Friday, August 28, 2015

The Renewal Plan

9 percent of NYC's public school population is literally homeless, In some schools, the number can run as high as 40%. Governor Cuomo, rather than trouble himself with such trivialities, works tirelessly to demonstrate it's teachers and schools that are failing our children. Of course, being impoverished in a city like New York is far from limited to those who lack a consistent home.

But that issue is being disregarded altogether in favor of fixing the schools and teachers at the root of the more pressing issue, which Andrew Cuomo and his Heavy Hearted Assembly have determined to be low test scores. After all, when you're seething with ambition, indifferent to absolutely everything else, and you've taken millions of dollars from people whose agenda entails squeezing further millions out of those costly public schools, you tend to do what they say.

The city, containing dozens of so-called Renewal Schools, has got to do something about it or have Cuomo take over those schools. That's basically the plan. If de Blasio can't figure out how to get the homeless, the hungry, the tired, the poor, the non-English speaking huddled masses to get better Common Core scores, MaryEllen Elia will get busy and do it herself. It isn't easy to ignore root issues, but she's determined, and she can't wait to turn those money-sucking community schools over to her wealthy and therefore worthy BFFs.

The city plan to deal with test scores directly related to homelessness, learning disabilities, and lack of English entails merit pay, which has not worked anywhere in over 100 years. Perhaps that's why no one's calling it merit pay, but since the entire project revolves around solving the wrong problem anyway the point is moot. Each school will get $27,500 to offer as bonuses to the teachers who will help raise the test scores and save the schools. It doesn't matter if your school has 20 teachers or 200 teachers because that doesn't matter either. The problem is test scores and the solution is $27,5000.

A principal can take that 27K and distribute it among up to three teachers. These lucky duckies will then set about the task of raising the test scores of kids, because that is the only way New York needs to help its children. Once their test scores are higher, they won't mind being homeless anymore. That they have disabilities hindering their ability to read, write, or do math will no longer be of any consequence. And kids who don't speak English will no longer find that an obstacle. (I actually spent several years teaching ESL students how to write formulaic nonsense so they could pass the English Regents exam, without which they couldn't graduate. I'm absolutely certain they would've benefited more from my teaching them English conversation, grammar, usage, and actual writing.)

Would you move to a school facing extinction in order to make an extra $7500? I wouldn't. I don't believe in miracles, and every educational miracle I've seen thus far has entailed either juking the stats, changing the grades, selecting the students, getting rid of those whose scores weren't high enough, or some combination of the above factors. In fact the most recent fantastic charter success I've seen occurred when the staff decided to grade their own state tests, something illegal in public schools.

It's pretty easy to fabricate miracles. It's unconscionable that the United States is so determined to scapegoat communities, schools and teachers in its effort to ignore a basic and fundamental issue affecting our people.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

On Keeping Young Teachers

Our school's a relatively good place. I'd argue that most of the administrators aren't even crazy. Yet the maniacal footprint of the reformies is everywhere, and there's no escape for a working teacher. This is brought home to me by a few of the people who've left us this year. And no, I'm not talking about retirees.

I was recently contacted by a teacher who stayed late every night writing lesson plans, not the first such teacher who's contacted me. I remember the last one I knew, who happened to be in my department. Because I'm chapter leader I keep very strange hours and stay late for all sorts of reasons. But this young woman stayed for hours after work each day, plotting out lesson plans in excruciating detail. I could not persuade her to do anything differently, and eventually she left. Perhaps she's a reluctant workaholic. Who knows?

What I keep hearing from teachers in trouble, from teachers not in trouble, from teachers who don't care one way or the other about trouble is that they're tired of being in a fishbowl. They're tired of thinking the boss could walk in at any moment and catch them doing something less than Danielson-worthy. They're tired of being constantly auditioned for a job they already have.

The teacher who just contacted me is taking a job elsewhere, and I often hear from teachers who are considering jobs elsewhere. It's heartbreaking to me because I think this is the best job there is. Don't get me wrong, I hate the new gotcha system as much as anyone. And given this blog's been up over a decade, I probably complain more than just about anyone. But the classroom and the kids inside of it aren't the problem at all. (This notwithstanding, I also know a bunch of other teachers who've left without sharing detail with me.)

Yesterday I heard a young teacher who I'd deemed almost a Renaissance man had left. This guy was conversant in multiple subjects, and had perhaps the most relentlessly positive attitude of any person of my acquaintance. I was certain the kids loved him, because it appeared everyone else did. Last year he surprised me by confiding how unhappy he was under this new system. I was shocked. He was the last person I'd have expected to complain about anything.

To me he's a bellwether of sorts. If a guy like this can't make it in a school like mine, how is any teacher to make it anywhere? Sure there will be a lot of young teachers who persevere and push through, but at what cost? Do we seriously want the people who are to be role models to our children to be constantly walking a tightrope and hoping for the best?

Even now there is a lawsuit to strip us of due process and render us at-will employees. Who the hell is going to speak up when special ed. kids are poorly served if they can then be fired for a bad haircut? Who's going to report safety hazards? Who's gonna bother calling the union about the moldy trailers? And for goodness sake, who's gonna want to take an already crazy job like chapter leader?

A former student of mine just took a teaching job in my school. This is a very, very smart and capable young woman. Will she make it, or will she wither under unreasonable pressure? I hope for the former, but I'd understand the latter.

