. Average UFT member would see 40% rise in taxes. We have to not allow Trump to do what he wants to do to NY. He wants to destabilize and blame it on others.

Charter schools on table—Governor says he never said he would support more. It was his staff person, actually. We see an opportunity here. Most charter control moved from state to SUNY charter institute. Merryl Tisch runs it, wants to get rid of caps or move all charters to NYC.

Most NYC charters were K-5. SUNY can now authorize without approval, and are full of former Bloomberg employees, change K-5 to K-8 or 12. So they get three for price of one. We want to stop free rent for charters, have moratorium on new charters.
City—Next year we don’t know how many snow days, may be three or four. Still looking at calendar, Muslim holidays in summer and others on weekends.

SBO time.  Good people are thinking about it. We are learning how to negotiate. We want flexibility with certain days. Had first meeting with DOE about training for APPR. Schools are losing their minds over what observation is. Will put out joint letter with me and chancellor.

I was in a school yesterday that made me want the superintendent fired. Principals do whatever they want. Nothing to do with creating instruction. Schools standing still for no reason. No faith in leadership. Hundreds of schools do it right, but we have to continue dealing with this. Had meeting with DOE, where they’d prepared all training for us. We rejected it, and said we would bring people who were observed to the table. Same people who said they weren’t working wanted to fix what they did.

Same people in charge of superintendents. Thanks Evelyn DeJesus for first evaluation meeting. We will teach them how to differentiate evaluations. HS English classes different from ICT classes. We will push back until we get it right. We have words on contract we must utilize to redesign evaluation.

52% of schools now reporting consultation. Works to your advantage. I can make my agenda based on info you provide. Step Two grievances are ridiculous. Chancellor didn’t know he signed them. Saw grievance denied because para was not entitled to lunch. Put it on agenda because you told me to. Want to keep that going. If info comes directly from schools makes my job easier.

Janus enthusiasts have started social media outreach against us as of April 15. New group says you have right to give yourself a raise. Whole lot of material goes along with this. Last year we did a lot of organization. We will have to do more work this year.  We will have to organize membership teams again. Falls on you, the leadership. You need a team having these conversations.

We have new contract, pay nothing in health care, Manhattan Institute very upset with us. We will act. They want to destabilize and weaken us. 3% a year, so in ten years we lose 30. Hate to end on that, but that’s the official end. More importantly, it’s one day from the break. Weather getting nicer. Now we pray for not hot weather.

You read about computerized testing. Next year NYC will be epicenter. Commissioner is in trouble but plans it. We have issues with it, It’s cheaper, but quality still bad. We would like more appropriate formative assessment. There is always a challenge in front of us, unionized workers. If you’re an educator, we have a whole lot of them. Idiot superintendents give idiot directions to moronic principals. We will deal with them together.

Thank you for taking leadership roles. Not easy. Long year. We will rejoice in our victories, but be ready and vigilant.

Howard Schoor—Was middle school conference, Herstory brunch, CL training, HS awards, others since last meeting. Next week borough offices closed, central open. D11 scholarship dinner May 8. Middle school anti-bullying conference May 9. 5K run/walk May 11. Albert Shanker scholarship awards May 18. Ballots being counted now.


Q—Glad you mentioned eval. Members at my school concerned with adverse observation. ICE had inadequate planning time.

A—We will address that and insist they do this differently for different classrooms. Further than planning time. Were they trained? ICT is in every school, so they must all have training before school starts. We will have two days for training. You should be talking with principal right now. Before observations get screwed up we need to train people. We must require planning time during school year. Should start in September. Great when it’s done right. Terrible when people just tossed into it.

Q—Measles—Never had them but there are outbreaks. We have members and schools in these communities. What is DOE going to do if this impacts us.

A—Law doesn’t require inoculation. There are loopholes. Parents have rights, for medical and religious reasons. In Rocklyn and now in NY it’s mandated that all students are vaccinated or they can’t attend schools. Will probably not survive court challenge, but leaders wanted to prevent outbreaks. May help before it goes to court.

Q—Congestion pricing—concerned, as we’re off FDR drive. Many members concerned. Firefighters and police may get reduction, as may others. Have we faced this or spoken on it?

A—Have officially put it on table twice. Still don’t see plan to fix MTA. But it passed. Can’t imagine what will happen, but I communicated we believe any educator working below 60th St. should be given exemption.

