Thursday, August 04, 2022

Beware of Swagger Bearing Gifts

It's clear to me that Mayor Eric Adams doesn't give a golly gosh darn about public schools. The Mayor is all about being photographed in the right places, tweeting about how wonderful he is, and hurling juvenile insults at anyone who dares question his divine judgment. He called people who criticized his school budget cuts "clowns," and continues to remind me of Donald Trump in more ways than I wish to consider.

Now, facing a lawsuit that has thus far halted his draconian cuts to education, the mayor is graciously allowing schools to use stimulus funds to pay teacher salaries. Don't get me started on why schools ought not to be responsible for salaries in the first place. Since they are (another great innovation from Mike Bloomberg), it may be helpful to some schools struggling to retain staff. Of course, as the article points out, said staff may already have found other placement. I'd be happy to leave a place that deemed me expendable enough to get rid of me, and I've no doubt others feel the same.

This mayor does not act to help schools. Altruism is not his thing, unless it involves the police, who do no wrong ever in Adams world. This may help him a little in his PR war, which, from everything I read, he's winning nowhere but the NY Post editorial page. They'll say, see, we've allowed them to use these funds for this, and therefore our decision to cut funds when we're rolling in dough is not so bad after all.

The first thing, though, that came to my mind when I read this, had nothing to do with school budgets. It had everything to do with contract negotiation. Don't doubt for a minute that Chancellor Soaring High, after making videos about just how much he appreciates teachers, will say oopzie, the federal funds have run out, so we have no money to fund raises for teachers. 

Now sure, you'll say, they are a bunch of bumbling idiots, blathering about this and that, and haven't got the capacity to plan for anything. That's true, but Adams took six million dollars from a charter PAC, and deteriorating public schools are a good thing for Eva Moskowitz. And what's good for Moskowitz is good for Adams' campaign war chest. Maybe, in a few years, someone not insane will not only oppose him, but also persuade New Yorkers that she isn't insane. Stranger things have happened.

Maybe he's got Moskowitz people telling him what to do. They didn't give him six million bucks just for the fun of it, and there's more where that came from. There are reasons they didn't just pump them directly into Moskowitz Test Prep Factories. These people abhor public schools, and we be perfectly content allowing our children to roam the streets like the kids in Salaam Bombay

So as we face an expiring contract and a mayor who's already stated he has no plans to offer raises for anything but productivity increases, expect them to say, hey, we had this money, but we won't have it next year. Expect Chancellor Soaring High to say gee, you guys are heroes, but we can't offer you enough money to buy a hero sandwich, let alone housing in one of the most expensive sectors in the country.

If rich people didn't have to pay taxes for public schools, they'd have even more money they don't need. That's what Mayor Swagger is all about, and it's on us to trust him as far as we can throw him. (Also, if you're planning to throw him, please post the video.) Let's not trust this latest phony move from this particular phony leader.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Let's Stop Trashing ATRs

Given Mayor Swagger's unwillingness to pony up and, you know, pay for education, schools are facing tough choices. Hundreds of teachers have been dumped into the ATR pool as a result. 

Why are people ATRs? Frequently, it's a result of being in the wrong place at the right time. Your school budget is cut, there are to be fewer bodies there, and yours is one of them. 

Today's Post attests to that. Where are new ATRs coming from?

About one in five teachers still without school placements were new hires last school year. Less than half were on probation at the end of the month.

This suggests that they were cut in reverse seniority order, as specified by our contract. There are plenty of reformies out there who'd like to change that, so principals or Tweedies could get rid of anyone they felt like. This is typified by Joel Klein's public demand to dismiss teachers on arbitrary and capricious grounds. We cannot afford that. 

I've seen many members get letters in file just because the principal felt like issuing them, and I know one who just ran to another school based on the fact she deemed she had no future in the one where she was, unjustly, given a letter and, even more unjustly, denied a per-session position.  Imagine if they could just dump you for being a pain in the ass. (Under that scenario, I'd have been working at Kinko's for the last ten years, and no one has suggested I'm a bad teacher in decades.)  