We really need to make this job one worth having, not only for the teachers who come after us, but also for the kids they'll need to serve. People who believe Campbell Brown represents the children we serve are laboring under a serious misconception, and will need those reformy broomsticks surgically removed from their asses at the earliest possible opportunity. I only hope they have health insurance adequate to the task.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Works to Ability

That's a potential report card comment. I can't remember whether or not it's still available. The geniuses in charge of such things have revamped the comments so they all say things like "meeting the standards," "approaching the standards." or "not meeting the standards." They've rendered them less direct and more complicated. In their highly-compensated eyes, that is somehow an improvement.

You can't just say things directly anymore. The implications are bizarre. "Your kid is like everyone else." "Your kid is less like everyone else than many other kids." "Your kid is even more like everyone else than anybody else." You have to wonder which parent wants to place this message on a bumper sticker and announce it to total strangers stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.

But no matter how badly they muddy the message, no matter how pedantic and pretentious they render the verbiage, they cannot touch "works to ability." as the worst comment ever. I always wonder who thought of that. What's the message when someone gets a 50 along with the comment, "works to ability?" To me, that comment says, "Your child is not smart enough to pass my class."

Now you could give the child a 65, with the "works to ability" comment, and then you're saying, "Your child is smart enough to just squeak by, but could never possibly excel."  That's kind of offensive too. Were you to say that to a parent's face, you might be putting yourself at risk. If you told me that about my kid, and were sitting near an open window, I'd consider that an unacceptable risk.

In fact, if the kid got a 90 and "works to ability," you'd be saying the kid who got 95 was smarter. And if no one did better, maybe you'd be passing judgment on yourself. "I taught this course in such a fashion that no one could get a perfect score." Or perhaps you'd be saying, "I'm smarter than all these kids," also not a particularly constructive statement.

I'm really curious whether there's any productive use for this comment. If you've got one, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Planting the Seeds of Knowledge, Inch by Inch

A Variation on "The Garden Song"

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this V.A.M. score grow
All it takes is high stakes and Gates' dough
And the D.o.E's stern frown

Inch by inch, row by row
Someone drop cut scores just so
Someone pull them from below
Till the brain comes tumblin' round

Preppin' minds and readin' tomes
Kids are made of 6G phones
Feel the need to call a home
'Cause the time is close at hand

Brain for brain, fun and pain
Test erasures leave a stain
Throw my body down Pearson's drain
For the money from "the Man"

Pencil rows, right and wrong
Temper them with prayer and song
Moskowitz will say so long
She'll take your school fair and square

Old crow watchin' hungrily
From her perch in yonder tree
In my garden I'm as free
As that feathered thief up there

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make my V.A.M. score grow
All it takes is high stakes and Gates' dough
And the Governor's stern frown

Inch by inch, row by row
Someone drop cut scores just so
Someone pull them from below
Till the brain comes tumblin' round

Monday, August 24, 2015

What's in a Word?

I knew a stitting AP back when she was just a lowly teacher like me. I don't remember why, but I observed her class a few times. She had a great way with the kids. She was endlessly patient, and always uttering terms of endearment. The kids responded. They loved her. You could feel it.

Another teacher I know, when she was brand new, was having trouble with her classes. The kids were walking in whenever they felt like it. They were acting like they owned the place. A group of ESL students, in particular, were strolling in 15 minutes late and chatting in their native language the entire period. I happened to know the ringleader, and she didn't behave that way in my class. I spoke her language and called her home. I told the teacher to call homes every day they were late. I also told the teacher to separate the social group.

"Can I do that?" she asked.

"Of course you can," I told her. It's amazing the things people don't know. She was a quick study. She followed up with phone calls, took no guff, and the kids took to calling her a Nazi. I was proud of her.

But she changed. She turned into a "honey, sweetie" teacher, mothering the kids and finding them responsive. She texted me messages the kids would write her on the board. She told me stories about her kids and how she helped them. In essence, she used my suggestions when she needed them, but found her own voice. There are a lot of definitions of teacher voice, but to me it's a teacher's unique approach to kids.

I can't do the "honey, sweetie" thing. I fear if I were to do that, I'd be some teacher jail somewhere twiddling my thumbs, or shuffling papers, or whatever they have you do nowadays. It's sexist, truth be told. Women can say stuff like that to anyone, but it's suspect coming from a man.

My persona is different. I am a crazy person, losing my temper completely whenever someone makes a subject-verb agreement error. I will scream, cry, bang my head against the wall, whatever. Kids will not forget that. But I'm always deliberate. When I'm really mad, I'm quiet. I never want kids to know they have power over my moods. I think about how to react to things that really irritate me, and don't act on impulse. But like everyone, I make mistakes.

One day, a girl in my class, a girl who very much reminded me of my daughter, asked me a question. I answered her, "No, sweetie," as I would my daughter. As the words exited my mouth, I thought, "Oh my God. This is it. I'm going to the rubber room for sure." But as it happens, the girl took it in exactly the spirit I meant it and there was no problem at all.

It's a tough call for teachers. Chancellor's Regulation A-421 basically says anything that makes a kid feel embarrassed or makes it tough to function in class is verbal abuse. (Fortunately for Eva, with kids pissing their pants left and right, neither this reg nor A-421, corporal punishment, applies to her.) What if the girl felt awkward by my comment, or that of one of my colleagues?

In fact I know people who've faced 3020a for the offense of making careless but in no way malicious remarks. A lot depends on whether or not your supervisor is insane, and on whether or not said supervisor hates you and everything you stand for. Really, the best you can hope for is that a supervisor be reasonable, and it's sad but demonstrable, particularly if you read Susan Edelman in the Sunday Post, that a whole lot of them should be upping their Prozac.