Q—Some of us above 60th St. see cabs already charging more. A lot of this has to do with affordable housing. Hopes we will move on that as well. This was predicted a long time ago. Question already asked.

Q—At our school we have big performance calendar. Lately APs and principal have been AWOL on performance nights. Do they have to be present, or can others be in charge?

A-Admin must be in building. Shame on them.

Q—We have to look for specificity—what does readily available mean for lesson plans? With observations, have we compared what’s happening school to school? There are big discrepancies. In our school in two or three categories, we were between 60-70% developing. How can we compare?

A—We can now FOIL Advance system. Of course people who hate us will do the same. Now we have end of year finals. They always say there are fewer badly rated teachers in last five years, but observation is not about bad ratings. It’s about moving instruction. A principal can show evidence they moved instruction when half staff was D and they are E at end of year. Everyone is playing a game now. We will try to get a few districts where supe will set instructional goals for district. Then each school will review plan to meet district plan. Almost every district in US works that way.

Happy we are now looking at good instructional support and practices. We want instruction moved, not anger and frustration. I like chancellor, schools, want to fire everyone in between. They call me Satan. I call them useless.


Elizabeth Perez
—Wants item 7 moved to item 1. Supporting candidate for special election May 14th.



1—City council endorsement—E. Perez—supports Farah Lewis. Brooklyn UFT interviewed 6 of 9 candidates. We agreed she was best fit, product of public schools, Midwood High, served as budget director for Jumaane Williams. Supports our issues. Opposes more charters. Wants funding for public school. opposes colocations. Supports funding for our programs, education affordable housing.

Mindy Rosier—This AM I read Jumanne Williams endorsed someone else. Says we should wait to see what’s going on.

Anthony Harmon
—Reminds body that special election happening May 14. We must decide tonight. Next DA after special election. Urges body to go along with recommendation of Brooklyn UFT.

Yelena S—Wonders who J. endorsed.

Mulgrew—Rises in support of resolution. Person Jumaane endorsed supported raising charter cap and tax credits.

Resolution passes.

Rich Mantel—Many parents have served in military. Some have PTSD. Don’t get assistance they need. Our committee wants DOE to change student registration form to see if parent or guardian is veteran. Will start a contact with veteran services which may provide counseling. Asks for support.


Duane Clark—Motivates appropriate accountability for transfer schools. These schools have special populations that may not achieve goals, and become TSI or CSI. Transfer schools branded as undesirable. Who wants to work in school that may close? Asks that we work with NYSED for language to support transfer schools.


Arthur Goldstein—So in Indiana a bunch of administrators got together and thought, hey, for the next active shooter drill, let’s get a bunch of guys to take out guns and shoot the teachers, but because we’re so nice, we’ll just use plastic bullets and not kill them. Imagine the terror of the teachers seeing guns drawn in front of them, during, you know, an active shooter drill. Imagine them going home with bruises and welts and cuts and accepting that as part of their work day. Imagine them being told not to talk about it.

And you think, well, that’s Indiana. This can’t happen here. But it wasn’t Indiana that elected Mike Bloomberg not once, not twice, but three times. It wasn’t Indiana that started the Leadership Academy. It wasn’t Indiana that hired Leadership Academy principals, the ones some of us work for, and I'm looking at you, Forest Hills and Bryant. It wasn't Indiana that hired the 30-year-old Boy Wonder APs some of us work for, and you have to think, holy crap, it’s a miracle it didn’t happen here first.

We are here to help children. We are not here to be abused by insane administrators playing cops and robbers on our bodies. I urge you to vote for this resolution. Let’s send a message to the next lunatic administrator who wants to try this that the United Federation of Teachers is not gonna sit down and take it.


Mary Jo Jenice—May Day dates to 1886, when they went on strike for 8 hour work day, associated with worker rights, and immigration rights, asks for your support for May Day resolution.

George Altomari—Approves anything that shows what labor had to do. We fight hard her, but at that time, when May Day established, there were riots, and murders, and trials against workers. I support resolution and wish we had more time to discuss labor in classroom. We have labor calendars available. May declared labor history month by governor.


Specialized HS Admission policy—Janella Hinds
—Asks UFT to reaffirm its policy. Need for reaffirmation of work we’ve previously done, wants common sense solutions, asks for support.