What's upsetting is the stereotype of the ATR as a bad teacher. Even more upsetting, the anonymous young teacher interviewed by the post perpetuates it:

“People are ATRs for different reasons,” said the Staten Island teacher, including those let go for ineffectiveness or misconduct, not enrollment losses. “We’ve gotten ATRs who got fired from their position for a reason. I’m not one of them, but now I’m grouped into that category.”

No ATR has been fired, full stop. Teachers who are fired do not become ATRs. What they become, in fact, is unemployed. I know a little bit about excessing. I was excessed from Lehman High School in 1985. I found a job teaching music. out of license, at JFK, and was there a year and a half before being excessed again. I then found a job teaching ESL at Newtown, was excessed again, and found another at John Adams.

I never became an ATR. I was just out of a job. I went to the hiring halls, and was told they could do nothing for me. One secretary brought be to a room full of people sitting in folding chairs. She told me those teachers were tenured, and that she had to place every single one of them before she even thought about placing me. 

The same teacher quoted above explains her situation:

“No one’s calling back,” she said. “I don’t understand. I’m rated well, my principal would say very nice things about me if they call.”

“I can’t prepare, but that’s what I spend my summers doing. Not to be able to plan for next year, and they’re just going to throw me into a position possibly, is ridiculous,” she added.

I certainly understand her frustration. I was in her position more than once, and each time was faced not only with those issue, but also the issue of losing my salary, health insurance, and place of residence. I didn't even have the option of scapegoating ATRs. As much as being an ATR sucks, losing your livelihood is a whole lot worse.

What I did was this--I put on a suit, sneaked past security, and walked into every school and department office that I though might hire me, a known quantity, as opposed to some person sitting around a hiring hall and waiting. That worked for me every time. 

Being able to keep my job without weeks of stalking administrators would have made me grateful. What really doesn't work for me is trashing ATR teachers. I'd feel even more awkward about it if I happened to be one. My job is to teach students from all over the world, and one thing I've learned in this job is that no stereotype is accurate, ever. 

We need to support our brother and sister ATRs. It's not their fault they're stuck in that pool. It's the fault of Mayor Swagger and Chancellor Soaring High. They deserve our wrath, our scorn, and our active protest, just for a start.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Time for UFT to Dump Walgreen's

It's convenient to go to a local pharmacy and get a 90-day prescription. For UFT members, if you have a Walgreen's near you, you can do that. You could also get a 30-day prescription somewhere else, and mail to Express Scripts for a 90-day supply. For me, that's not too much trouble. 

But I won't set foot in Walgreen's until they stop allowing the people to work there to deny us contraception based on their personal beliefs. If I were vehemently opposed to contraception, I'd decline to work in a place that enabled it. In Walgreen's, instead, they're allowing their employees the freedom to decline sales of birth control pills and condoms to customers. 

Imagine some kid deciding to humiliate someone because of personal beliefs. Imagine some kid doing so just for the hell of it, to exercise the little bit of power this job enables. Either way, Walgreen's is good with it.

There are a lot of jokes and skits about people buying condoms, and how awkward they feel. They buy 500 other things and the clerk asks over the PA for a price check on the condoms, humiliating the already nervous customer. You need not be a nervous customer to feel embarrassed when an 18-year-old clerk says, no, you can't have your condoms because I don't personally believe you should have protected sex. Likely as not, these are the same people who support abortion bans, so they've got you one way or the other. 

Walgreen's, of course, is free to humiliate customers looking to live their lives, and in fact looking to prevent abortions. But I won't set foot in one until they end the policy.