Anyway, dear readers, be very careful how you speak to the children. Because it's not so much what you say as what they hear, or how your supervisor interprets it. And if it gets to the unparalleled experts at OSI, you'd better get out your prayer beads right away.

On the positive side, it's great to see what many of us have known for years reported in the papers. I've been a chapter leader for six years. Every time a DOE genius gives what I consider a bad contractual interpretation to a principal, I run it by UFT. And thus far, every time without exception, the UFT interpretation has prevailed.

What can you say about an organization that hires lawyers who can't interpret a contract better than a lowly English teacher like yours truly? If you feel like saying it, that's what the comment section is for.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

My Retirement Plan

I'm gonna try and join this band. You gotta love a guy who sings with a cigar in his mouth, taking it out only when it's time to make rooster sounds.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Summing Up the 74's Summit

If you have a lot of patience, and you probably have more than the common person if you're a teacher, have a go at hearing some of the Republican candidates' ideas for education.

The 2015 Education Summit in New Hampshire was hosted by Campbell Brown who claims to speak for 74 million children under the age of eighteen, but seems practically incapable of teaching any of them herself, long-term.

In the initial session, Brown notes that she will interview from 9 a.m. straight through to 12:15 p.m., without any break.  She adds, "unless I pass out."  If interviewing one candidate at a time, from her cozy chair seems a difficult task, can you imagine her standing in front of thirty-four students for most of the day, five days a week, and grading 175 homework assignments each night?  Alas, it is much easier to attack teachers and their job protections than to do the job yourself.

As I listened to her conversations, I was struck by a number of things.  Not surprisingly, most of the six candidates agreed on a number of points.  They wished to devolve education from Washington to the states, localities and parents.  They wished to increase "school choice."  They identified teachers' unions, whom many of them painstakingly distinguished from the teachers themselves, as their real nemesis.  Some said they could work with Randi Weingarten (Christie); others said they could not (Bush).  They rejected the Common Core State Standards, several doing an about face from years back.

Jeb Bush criticized the public "monopoly" of education.  He related the story of a boy in a public high school who could not figure out that there was an hour and a half between the 1 p.m. start and 2:30 p.m. finish of a ballgame.  He mentioned his great teacher at Andover who made him struggle through Cervantes' Don Quixote in its original Spanish.  I wondered if the boy having trouble with the clock at the imaginary baseball game might possibly have been able to read Cervantes better than Bush.  Little attention was paid in the debate to the problems faced by English-language learners in our schools.  There will be more of them in the future.

Bush, of course, wants "accountability."  And, as is the opinion of so many "reformers" of his ilk, accountability can only be achieved by pinning test scores on teachers.  To think that a teacher could be brought down any year (after many years of exemplary service) by a society in which children face increasing poverty is nothing more than the "soft bigotry of low expectations."  The single driver of a student's success is a "capable teacher."  Bush even seemed to blame continuing strife at Ferguson on teachers (44:08).  Since I didn't expect much more from Jeb Bush, I suppose, I, too, am guilty of the "soft bigotry of low expectations" for his ed. policies.

Scott Walker described the barriers to successful education.  He called out Washington, teachers' unions (drawing the seemingly tenuous distinction made by many candidates between teachers and their unions) and funding.  He promoted the idea that many Americans could find good jobs with just and Associate Degree.  It would be nice to think so, but since I'm beginning to doubt that I will be able to maintain a good job with my Masters given this current climate of ed. "reform," I'm a little doubtful.

John Kasich asked why kids arrive at college unprepared.  I have one answer from NY.  I call it ed. "reform."  In this new climate of ed. "reform" ushered into NYC under Mayor Bloomberg, kids had to be moved along at any cost or the school might be closed.  Graduation numbers had to climb so Bloomberg could tout the title of Education Mayor. The Regents exams became easier for a time.   Credit schemes were manufactured.  Teachers were pressured.

Kasich further praised mentors,  encouraged teachers to tell students to "stay off of drugs" a la Nancy Reagan's "Just-Say-No" campaign and called out to God.  Also, as pointed out by NYC Educator the other day, he mentioned his desire to ban teacher lounges.  So, much for attracting the best and the brightest to a profession in which "professionals" are treated as potential criminals and every possibly conspiratorial site must be shut down.  Perdido Street suggested Kasich might also consider shutting down teacher bathrooms for the very same reason.

Jindal discussed the post-Katrina "miracle" of New Orleans.  He was careful not to praise the storm (a la Secretary Duncan) as the best thing since sliced bread.  He had some perceptive thoughts on the failure of Common Core given his role as a parent in the system.  He praised "highly-effective" teachers as crucial to student success.  Does he knows that highly-effective teachers lose a lot of their effectiveness when transferred to a school with the neediest children?  Does he care whether or not these "highly-effective teachers" would suffer burnout at a Renewal School, a premature stroke, transfer or even quit?

Carly Fiorina seemed very well spoken, although I could not agree with all of her points.  She raised the specter of the next Secretary of Education being a champion in the charter-school industry.  I immediately envisioned Eva and I was sickened to the Core.  She praised the TFA, claiming the single factor which drove so many of these idealistic kids from the classroom was older, embittered teachers.  I would guess it's burnout given over-sized classes.  To her credit, Fiorina seemed to understand that school must not be all about testing.