Marjorie Stamberg—
Supports resolution, but it’s a little band aid on huge problem. UFT should say this is institutionalized racism. NYS schools most segregated in country. We should be a lot stronger, should use lottery, not testing. We should spread these programs throughout city so as not to leave anyone out. Mayor has backed away from this, as charters.

Jonathan Halabi—from a specialized HS. Rises in support—offers amendment. Resolved—UFT SHS task force will reconvene to develop and implement policies to promote school culture and tone. Worked really hard on this. We hear about people opposed to change. We need more diverse school population. Doesn’t represent talent and strength in city. We need to come to good consensus on how to move in direction our school needs to go. We need to look at it again. Our school feels this deeply.

Antonio Jacobs
—speaks in support of amendment—alum of HS Art and Design. Specialized school. Doesn’t require exam, but you need portfolio. What’s important about amendment is it addresses concerns this reso doesn’t have enough teeth. Remedies it somewhat. Committee can reconvene, refine things, benefit all moving forward.

Ryan Finnegan—Can you reread amendment?

Paula Washington—Says specialized HS, but doesn’t specify which ones—For SHSAT or all specialized HS?

—Specifically for testing schools.

Margarita Goins—Against motion. Former president of Stuyvesant HS Parent Association. Believes specialized schools not yet broken in terms of entrance exams. No one lets friends get in. Never in support. Must do more research.

Rashad Brown—Calls all questions.

Amendment carries

Resolution passes

Resolution on domestic violence in wake of murder of Jeanine Cammarata—

Asks on behalf of colleagues, children—UFT has been supportive of us. Michael Mulgrew visited and listens to us. Couldn’t have asked for better support. Now ask that you stand with us, so we can be safe, help students, educate them, heal as community. Do not want her to be forgotten.

Passes unanimously—Thanks school for bravery.

—Donations for prom event. Will be one huge one, as opposed to various small ones. Please donate 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Cuomo Back to Faux Democrat Ways, Hyping Charters

Governor Cuomo, in his quest to be Bernie Sanders Lite, adores teachers sometimes. He does what he can to support unions, in his way. He's no longer on a maniacal quest to fire us based on ridiculous test scores. In fact, lately it's beginning to seem like he's our bestest buddy.

I almost forgot about all those suitcases full of cash from DFER, or Families for Excellent Schools, or Bill Gates, or Walmart, or whatever name reforminess is going under this week. However, Andy hasn't forgotten, and now he wants to raise the cap on charters. After all, you can never have enough non-unionized test-prep factories, and Eva Moskowitz isn't even making a million bucks a year yet.

“We support raising this artificial cap, but the legislature needs to agree as well,” Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi told The Post.

You see what he did there?  He called the cap artificial. So there's an artificial limit at which the public can be compelled to support schools over which it had neither voice nor control. Under natural law, Eva should be able to open a gazillion schools, and we should have every kid in New York chained to a test prep sheet until she pees her pants.

It's not enough that Cuomo pushed a law saying that the mayor, despite "mayoral control," has to pay rent for charters if the city decides not to actually grant said charters. You'll take our charter schools, and like it, says Cuomo, as he dives into a pool of charter cash a la Scrooge McDuck. After all, Eva's BFFs deserve a return on their suitcases full of cash. It's the American Way!

It's good we replaced IDC traitor Tony Avella with John Liu. Aside from the fact that Avella was elected as a Democrat but worked to stymie Democratic initiatives. Here's what Johin Liu says about charter schools:

“There are no plans to change the cap on charter schools.”

I'm good with that. In fact, I'd be good with lowering the cap, even if it meant reducing Eva Moskowitz's salary. If she had to scrape by on, say, 500K a year, it wouldn't break my heart. Maybe she could skip a gala luncheon here and there, or forgo the second yacht if necessary. What does UFT say?

“Our message on charters has not changed: Until they agree to basic levels of accountability for how they treat all students and how they use tax dollars, the existing cap should remain in place,” UFT President Mike Mulgrew said at a state budget hearing in February.

I'm good with that. How many beginning ELLs are in Moskowitz Academies? I'd wager zero. How many alternate assessment students are in Moskowitz Academies? Another goose egg.

Now that's a win for ELLs and alternate assessment students, because I don't really want to see them peeing their pants waiting for test prep. The thing is, I don't think anyone else should be doing that either.