UFT has a partnership with Walgreen's. This is problematic. If we continue to do business with them, we are tacitly supporting their odious policy. Walgreen's, for my money, is not the best judge of what UFT members should and should not do about their reproductive choices. In fact, leaving it to the whim of their employees is an even worse decision. They're saying it's not their responsibility, but rather that of the individual employee. I don't want to be treated like that by Walgreen's or their employees, so I can't differentiate.

If Walgreen's really cared about its employees, it would encourage them to unionize and collectively bargain. It would make sure they had full health benefits. It would offer them a prescription plan as good or better than ours. It would offer them better terms than its competitors. Instead, it indulges the whims of those who wish to express moral superiority to those of us who make the bad choice of keeping them in business. That's unacceptable. 

We need to let Walgreen's know that it is there to serve us. If it chooses to allow employees to insult and humiliate customers, it does not deserve our business. We should cut our partnership until and unless it stops indulging the worst instincts of the fanatical ideologues in its employ. 

Unless they come to their senses, let's cut them off and work to replace them with a partner that respects not only our needs, but also those of all Americans. If I wanted to go somewhere and be insulted, I'd go to frigging Tweed and talk to Chancellor Soaring High.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

CRT, LGBTQ, BLM, and UFT

We're all the same, you know. Remember, when your favorite MAGA commentator is trashing whatever it is we're all supposed to hate this week, that we're likely as not on next week's menu. 

I've got a love-hate relationship with the Post. They have one of the very best education reporters I've ever seen in Sue Edelman. She's relentlessly curious and inquisitive, and doesn't hesitate to speak to real live teachers to get information she wouldn't hear from the Tweedies. 

NY Times education reporters, even when they deign to step off their pedestals, can't be bothered looking for points of view that diverge from their own. Truth be told, their point of view is not much different from that of the Post, despite all the talk about their being "liberal."

Naturally, Chalkbeat highlighted this Post editorial. Though it appears evidence free, they deemed it worthy of mention in their morning round up. The Post is delighted that Adams got two more years of mayoral control, but regrets that it wasn't four. Nowhere in this piece do they give any reason for extending it, or any evidence whatsoever that mayoral control helps anyone (let alone city kids, who merit only one cursory mention).

The Post seems to assume we all just know that mayoral control is a good thing. And I suppose, had you been relying on that particular page for info, you'd buy that. The Post complains control is being watered down by extension of the PEP, and I can only infer that it's a bad thing. Of course, having been to PEP meetings, it's very clear to me that the PEP has been a rubber stamp for the mayor, and that public comments meant absolutely nothing at these meetings. 

Actually, though the headline involves mayoral control, that's not really the topic. The main topic is the perfidy of the United Federation of Teachers (and if you're wondering who that is, it's us). The Assembly are "pawns of the teachers union." That's why they're extending the PEP and giving Adams only two years, evidently. Also, Hochul is terrible for having gone along with this. The Post gives her no credit at all for failing to sign the class size bill, which they hate, and urges us to vote for her Republican opponent. 

Take a look at this:

Fact is, the UFT has always hated mayoral control. It fought against it when it was first proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002 — and whenever its renewal came up.

The fact, I'm sorry to say, is that UFT has repeatedly supported mayoral control. I think that's a huge mistake, and I wrote against it in the Daily News back in 2009. Diane Ravitch, in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, goes into chapter and verse about how mayoral control is a favored tool of billionaires to thwart all that messy democracy that people who don't own the NY Post seem to like. It's a terrible system, and it's at its very worst in New York City, where it's amounted to mayoral dictatorship. Hopefully, it will be improved by PEP expansion, but only time will tell. 

As for class size reduction, the Post just hates it. Not only that, but as usual, they give no real reason, except that it's somehow good for the UFT. Anything that makes us happy is awful, a waste of money. Bigger classes mean fewer expenses, and fewer expenses means more money in the pockets of Rupert Murdoch. (In fairness, he's going through a divorce, so he may need the extra odd billion here and there.)