I loved her point about the importance of art, history, music and philosophy as a means to shape humanity, citizenry and innovation.  Brown seemed confused.  Instead of following up on the point which seemed like a spark of inspiration for Fiorina, Brown uttered a few more "" than usual and turned to another topic.  Fiorina, however, managed to return to the same point in her concluding remarks.  The point made earlier that Fiorina had a grandchild interested in teaching went over Brown's head.  Brown had later asked her if she had any grand kids.

Not surprisingly, Christie harped on the deleterious effects of unions and tenure.  He hopes to equip every kid with an i-pad.  Whereas Fiorina understood that a teacher is more important than an i-pad, Christie seemed far less convinced.

To end on a positive note, all of the candidates seemed interested in rewarding good teachers--in one way or another.  Fiorina seemed to understand that most teachers don't enter the profession for money.  They enter it with lofty ambitions to help kids.  The other candidates seemed to swear by merit pay and, the other side of the coin which seemed universally popular with all the candidates, eliminating tenure.  Whereas so many politicians believe dollar signs must primarily motivate human behavior and that good teachers can only be measured through standardized test scores, the sad fact is some of the most beautiful souls, so many of them belonging to teachers, build their lives around helping others, not money grubbing, and sparking young imaginations, not prepping kids for standardized blah.  Let Governor Kasich speak to God about that sometime!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is MaryEllen Elia

 I was pretty shocked when NY State Regents unanimously nominated MaryEllen Elia to be NY State Commissioner of Education. For one thing, I had heard Michael Mulgrew speak of the great hope he had in the Regents to modify the new and draconian APPR law. Given that, I was surprised they'd select someone with such enthusiasm for testing, junk science, and all things reformy. It makes me really wonder exactly how much interest (if any) the Regents have in doing the right thing.

It's true Elia gave lip service to being a teacher, and to seeing herself as a teacher. But every teacher I know abhors the new system that judges us, now even moreso, on student tests. It's not even a secret anymore that the state takes these tests and manipulates the cut scores so they show whatever it is the state feels like proving that week. The only teachers I know of who support this stuff at all are those in Educators 4 Excellence, you know, the ones who take Gates money just like Elia did in Florida. And while their leaders, Evan Stone and Whoever the Other One Is, were briefly teachers, they aren't anymore.

And that's exactly who Elia went to speak to yesterday. And let's be clear--that is a political statement. If Elia wanted to speak to teachers, she could have tried for an audience with NYSUT or UFT. There's certainly precedent for reformies getting audiences with unions, like Gates addressing the AFT. (When that happened, Randi Weingarten seemed to encourage the troops in ridiculing the protesters. Gates thanked AFT by trashing teacher pensions just days later.)

That's great to hear. I hate it when politicians, op-eds and editorial boards bash teachers. I'm acutely aware of it because it happens almost every single day. Teachers don't want to be accountable because they object to having their jobs dependent on junk science. Teachers shouldn't talk to one another in teacher lounges. Teacher unions should be punched in the face.

Of course, the clever politicians who bash us often differentiate between teachers and teacher unions. "I would never bash teachers. I love teachers. My mother was a teacher. Yes, I had a mother." They blather on as though only Satanists are in teacher unions, and they only hate Satan. I suppose someone should inform those pols that teachers are in teacher unions, and that when they punch unions in the face they punch us in the face. Of course Elia hasn't yet broadcasted her intention to punch teacher unions in the face. Instead, she came up with this little gem:

Now, here's the thing about stereotypes--they are always hurtful, and they are always wrong. It doesn't even matter if they're positive. And make no mistake, Elia's statement is not positive at all. She's calling me and thousands of my brothers and sisters unethical. She's saying Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson, Carol Burris, Jeanette Deuterman, Beth Dimino and Jia Lee are promoting evil. And yet it's Elia herself who takes a salary several times that of any working teacher to carry out an agenda based on junk science.

It's Elia who supports giving every child in New York the same test. It doesn't matter to Elia if that results in a developmentally inappropriate curriculum. If the kids have learning disabilities, if they don't speak English, if they're malnourished, if their parents both work 200 hours a week, if they live in rotating shelters, too bad for them. The State has spoken.

Just because you're selective about the group of teachers you bash, you're still a teacher-basher. And with all due respect, I've seen absolutely no evidence that MaryEllen Elia is in any position whatsoever to lecture anyone about ethics.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

John Kasich Has a Royal Edict--Sit Down and Shut Up, Teachers!

That's the message I get from John Kasich, who talking heads sometimes falsely paint as the least insane rider on the Republican Clown Car. I'm not getting a whole lot of laughs from these clowns, as every one of them seems to hate us and everything we stand for. Though a bunch of them oppose Common Core, I personally believe it's not on principle (they don't have any). Republicans oppose it because it was introduced by President Barack Obama. If GW had introduced it, perhaps the Democrats would have fought it. Maybe not, since they were on board with NCLB. I'm not seeing much principle on that side of the aisle either.

Kasich is getting a lot of attention for his meeting with self-appointed education expert Campbell Brown yesterday. He said if he were king, he'd get rid of teacher lounges. Let's get one thing straight--it's not a great idea to elect people who fantasize about being king. It's the President's job to represent We, the People, not to issue edicts on what we should and should not do. Kasich uses what authority he already has to do things like rescind collective bargaining for day care workers. He says he doesn't want to impose right to work laws, but actions speak louder than words, and SCOTUS may soon make that unnecessary anyway.