Cuomo looks like our friend, but the first time he senses the wind blowing in a new direction, he'll turn on us faster than Donald Trump's hair would blow away in a hurricane. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Toby, Music Therapy, and Break Assignments

In college, I took a course in music therapy. I've always been interested in music, and if we could use it to help people, so much the better. I never really followed up on it. I'm now more keen on therapy dogs, which I think I first heard about in a NYSESLAT exam (before the NYSESLAT exam devolved into an exercise on Common Coriness). I believe in therapy dogs, because my dog Toby wants to say hello to absolutely everyone when we're walking. Sometimes people pet him for a while, turn to me and say, "Thanks. I needed that."

One of the very first assignments I got in Music Therapy 101 was to write instructions on how to use a kazoo. I found that to be an absurd assignment. I failed to see how teaching someone something so obvious would be therapeutic. Perhaps there was something I was missing. Perhaps there still is. My friend wrote something like, "Place it in your mouth and hum." That pretty much nailed it. I don't like to copy, though. I wasn't sure how to differentiate my work from that of my friend, and I didn't see a better approach. I'm a big fan of simplicity.

Since simplicity was off the table, I decided to go in another direction. I wrote a five-page paper on one of those old-fashioned things they called typewriters, in the form of a Q and A. I don't recall everything I wrote, but I remember this:

Q: Can I use my kazoo as a weapon?

A: Kazoos are made for only peaceful purposes, and should never be used to do intentional harm. However, it's certainly justifiable to pull out your kazoo if it's a matter of self-defense.

The teacher was not amused. She handed it back to me and wrote, "This is all very interesting, but please go back and do the "real" assignment."

I remember being offended by the quotation marks around the word real. Did that mean it was just so-called real? What was real and not real to this teacher? I spent a lot of real time doing real work to complete a real assignment. Of course I found the assignment ridiculous, and I don't suppose the teacher liked that. I dropped the course rather than pursue whatever it was she deemed real.

Years later, my daughter was in high school reading The Catcher in the Rye. I remember when I was in high school. I read it and wondered what the big deal was. I did not find the book shocking, I read an awful lot of books back then. Some were really eye-opening. I remember a whole lot of books that contained a whole lot of material that was way beyond Holden and his teenage angst.

I read the book again, along with my daughter, and found it to be worse than I recalled. Holden was a detestable little person with whom I did not wish to spend one extra moment. I did not care at all what happened to him. I don't recall whether it made such a negative impression on my daughter, but her teacher gave a spring break assignment that pissed off both of us.

She had to make some kind of display with artifacts. I remember running around with her to 99-cent stores to pick up crap to make the display. She also had a menu of other crap to do, one option of which was to write a blog in Holden's voice. I did that for her. It came easily to me. Unless the goal of this assignment was to make us hate the book even more, I saw no value whatsoever to it. However, it had the added advantage of ruining our week off.

I never give assignments for breaks. I figure a break should be just that. I know some of my colleagues disagree, and I'm absolutely sure there are assignments that are not crap. But I don't feel bad about cutting my kid's time spent on crap. I figure it's one of my jobs, as a parent and a teacher, to reduce the amount of time spent on crap in any way I can.

Now you could argue that I was being dishonest helping her. I'd argue that one of our jobs as teachers is to identify stuff that is not crap and get our students involved with it. Hopefully, then, we'll be raising a generation that will both take and dole out less crap than we did.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Janus People Are Really Saying "Give Yourself a Handicap"

They'll use the words give yourself a raise, but that's far from what they want for you. They want you to cut your legs out from under yourself so you're at their mercy. If you buy their line, you are not well-enough informed to teach children. By hobbling yourself, you place their future at risk as well.

Teachers are underpaid in 39 states, and we aren't one of them, being among the highest paid teachers in the country. With all the nonsense we endure, we're in a better place than many or most of our brothers and sisters all over America. There are powerful forces that want to move us backward.

Janus didn't happen because workers were being abused by greedy union leaders. It happened because right-wing ideologues don't wish to have the uber-wealthy inconvenienced by having public funds pay decent salaries or provide reasonable benefits to working people. Janus himself was rewarded with a ticket to the gravy train, working for the thugs who used his name to hobble public service unions.

Imperfect though union is, it's a bulwark against those that would have us begging for scraps. There has been a systemic degradation of the teaching profession, for years now, in the United States. Whenever more money is required for tax breaks for those who least need them, teachers are an easy target in most of the country.