It's really disappointing that such a poorly thought out piece of crap like this passes for an editorial. If you assume that class size is meaningless, mayoral control is good, and working teachers are bad, it's just fine. However, the writers of this piece didn't bother providing evidence for any of that. Were I to write such a piece, I couldn't get it published anywhere.

That's why guys like Murdoch buy their own newspapers, and cable networks, and Supreme Court Justices. That's why they fight so hard for boogiemen to vilify. Otherwise there would be something akin to democracy, and who who wants that?  Remember, when you hear them talk about CRT, and trans people, and whatever other boogeymen they come up with, we're right there on their list of scapegoats, wherever and whenever it becomes convenient. In fact, someone on Murdoch's Fox just called us "the KKK with summers off."

I'm not at all surprised to see bigots projecting their racism on us, and there's a lot of precedent for authoritarians going after teachers. It's happening here and now, and this is just the beginning. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Chancellor Sends Us His Summer Message

Dear Colleagues,

As we wrap up the school year, I want to take a moment to say thank you and congratulations to everyone at the DOE who made this school year a success, particularly myself and the various family members I've gotten on the NYC gravy train. From all of us, let me say it certainly beats working.

I’ve only been Chancellor for six months but in that short period of time, we’ve accomplished a lot together. We’ve gotten billions of dollars from the feds, and still managed to cut the budgets of your schools by millions of dollars. We’ve managed to confound not only the City Council, but also the State Assembly and Senate in their efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead of seeing your class sizes go down, you’ll almost certainly watch them explode next year. No skin off my apple, since I'll be sitting in my office, doing Whatever.

We successfully navigated the Omicron surge, and cleverly managed to drop the mask mandate despite the most contagious strain yet. Sure, some of you got COVID even if you masked every day, but I never got it. Now the mayor did. Let me ask you this question—the mayor says when he has swagger, the city has swagger. Therefore, if the mayor has COVID, does the city has COVID? (Just a joke, Eric. Keep that 350K a year coming, and please don’t fire my brother.)

We’ve refused to cooperate with potential lifeguards, resulting in a dire shortage. We are instead embarking upon a drowning awareness campaign. That way, while you’re drowning, you’ll understand completely what’s happening to you right up until you drown. We’ve defunding public schools at the highest rate since the great recession. We’ve raised rents on stabilized apartments by the highest level since Bloomberg.

We announced key initiatives such as the expansion of Gifted & Talented programs, which may or may not mean something, given budget cuts. We made you sit through training on dyslexia, because that’s what the mayor has. If your students have some other learning disability, too bad for them. Let them elect a frigging mayor who shares it. We also made you sit through an insipid online seminar about online privacy, because when and if it’s violated, we intend to blame you. We’ll say, hey, we offered the training, so it’s not our job, man.

All of these accomplishments are the result of your hard work!

In a school system as large as ours, each and every one of you plays a vital role in ensuring that our students are well supported and thriving academically and socially. And you better believe when we max out class size, that’s gonna be one hell of a task! Good thing we’ve weaseled our way out of both city and state efforts to reduce class sizes, and can save tons of money by slashing your budgets. In fact, in our surveys, when we asked what parents most wanted for their kids, it was reasonable class sizes. Well, screw them and the subway trains they rode in on.

I feel enormous gratitude to be working alongside such smart and passionate people. If it were not for you, people like me would have to do this work, as opposed to sitting in comfortable offices at Tweed counting my blessings and paper clips I will look for your guidance and feedback, and believe me, I will give it valuable lip service at every opportunity.

Have a safe and fun summer. The best is yet to come as we advance toward the 2022-23 school year! Wait until you see what surprises the mayor and I have in store for you, UFT!

Soaring high,

Mister Chancellor David C. Banks

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Jumaane Williams for Governor


I'd been prepared to vote for Kathy Hochul in the primary right up until she failed to sign the class size bill that passed both the Assembly and the Senate. I was going to overlook the fact that she was Cuomo's number two, that she supported the tax cap on non-city schools, that she supported tax credits for those donating to private schools, and her preposterous assumption that charters would somehow reduce the overcrowding in public schools.