Much has been written already about how there are, in fact, few teacher lounges anyway. In my school, there are a few adjuncts to bathrooms that have tables and chairs. In our school, they also have computers and there are always a few teachers working out lesson plans and power point presentations. Oh, the luxury of sitting in a bathroom. The only school I remember working in that had a dedicated teacher lounge was Newtown High School, where I worked for one semester in the 80s. I have no idea whether or not it's still there.

Teacher lounge has a broader and more obvious meaning. Right here, this is a virtual teacher lounge, and John Kasich would like nothing more than for us to all shut the hell up. Here's why:

Kasich said at an education summit in New Hampshire that many teachers believe that "we’re out to take their job" when schools evaluate teacher performance and that teachers' lounges provide an environment where this worry spreads.

So basically, when we're judged on the test scores of students we may or may not teach, and when our jobs literally depend on the outcome, we shouldn't worry. Who cares if the American Statistical Association says there's no validity to this method of evaluation? So what if there's no science or research to back it up. John Kasich says it's no problem, and that should be good enough for anyone.

"No we’re not out to take their job. If you need help, we’ll help you. If you’re a terrible teacher, then you should be doing something else because you’re going to find more satisfaction doing something else that you’re good at," he said. "We have to constantly communicate that."

How is Kasich going to help us? As king, he doesn't even want us to speak to each other.  Does Kasich know something we don't? If so, why doesn't he tell us about it? Are we supposed to trust a guy who says he doesn't need right to work, but who rescinds collective bargaining when given half a chance? Apparently that's precisely the level of critical thinking King Kasich wants from working teachers.

He then suggested that teachers' unions contribute to educators' worries.

That's because Kasich thinks union leadership stokes the fires of teacher discontent. I can't speak for all union leaders, but right here in Fun City Michael Mulgrew participated in a law that imposed junk science value-added ratings on NY State teachers. I have heard him praise it repeatedly. He likes to call it a growth model and say of course we can get kids from point A to point B. That may be so, but  tests that purport measure it are a whole lot more specific, may or may not be valid, and are subject to NYSED setting cut scores wherever the hell they feel like.

That's not to mention, of course, things like PE teachers being judged on scores kids get in English. An alleged improvement is that now PE teachers will be judged on the English scores of kids they actually teach. Do you need to be a genius to conclude that PE scores may vary wildly from English scores no matter how good or bad the PE teacher may be? Are the English teachers supposed to hear no evil and not realize that tests designed to measure student achievement do not, in fact, measure what they do when they teach?

Teacher unions contribute to my worries, but not in the way Kasich thinks. Teacher unions here made noise about opposing Andrew Cuomo but failed to do so when it counted, during the primaries and election. Teacher unions have enabled and supported mayoral control, junk science ratings, two-tier due process, and the erosion of tenure and seniority rights. In stark contract to Kasich's royal musings, the overwhelming city teachers are so cynical and demoralized that they can't even be bothered to vote in union elections. Kasich should be getting together with the other GOP hopefuls and having a party.

And if that's not enough, we're now facing the end of automatic payroll deduction. UFT's top-down method of governing, along with its miserably inept contract negotiations and craven willingness to give up whatever possible for a "seat at the table" has failed to inspire. It will be very had for people like me to convince thoroughly disaffected members to pay dues.

Up in that ivory tower at 52 Broadway no one frets over that. It's tragic they live in an echo chamber where absolutely everyone has signed a loyalty oath. Hopefully we can do so before SCOTUS puts a knife in our heart, because make no mistake, if it goes down this year, there's nothing to prevent it reading its ugly head again.

And I have a message for John Kasich--there may or may not be a physical teacher lounge in most buildings. But there are virtual ones everywhere, you're looking at one now, and we are not going down now, or ever.

Not even if you become king.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Those Goshdarn Inconvenient Questions

Yesterday there was an important article in City Limits about an organization I've had questions about for years. Often, when I see their name in the paper, I email the reporter and ask who's in the organization. I seem to remember that the co-called parents union was going to have a big get-together over the perfidy of teachers, or maybe one of those Hollywood productions about how awful we are. Evidently few wanted to go, and they had to cancel it.

Also I knew the parent union was Mona Davids and never saw evidence of another member until this guy Sam someone joined her. I'm not sure whether they came before or after Campbell Brown (or even why we're under constant attack by someone named for a soup can). Still, I know their voices appear in articles that stereotype us as perverts and try to take away our tenure. I grew up being stereotyped and it was no fun at all. Now I teach ESL students, kids from all over the world, and I'm very sensitive to stereotypes. Any of my kids who uses one, and I'm glad to tell you that happens rarely, is surprised to see the lesson stop altogether as I deal with it immediately.

I'm on Facebook a lot and I'm always surprised and disappointed to hear adults use stereotypes. "You libs all think this," or whatever. First of all, anyone who needs to resort to name calling hasn't got much of an idea. Second, a lot of us "libs" no longer blindly support Democrats. I'm a lifelong Democrat, and I keep my registration so I can vote in the primary. But Obama fooled my only once and Cuomo never fooled me at all.

Mona Davids appeared to be an ally of working teachers for a while, but then started taking positions exactly like Campbell Brown. Because a small number of teachers were accused of doing outrageous things we should no longer have due process. The chancellor, who was then denying U-rating appeals at a rate of almost 100%, should decide whether to fire us. No more of this independent arbitrator nonsense. And then, of course, were the dueling lawsuits to end tenure. I can't remember which one is still going forward, but I'm pretty sure one is. Sadly for Mona, she never got nearly the name recognition Campbell Brown walked in with.