The ongoing red state teacher rebellion is far from over, and a direct outgrowth of the right's contempt for working people. While it behooves us to support the efforts of our brother and sister teachers, we also need to make sure we don't fall as far back as they have. You'd think that couldn't happen in New York, but I was pretty shocked to see it happen in Wisconsin. If Donald Trump can be President of the United States, just about anything is possible. 

People are going to come to your door and say give yourself a raise. Don't pay union dues. They'll make it appear noble. Save your money and buy school supplies for your students, they'll say. Before I even get into their true motivation, why the hell should you be buying school supplies for your students at all? That's a separate issue, but how are we going to fight it if we give in to the cynical demagogues who want you to give up your power for a bag of silver?

In places where union has been degraded in the way our opponents wish to see us, teachers need to choose between taking their children to the doctor and having their teeth fixed. They need to hold second and third jobs to make ends meet. Make no mistake, this is precisely what these people who come to your door have in mind for you.

This year we've won parental leave, a less odious evaluation system, and some better ways to deal with complaints. We are on an upward spiral. Of course that can be reversed rather quickly if we weaken ourselves. I don't know what I'll say when the Janus people come to my door, but I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of it.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

No English for You!

The cynical, morally bankrupt thugs in NYSED face issues far differently than you or I might. For example, there's been a perennial shortage of ESL teachers as far back as I can recall. In fact, one of the reasons I'm an ESL teacher is that I could never get a job as an English teacher. Someone told me, "Go teach ESL," and though I didn't know what it was at the time, I grew to love it.

There are few things more satisfying than observing the rapid progress of beginners, or noticing that your students are suddenly fluent in the language. I remember one girl who struggled for two years and then caught it. I said, "You see? I told you you could do it." She said, "Yeah. I was surprised." Another milestone is the first time a student reads a book in English. "You forced me to do that, and I hated you for it. But now I'm glad you did it."

There's another thing you'll see if you teach beginners. You'll have kids thank you for teaching the one class that they can understand. Imagine what torture it is to go through five or six that they don't understand.

Of course that's changed now. How do you deal with a teacher shortage? In some states, you just lower the standards and hire anybody. Sure, that's a terrible approach, but it keeps bodies in the teacher chairs. In NY State, they've got a different approach. They take a regulation called CR Part 154, and rig it so you barely require direct English instruction at all. Then, they take the test that ostensibly measures English ability and make the standard so low that my dog could pass. Finally, when everyone advances, they say, "You see that? Our plan worked."

I'm fortunate enough to be in a building in which the principal thinks learning English is important for newcomers. Our principal, in fact, thinks it's so important that he holds classes of multiple levels in which students are explicitly taught English. This, of course, is old school. Official NY State policy is that direct English instruction exists only to support advancement in core courses. Who cares if you can introduce yourself, ask where the bathroom is, order a pizza, or make friends? As long as you can pass a bunch of rigged tests, that's good enough for the geniuses up in Albany.

So all over the state, only rank beginners are required to have only one period of direct English instruction per day. Once they advance, via that NYSESLAT exam that my dog can pass (and granted, he's a smart dog), you plant an ESL teacher in a classroom twice a week and you meet the standard. According to NY State, the kids are being served. What exactly is that teacher supposed to do? Who knows?

One thing the teacher is likely not supposed to do is plan. I know that because co-planning is a serious endeavor. If you're with more than one co-teacher, it becomes nigh impossible. I know teachers with eight co-teachers. The only time they can possibly see them is in the classroom.

I had a hole in my program this semester, so I'm co-teaching in a special education English class. There are two former ELLs in the room, and that's who I'm there for. In my judgment, the issues these kids have (or don't) are not related to their knowledge of English. But hey, the regulations say I'm supposed to be there, and my boss says so too, so I'm there.

The teacher with whom I work has another section of the same class directly after this one. I would not presume to tell him how to plan. Also, if I'm walking around I will help any kid, not just the two to whom I'm assigned. For me, this is not a bad assignment. My co-teacher, like me, was assigned to teach the English Regents exam. He's given it some serious consideration, so I steal and use almost all his handouts. My class complains that another teacher's name is on the paper, but I don't care.

I'm okay with this, even though I'm absolutely certain my presence in that room is far from necessary. If I had to do this five times a day, though, and had no classes of my own, I'd be pretty upset. I know teachers who do this five times a day. One of the groovy things about Part 154 is that you don't need to even be there all week. Instead of one teacher pushing in each day, you could push in two days here, two there, and one somewhere else. Now here's the beauty part--In that third class, you're there once a week, and then some other teacher is there once a week. Even though there's no continuity, Part 154 says this is good enough. And for principals, teachers who used to teach one class are now teaching 2.5 classes.