In fact, given the opportunity to help us do a better job, Hochul has thus far failed to take the only action I know of that would certainly help children. She's clearly concerned more with money than education. Spending 1.4 billion on a stadium to ultimately enrich some billionaire is fine with her. But our kids are not a priority. No wonder she supported a four-year unconditional extension of mayoral control for Eric Swagger Adams.

Jumaane Williams will support better education for city students. He'll support housing for those of us who actually need it, as opposed to gazillionaires looking to build stadiums. He'll stand up for people regardless of how much cash they have. 

Next Tuesday, in the Democratic Primary, vote for Jumaane Williams, vote to support our schools, communities and jobs, and vote for real change.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Exams and Me (and You)

Yesterday I read the oral part for the Spanish LOTE exam. (I'm not the best in Spanish, but I'm certified to teach it, and that's good enough for NY State.) This was not a difficult task for me, but I recall hesitating at one word, reading it wrong once, and then correcting myself the second time. A native speaker I know told me he thought some passages seemed like they went through Google Translate.

You may or may not be familiar with the crap that comes from Google Translate. Chinese, for example, doesn't have the same structure as English. I often read things that come through there, though, and parts of speech are wrong, syntax is wrong, usage is wrong, and sometimes passages are barely coherent. Sometimes they aren't coherent at all. Spanish is closer to English in some respects, but as I tell my students--Spanish is Spanish. English is English. That's how I explain differences that don't, at first blush, appear logical. 

Logic doesn't necessarily apply to language. Prepositions, for example, are fairly arbitrary, and don't make sense from one language to the next. Advanced speakers often make prepositional errors. English spelling is not logical at all. It seems natural to us, but it isn't. Spanish, for example, is almost completely phonetic. What you see is what you get. 

As illogical as language is, though, it's a distant second to our testing system. The mandate that we cannot grade our own students is offensive, counterproductive, and stupid. The assumption is that we will boost the grades of our own students so as to make ourselves look better. That may be a good assumption in schools where teachers are pressured to pass everyone no matter what. However, the issue in schools like that is corrupt administration. There's a longstanding tradition in New York City to never, ever address that (unless you're Sue Edelman). Even the very worst principals are simply reassigned to Tweed to sit around and do Whatever It Is they do there. 

The assumption that I will be biased toward my students, or you to yours, suggests that I am corrupt and unfit (as are you). Well, if that's the case, why the hell did they hire us in the first place? If we are inclined to pass people for no reason, we are of no earthly use to our students or school system. I've just looked at my final grades, and it turns out that kids who failed all the tests, kids who cut rather than take them, and kids who failed to do any work failed my classes. Why, then, would I be so desperate to pass them on some standardized test?

Now I know a lot of my colleagues are more than happy to get paid for grading, something we used to do as part of our job. I can't say I miss traveling to other schools to grade the exams of students I've never seen, or negotiate grades with people I've never met. Wouldn't it be better, though, if the city took all that money and devoted it to something worthwhile, like class size reduction? Isn't that one of the only things we know to actually improve education? And how do ostensible leaders like the mayor and chancellor get up in public and claim to care about schoolchildren when they aren't willing to devote money to improving education? Is scapegoating teachers and acceptable substitute? I don't think so.

Back to testing, we haven't really examined the question of why they're taking standardized tests at all. Wouldn't it be more reasonable for me to test them on what I actually taught them, as opposed to whatever the Board of Regents happened to pull out of their collective behinds? I am not an expert on all the standardized tests, but I've given some serious consideration  to the English Regents exams, and it's a piece of crap that measures neither reading, writing, or any English ability I can discern. Despite the absence of the name, all it really tests is Common Coriness, a skill in which I can discern no highly practical application.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Chancellor Explains NYC Education Budget Cuts

Dear Subordinates:

There's been a lot of talk about the budget. Lots of people are suggesting that we're taking the federal money and using it to cut our part of the school budget. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is we are set to receive $160 million in federal funds, and we're cutting the budget by $375 million. I had one of my assistants do the math, and that means we're only cutting by 215 million, which is hardly anything at all. 