And someone has finally bothered to ask questions about her "union."

Reached by phone while on vacation in Florida, the Union's founder and president Mona Davids acknowledged that the four-year-old advocacy group was not listed on Guidestar, an online public register of nonprofits and advocacy groups, nor at, the New York State Attorney General's website of state nonprofits. 

Davids suggested that her organization's lack of an online paper trail made it more authentic. Her group's 9,000 members, a figure whose provenance Davids said she could not explain at that moment, were "unbought and unbossed," "parents on the ground."

Maybe I should start a union too. Instead of being NYC Educator, I can be the NYC Educator union. I can claim thousands of members and multiply my credibility by just that much more. I can get quoted in papers as President, rather than simply me. And the great thing about that is I won't have to necessarily hold any meetings, show where my funding comes from, account for who is part of my group, or bother with any of that grunt work.

I can say whatever I want, change my mind whenever I want, stop allying with people who decline to fund me, get all sorts of publicity for my group, whether or not there is anyone in it, and show up to public events with maybe one prominent supporter. I'm thinking Arwen. And I'm sure I can talk a few people into coming along with us. Maybe I'll offer them a free drink. Works for E4E.

I'll say the same thing and multiply my voice by 9,000. Or maybe a whole lot more. It's a WIN-WIN.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Accountability Scam

Sean Crowley, my brother blogger from Buffalo, has a great column about how educational leaders are popped into place with no public input. A secondary point he makes is about accountability. This is the word we invariably hear when insane systems are initiated. Why should teachers be judged by test scores? Accountability. Why must every kid, no matter where he or she comes from, get the same test? Accountability. Why is our tenure and union under frontal assault? Accountability.

Reformy politicians love accountability. If you didn't know better, you'd think it warmed the remote nether regions of their ice-cold hearts. You'd think they care about the progress of our poor underprivileged impoverished children. You'd think that because that, in fact, is what they say when they pimp common core, value-added ratings, and firing as many teachers as possible.

But here's the thing--accountability does not, in fact, mean taking responsibility for real problems. It simply means passing the buck. If the problem in the United States is that children are not getting high enough scores on standardized tests (and it isn't, by the way), you can say, "See? Those lazy teachers aren't doing their jobs! They're sitting around and reading the newspaper while our children are suffering and failing!" That's what a whole lot of editorial and op-ed writers would have you believe.

The problem, though, is not in our stars, nor in ourselves. The problem is in our communities. Despite Governor Cuomo's valuable lip service that some workers in NY State will receive $15 an hour in a few years, a whole lot of people are just not making in in this country. When two parents work 200 hours a week each and still can't make ends meet, they don't have a whole lot of time for parenting. Unfortunately, the people who fund reformies like Andrew Cuomo are profiting enormously from low wage workers. Uber-reformy Whitney Tilson of DFER has no problems hyping and profiting from the likes of Walmart and McDonalds.

But the race to the bottom in American employment is in fact a huge factor in why kids don't do well on tests. Parents who haven't got a minute to read with their kids, who haven't got a minute to read themselves, who haven't got a minute to visit schools or teachers have serious problems. And the very reformies who vilify teachers not only contribute to this problem, but also directly profit from it. And as if that weren't enough, they've now got their fat grubby paws in charters, cyber charters, and various other schemes to divert even more money from those of us unimaginative enough to have to work for a living.

In America, we don't need circuses, because they're everywhere. Over a dozen GOP candidates debate and not one addresses minimum wage. They stand there arguing over how to defund Planned Parenthood and feign outrage when Donald Trump makes some juvenile crack about one of Fox's bleached blond talking heads. They present us corporate funded union-busters and rail about President Obama's program to bring health care to more people. You might leave one of those debates outraged over Obamacare rather than the fact that every other industrialized country offers its citizens health care as a matter of course.

Reformies love accountability only because they can dump it on us. By blaming unionized teachers for all the world's woes, they are held totally blameless for their miserable and perpetual failure to help working Americans. And for all the crocodile tears they shed for our children, they will soon grow up to be working Americans, and thus shunned and ignored by those who claim now to be their advocates.

And who is it who actually spends time and energy on these children?

That would be us, the educators. The tinhorn politicians and tone-deaf op-ed writers who vilify and libel us for a living profit off of the misery of those we serve every day. We can't afford to let them make us miserable too. It's our job to tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts Frank Bruni, Andy Cuomo, Arne Duncan, or any of the other demagogues who infect our media.

When any one of them or their ilk wishes to actually be accountable rather than toss the word around, it will be a miracle akin to the one pictured above. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sharpening the Divide with Distractions

So, another set of Common Core State test scores have arrived.  And, what do we have to show for it?  Supposedly, there have been modest improvements, but with a much higher percentage of students opting out at the State level, actually one in five.  So, escalation occurs.  Threats of possible retaliation in the form of withheld funding--for those who cannot escape Core testing by opting for expensive private academies.  So, much for listening to the voice of the people.  "Progress" is "progress."  Let's not ask to what degree cut scores account for "progress"  Let's not ask about the cost of this minuscule "progress."

When all is said and done, millions upon millions of dollars will have been spent in the name of ed. "reform" with little to no dividends, only the diversion of attention and resources from more important issues to asinine test preparation.  The divide will only have sharpened.