Now imagine you do this five times a day. ESL teachers who used to plan and cover five classes are now covering 12.5 classes. They have no input whatsoever in these classes and cannot possibly plan anything. A big bonus is that you can now fire over half of your ESL staff and save big time. It's a WIN-WIN!!!

Unless, of course, you actually care whether your students get support. NYSED and the NY State Regents don't give a crap one way or the other. They sit in fancy offices and go to gala luncheons while ELLs sit through incomprehensible classes. And hey, because the English Regents exam doesn't entail real writing or real reading, they can pass that and graduate.

God help them when they get into college, because no one else will. Our total failure to teach them English means they'll be bounced to some community college, where they'll pay thousands of dollars to take zero credit remedial English courses, and lose a year or more of their young lives. I know what these courses are, because I've taught them at Queens College and Nassau Community College. I taught these classes for twenty years.

And guess what? I can teach these same skills in high school. I would, too, except NY State says I can't. Instead, I'm test-prepping for the NY State Regents exam, without which my kids will not graduate.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Pass

This is my pass. I don't actually love letting students have it. I'm protective of it. The pattern is this--the same students ask for it all the time, and that leads me to believe they just feel like walking the halls. Sometimes I feel like walking the halls too, but I usually wait until the class is over.

I have one student in my class who's a little talkative. That in itself isn't really an issue, except she's a little talkative fairly frequently. By that I mean she never stops talking, not for one moment, and is constantly seeking my attention. With 30 other students, I'm unable to provide it all the time.

Now sometimes, with students like this, it's good to keep them occupied. Give them something to do in the classroom, and perhaps they'll stop talking for one minute. Then you'll be able to give attention to one or more of your thirty other students. So the other day I asked her to pass out some papers. That would make for a few quiet minutes.

She didn't want to do it. She said her leg hurt. I got someone else to pass out the papers. A minute later, my loquacious student needed to go get some water.

"What about your leg?" I asked.

"It's better now," she said.

"I don't think you should go," I told her. "I want to make sure your leg doesn't get hurt again."

What followed was ten minutes of shouted requests to leave the room for water, occasionally punctuated by responses in the negative. Actually I tried pretty hard to ignore it, but it was quite difficult.

Later someone else asked to use the pass. It was nowhere to be found. I knew where I had left it--it was right on my desk, directly in front of my dissatisfied student. I had to write a pass for the student who really had to go.

Later, my talkative student's friend ratted her out. She had the pass under her sweater. So I asked her if she had taken it.

"Did you see me take it?" she asked.

I had not. But I did call her dad and tell him what happened that day, and how hard it was to teach the class with this constant monologue.

The next day I moved my talkative student away from my desk. I moved about five other students too, just to make it look like I wasn't doing what I was actually doing. My talkative student was pretty quiet. I paid way less attention to her than I usually do. We had this unspoken detente, based on my obvious suspicion and total inability to prove anything. I was still upset about the missing pass.

Yesterday I paid a little more attention to her. She turned into her usual noisy self. I kind of turned into myself too, and vainly tried to curb her enthusiasm, as per usual. Then she presented me with a field trip form.  I saw an opportunity.

"I'll tell you what. If you're quiet for three days, I'll sign the form."

"But I need it TODAY!"

"Sorry. Those are my terms."

"Okay, fine," she said. "I don't care."

We went on with the class. The next time I looked in my bag, the pass had mysteriously returned.

Who knows what lurks in the hearts of noisy students?

Not me, that's for sure.

Monday, April 08, 2019

UFT Executive Board April 8. 2019--Tragedy in SI and Adult Ed. Speaks

6 PM—Secretary Howard Schoor calls us to order.

Speaker—Roberta Pikser—Reads a letter from working group of Adult Education. Rosemarie Mills removed as supe—but DOE simply moved her. Oversees Adult Ed. about which she knows nothing. Testing issues still abound. ESL students get math packets, but not instruction in English.

Paperwork increasing. Mills appointees answer to her and harassment continues. Constant observations and U ratings. Newer teacher feel unprotected, afraid to push back. Our licenses and benefits and knowledge in danger. Some places have few tenured teachers, almost no full time day positions. Teachers work 12-13 hour days.