Has all this evaluating made for better teachers?  It seems it's just driven some of the best from the profession.  It's driven others to cheating.  It's compromised integrity.  Likely, it's made many teachers wonder if they can hold on until retirement.  Year after year, there is a new formula for academic witch-hunting.  The formula won't be good enough, no matter how bad the junk science, unless it takes down a high enough percent of teachers.  Anything less and in the Governor's words, it's "Baloney!"

Under this new system, administrators run from one teacher's room to the next and back again, again and again and again.  They lose precious time over-observing everyone, from the finest to the neediest teacher.  To hell with the day-to-day tasks of administrating!  Were there ever any?  Write report, after report, after report.  Focus on boxes.  You might possibly miss the forest for the trees, but more than likely you just spend a lot more time to confirm predetermined conclusions.  In a fifteen or twenty minute visit, take a guess at what happened for the rest of the period.  Does it matter if you're wrong!  The whole thing is junk science anyway!

Does this new focus on testing make teachers show up to work psyched to prep?  When it comes time to pinning test scores on individual teachers, it is no coincidence the least effective work with the neediest kids.  The best teachers get driven further from the neediest classrooms.  Self-preservation is a basic instinct.  Who wants to be a martyr, especially one with a family?  The educational divide widens.

The Common Core hasn't made students smarter.  It's further sharpened the divide.  By using one narrow set of parameters, fewer kids will be able to make sense of their education.  Many will be driven away in disgust.  Kids with other interests and other talents (clearly perceptible to their teachers) are assured that they are failures in life while test makers profit by soaking up precious resources.  The divide is sharpened between those who can and those who cannot or those who will not.

While the streets are on fire (with few people begging for more tests) and terrorism grows, too many find domestic comfort in diverting attention to an attack upon teachers.  After all, someone must be blamed for low test scores on highly dubious tests.  The rise and fall of civilization depends upon standardized test scores.  Study your history!

How far have we come in more than a decade?  Have charter schools improved education or have the most "successful" effectively separated and sorted kids, flooding resources towards those who can and starving those who cannot.  Goodbye to music and art and everything that makes life beautiful!  While some peddle test prep to pump out higher scores, some charters strike at the heart of unionism.  Teaching is de-professionalized.  Simultaneously, minorities are driven further away from it.  Will teaching continue to be a middle-class profession by which one can gain security to raise a family?  Will it equally welcome people of all backgrounds to teach children of all backgrounds?  Have charters and all this ed. "reform" solved societal inequities or just further sharpened the divide?  When so many of the elite of the educational "reform" movement are among the societal few who have the means to opt their children out of this test-crazed system and build safe bridges to success via ritzy private academies, some answers are obvious.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Breaking Up the Daily Grind

Some days, when you're blogging, you really have nothing to say. Or at least I do. On those days, I'll usually scour the news for something worth writing about. There's always something going on.

A worse problem, in my opinion at least, would be having to run staff meetings on a regular basis. Our school, multi-session and chronically overcrowded, is not on the Mulgrew/ Fariña teacher torture plan, so we still have monthly faculty and department meetings.

I don't envy the supervisors at all. Every month they have to come up with something to meet or talk about. I've been doing this for thirty years now, and every now and again I come upon some meeting leader who is, shall we say, less than inspired. I guess there's always some nonsense to read or talk about, but don't sentient supervisors recognize when the mandated topics really don't merit a mention?

In fairness, sometimes they do. At a memorable faculty meeting, a supervisor came to us with a revolutionary new program that consisted of a renamed motivational activity. I can't remember the term. Maybe it was tipping-off activity. He also said we needed to use the words, "each, every, and all" of you. He said that would surely grab the attention of your students. He said this in a tone dripping with sarcasm, and it was obvious he did not buy it at all. I didn't either. I generally address my class as, "ladies and gentlemen," and while I'm not sure why I do that, I'm certain the "each, every and all" thing would have no effect whatsoever.

I'd like to see more such presentations. It would be a lot more interesting when the Next New Thing came out to see a supervisor making tired faces and acknowledging with us that it was just some trendy crap that would end up on next year's junk heap, replaced by the Next Newer Thing. Sadly, I've seen very few supervisors who grasped that concept. More supervisors have embraced The Thing enthusiastically, and had no problem telling us how indispensable It is. They tend to show little to no awareness that they told us about some other indispensable thing just last year.

While I've seen New Things almost every year since I started teaching, it's become more egregious lately, with the advent of junk science teacher ratings. Now not only is there new crap to deal with, but it's also confirmed by the American Statistical Association to be crap. Not only that, but it's high stakes crap and your job depends on it.

In the short run, here's not a whole lot we can do about it. It's particularly tough with a union leadership that embraces and supports every shiny piece of crap that comes down the pike--mayoral control, charter schools, co-location, two-tier due process, whatever. UFT President Michael Mulgrew was part of a team that designed the original junk science law, and when Cuomo and the Heavy Hearts Assembly rendered it even more draconian, he, or whoever writes his memos, actually thanked them for it. That's just a little depressing.

But be of good cheer. When you go to the first staff meeting of the year, you can divert and amuse yourself by printing out the illustration above. Listen for each platitudinous pronouncement, and once you hit five you can yell "Bingo!" and break the thing up. Make sure the papers are widely distributed so you aren't the only one yelling.

Always remember--in union there is strength.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

MaryEllen Elia--One, Needy Kids--Zero

Showing all the sensitivity of a sledge hammer, MaryEllen Elia demonstrated forcefully that all her talk about meeting with concerned parties and listening was just that. Otherwise, why would she threaten to withhold Title 1 funds from the neediest students in the state for the offense of opting out of state exams?

This comes just after Elia met with a group of activist parents and Diane Ravitch. So clearly she's willing to sit down and listen. Unfortunately she has a corporate agenda and doesn't give a golly gosh darn about common sense. In Spanish, actually, there's a saying that common sense is the least common of all the senses.

I'm not sure what sort of a person would take money away from the poorest students in the state simply because parents from their school, maybe theirs, maybe not, would see fit not to make their kids sit through largely meaningless tests. But it's absolutely clear Elia is that person.

And Elia does not need any sort of extensive program to determine who does well on tests. The trend is clear, and it has been ever since we've embarked upon this nonsensical program of making all kids college ready, whether or not they intend to go to college. It's been clear ever since we decided that all kids, no matter what their disabilities, no matter what their backgrounds, no matter whether or not they knew English, were going to take the same tests no matter what.

That pattern is this--where there is high income, there are high grades. Where there is low income, there are low grades. Where there are few disabilities, there are few low grades. Where there are many disabilities, there are many low grades.

What Elia proposes to do, of course, is to take money away from districts. This money is specifically earmarked to help kids who need it most. Any person who actually cared about the progress of our neediest students would never, ever consider such a thing.

Last year, there was a resolution in the UFT Delegate Assembly to vote no confidence in MaryEllen Elia. It failed. This year we know that MaryEllen Elia is capable of threatening the most vulnerable of our children. I now have no confidence in her whatsoever and frankly, I question why anyone who cared about children would.

Of course if I were Andrew Cuomo, bought and paid for by the reformies, I'd be jumping up and down. If I were Bill Gates, who gave her a ton of money back in Hillsborough, I'd be doing cartwheels. If you want to decimate union, reforminess is just fantastic. If you want to privatize education and make money for your hedge-funder BFFs, reforminess is a bonanza.

But if you want what's best for the neediest children in NY State, you don't want MaryEllen Elia's ideas anywhere near a public school.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Frank Bruni Waxes Poetic on the Teacher Shortage

It must be great to be Frank Bruni. One day you're a food columnist, and the next you're an education expert. Today Frank is all upset about the teacher shortage. After all, his own paper wrote a big story about it. Nowhere did they bother acknowledging that teachers are pretty much under nationwide assault, but hey, why sweat the details when you're writing for the Paper of Record? The fact that they print the column should be good enough for anyone.

As it happens, Bruni himself is a prominent teacher basher. He believes passionately in junk science rating of teachers and can't be bothered to do the most fundamental research. Who cares if the American Statistical Association says teachers change test scores by a factor of 1-14%? What's the big deal if they say use of high stakes evaluation is counter-productive? He knows some guy who likes it and that should be good enough for anyone. Bruni does other important work, like spitting out press releases for Joel Klein's latest book.

But now he's amazed no one wants to be a teacher. Naturally, being a New York Times reporter who has access to pretty much anyone, he goes right to the source, the very best representative of teachers he can muster:

Teachers crave better opportunities for career growth. Evan Stone, one of the chief executives of Educators 4 Excellence, which represents about 17,000 teachers nationwide, called for “career ladders for teachers to move into specialist roles, master-teacher roles.”

“They’re worried that they’re going to be doing the same thing on Day 1 as they’ll be doing 30 years in,” he told me.

This is what Frank Bruni interprets as vision. Let's make one thing clear--Evan Stone is not a teacher. He was for a few excruciating and clearly unrewarding years. But once he learned all he could from that dead end job, he started this glitzy new E4E thing and got his hands on Gates money. Now he gets to make pronouncements to distinguished NY Times reporters like Bruni. Meanwhile, the rest of us are stuck actually teaching children. Naturally Bruni doesn't ask us what we think. After all, given our obvious lack of ambition, what could we possibly know?

Bruni has gala luncheons to attend, fois gras to critique, and he can't be bothered.  Still just because Evan Stone's E4E got 17, 000 people to sign papers in exchange for free drinks doesn't mean they actually represent those people. I happen to know, for example, a UFT official who signed the paper just to see what was going on at one of those meetings.

In fact, there's no evidence to indicate anything E4E says is based on anything beyond Bill Gates's druthers. Their support for junk science and calls to actually worsen already tough working conditions border on lunacy. Their acceptance of reformy money and embrace of a reformy agenda mean they do NOT represent working teachers.

Here's something no one told Frank Bruni--teachers who want to "get out of the classroom" make the very worst educational leaders there are. How many of us have worked under supervisors who don't love our job, who can't do our job, but who don't hesitate to tell us all the ways we do our job wrong? How many of us know the, "Do as I say, not as I do." mantra well enough it might be tattooed on our foreheads?

Yes, Frank Bruni, there is a teacher shortage. And yes, there are reasons for it. Some reasons are your BFFs like Joel Klein, Campbell Brown, and Gates-funded astroturf groups like E4E. They spout nonsense-based corporate ideas designed to destroy public education and union. You talk to them and can't be bothered with us.

Another big reason is mainstream media, which hires people like you. When people read nonsense like the stuff you write, they may not know that fundamental research is something you consider beyond the pale. They may not be aware that your piece does not entail talking to working teachers. They may think we don't love our jobs and we don't love working with and helping children. They may not know that merit pay, which E4E is pushing in one form or another, has been around for 100 years and has never worked. They may even think that Evan Stone knows what he's talking about.

But he doesn't, Frank. And neither do you. That's why you're a big part of the problem.