CL falsely accused, brought up on 3020a charges, reassigned. Attack not on her, but on our chapter, likely at behest of Mills. Want union to stop harassment, file grievance for large number of experienced teacher getting bad ratings, not permitted to sub. Asks union to defend jobs and use of adult ed. as part time program. Wants vigorous defense of CL.

Agitating for six years. Things change but remain the same. We need answers.


Staff Director’s Report—LeRoy Barr
—Much activity last two weeks—Functional weekend last week, and Herstory event. CL training last weekend. Friday Academic HS Awards. Middle of election season, please get out the vote, remind people not to let ballots sit. Due April 16, count April 17. Next EB April 29.

President’s Report—Michael Mulgrew—Horrendous tragedy in SI. Two schools involved. Difficult situation. We will do something and say something on violence against women. This is horrendous and senseless. EB should make a statement. Thanks to SI people dealing with very difficult situation.

Albany—Budget done. Two more days right now. APPR bill needs to be signed by Wednesday or Thursday. NJ is closing schools due to budget cuts. Federal tax package has not been good. CT, NY and others trending down in terms of revenue.

Billion dollar increase sounds like a lot, but into next year it doesn’t look good. Pushing bill, you will get electronic communication for patient protection act. We need to be allowed to question bill. Hospitals are billing at ridiculous rates. Hundreds of dollars for band aid, Bill will stop this practice. 2012 law said insurance companies could appeal charges. Hospitals not covered fighting this bill. Our goal is to fix problem right now. Hospital CEOs are doing just fine.

Increase in online consultation reporting, want everyone using it. Need notes. I use it to put my agenda together. Last month we fixed LODI issue because of notes. Make sure that members vote, no matter who you support.


Arthur Goldstein
—It’s testing season again. I’m personally involved with two tests. The first is the NYSESLAT. I’m not sure what this test is designed to measure, but what it does, more and more, is place ELLs way too high. I’ve seen many students who’ve tested out of ESL who are incapable of doing sustained reading, and who simply cannot write comprehensibly in English.

This leads me to the other test I’m involved with, which is the English Regents exam. I have students who cannot write comprehensibly who got grades in the 80s on the English Regents. That’s because the writing part of the test does not really involved writing, but rather copying, pasting, and marginally explaining. As for the reading portion, my students who don’t bother to read and simply search for answers do better than those who waste their time with, you know, reading.

It’s good that we now have options not to include these awful tests in teacher ratings, and that’s a step forward. Still, why are we allowing the state to rate our students with such terrible tests? I’m just a lowly teacher, and I can write tests better than the overpaid geniuses in Albany. I don’t know. I’d be surprised if anyone could write them worse.

David Coleman famously said no one gives a crap what you think or feel and that led to these abysmal exams. Therefore writing, according to New York State, has absolutely nothing to do with writer voice. Reading, according to New York State, is answering twenty multiple choice questions, for which you need not even read a single entire passage. We have a whole lot of students who can pass a test but who can’t write a college statement to save their lives.

NYSUT is all over Facebook on this, and NYSUT EVP Jolene diBrango is making some very sharp observations on Twitter.  A lot of teachers, would like to see t largest local in the country standing for reasonable student evaluations, more teacher autonomy, or preferably both. What can we do to help our brothers and sisters in NYSUT achieve this?

Schoor—Evelyn not here. We’re part of NYSUT. We are over a third of NYSUT. Will ask Evelyn to give report next time.

Mike Schirtzer—Asks for moment of silence for Jeanine Cammarata.

Schoor—Coming later.

Schirtzer—Asked about investigation process. Update on whether students need parental approval.

Schoor—We don’t control that. We send members or lawyers to rep members. We are involved in this process.

Reports from Districts—Sean
  ?—Appreciates comments on Jeanine Cammarata. She was murdered. Husband arrested. Used dogs to ID body. Manner in which they found her, was identified by dental records. Was a good soul, good person, was at PS 18 and 29. Have had support from borough office dealing with this tragedy. Was a vigil, with pastors, all dressed in purple for domestic violence awareness. Asks for moment of silence, also for passed CL Denise Budd.

Rich Mantel
—March 30 6th annual middle school conference, 250 people, Shakespeare theme. 5K Saturday May 11. Most walk don’t run. Free t-shirt. Proceeds to UFT disaster relief fund.

Sterling Roberson
—Saturday had a tech for all event. Introducing parents, students, veterans to tech and careers in tech. Was a fair manned by corporate executives. Different tech orgs, higher ed and others. Served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many benefits and prizes for those who stayed. Thanks Nick Cruz, para liaison in Bronx. Was a child care center. Thanks Bronx office. Thanks central UFT for 20 page program. Very successful event. 400 plus people. Thanks to all.

Janella Hinds—March 31 second annual Herstory event. Attendees received pampering services from students, manicures, makeups and more. Ellen Procida, Carmen Alvarez, Ray Frankel honored, Members shared stories. Phenomenal time. Thanks all members of committee and everyone who joined.

Mary McCarol
—District 26 March Against the Madness. People rated principals positive or negative. Schools that rarely get involved had selfies with buttons. At end of April will take another look at brackets and post on social media.

Camille Eady—Last Monday, Brooklyn UFT, career day. Thanks Liz Perez, Sterling Roberson. Various workshops.

Eliu Lara
—Bronx HS district event, superintendent, principals, teachers, parents, This year Carranza coming as keynote. Asks for donations to help kids, to donate laptops and supplies.

George Altamari
—Please come to social studies conference this Saturday the 13th. Has CTLE credits if you need them. Great program. Over 20 courses. Hope someone in this room comes. Program starts at 8 AM. Main speaker Mario Celento, Pres. NY AFL-CIO.

Mike Schirtzer—This body in April 17 and DA passed reso on voter registration. DOE taking up initiative. This week is voter registration week. But it was in principal’s weekly. Unless principal nominates someone in charge, nothing will happen. In our school they will register all students. City paying per session. In our school students will say why they registered. We’re giving cupcakes. Wish city partnered with UFT. I will suggest that.

Schoor—Union does many things, depth and breadth unbelievable. Great to hear what everyone does. Thanks members.

Resolution in support of 2019 May Day.

Mary Jo Genice
—Asks for support for 2019 May Day. We are proud to be Americans, but can trace heritage to other countries. Our labor movement stands on back of those who came before us. Dates to 1886 in Chicago.


We are adjourned 6:40.

Better Stop Talking and Find that Hypotenuse

I'm kind of in a bind. My students need to pass the NY State English Regents exam or they won't graduate from high school. While I hate test prep, especially if the test is total crap, I can't see having them all walk in blind with no idea what to expect.

How do you break up the tedium of the common core crap with which they're banging our students over the head? The prime task on this exam is pulling quotes out of articles presented by the test-prep experts in Albany. They will assign you a topic like The History of Cement. You will then get four articles that will explore cement all the way from ancient Babylonian times up to the present.

I collected a bunch of articles on whether or not teachers should carry guns. I figured that was a topic of possible interest to my students, and that it would therefore never, ever appear on the test. I found a few articles on the topic and distributed one each day. Eighteen of my students thought it was a bad idea, five favored it, and eight didn't want to go through the excruciating process of raising their hands and committing one way or the other.

We got some pretty good discussion happening, but fewer than half of my students volunteered. Making non-volunteers talk was pretty rough. Either they had nothing to say, or didn't really feel like being dragged into anything. Two of my brightest kids came out in favor of teachers carrying guns, and really surprised me.

I surprised some of my students too, by asking them, "Would you want me to have a gun?" Some said no, which was kind of what I was hoping for. Many said nothing, which was not what I was hoping for at all.

On parent teacher night last week, one of my students sat with me during a lull. I asked her why she didn't talk that day. The day before she had some really good comments.

"I thought you'd be mad at me," she said.

"Why would you think that?"

"It sounds like you really want to carry a gun. Everyone thinks so."

That's so odd. I absolutely do not want to carry a gun, and I don't want any teacher to carry a gun. I think it's an idiotic idea, borne in the fevered minds of corrupt politicians who want more money from the NRA. I must be very good at doing the whole devil's advocate thing, My students seem to believe I'm actively advocating for Satan and his NRA terrorist group.

I told the girl my real opinion, and that I just say things to try and provoke responses. I wonder if I'm bending over backward to be fair to the opposing opinion.

I'm pretty happy we got a few days of discussing the issue, and maybe that my students have considered it. I'm a little horrified that I made kids think I want guns in the classroom, or that I want to carry one myself. I'm gonna have to find a new approach next time.