Instead, we're focusing on real improvements. We will embrace data driven policies through the experiential based learning process. We will exploit diverse capacity through the collaborative process. We will seize integrated curriculum within the Zone of Proximity. We will orchestrate student-centered scaffolding with synergistic effects. Now who could ask for more than that? Class size reduction won't achieve any of those things.

Think about it. How many Manhattan penthouses could you buy for 215 million? 50? 100? Do you really think that 50-100 penthouses would provide enough space for us to accommodate the schoolchildren of New York City? And that doesn't even account for the maintenance fees, which would be astronomical. With this kind of money, we could buy some really nice penthouses, and use them for Very Important city employees, like me and my brother, for example. With all those ethics concerns about Phil, it wasn't easy for me to score him this Deputy Mayor gig. And I'm not at all sure about a penthouse with his credit rating. But I digress. 

There's a lot of talk about reducing class sizes in NYC. In fact, the Assembly and Senate just passed a bill requiring it. I can't begin to tell you how disturbing and unfair that is. This lawsuit has been making the rounds since 2001. Now sure it's been affirmed over and over again, but the fact is it's 2022. How unfair is it that our illustrious mayor, the Honorable Eric Adams, should have to deal with it when neither Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, nor Bill de Blasio had to do it? 

First of all, all those ex-mayors are losers, except Mike Bloomberg, who staunchly supports Eric Adams. Now Mike could have simply financed the class size reductions himself, but he chose not to. And it's common sense that Bloomberg must know something, or else why would he have all that money? Consider all those school shootings. You hate them, right? Me too. And Mike Bloomberg compared teacher unions to the NRA. The union is quite clearly a special interest group advancing the needs of teachers, as opposed to the needs of Mike Bloomberg. 

Bloomberg also says the reason schools are failing is because your union insisted on staying out long after schools were safe. And as I've said publicly, we need to increase the quality of teachers before we can talk about reducing class sizes. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Former US Education Secretary Arne Duncan thinks so too. Mr. Duncan is extraordinarily qualified to make this statement. For one thing, he's never been an actual teacher, so he isn't prejudiced. For another, he's very tall, and is pretty good at basketball. How many teachers can say that? How tall are your union leaders? Think about it. 

Duncan boldly made the heroic statement that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans. First, lots of troublesome students died. Some moved away, saving valuable public education money, which ultimately went into private hands, thus boosting the economy. Also, it completely wiped out those nasty teacher unions. New Orleans is now a city of charter schools, and well-heeled private citizens are finally making some real scratch from education out there. We could do the same here. 

Honestly, why should we reduce class sizes when so many of you suck so much? Just consider Eric Adams' thoughtful suggestion that we do online classes of 400. Sure, you would lose your jobs, but the city would be well-served. And just think, if we dump you, all those other teachers will have 2,000 papers to grade every day. You will be on easy street, with an economy-boosting non-union gig at Target. You'll get the loan of a cool red shirt and won't have to grade any papers at all. 

When you consider everything, having all online instruction would mean a whole lot of prime real estate wasted on public schools would become available, and perhaps Important People could score more penthouses. And wouldn't our city really be better off with more penthouses? Penthouses contribute to the economy. School buildings are nothing but a drain of resources, like all those teacher cafeterias Mike Bloomberg wisely closed. 

So stick with me, folks, and ask Governor Kathy Hochul not to sign that nasty class size bill. If it doesn't become law, we can move ahead with our plans to offer zero-percent raises to all city employees, streamline our work force by getting rid of dregs such as yourself, and move on to make this a city of people who carry Platinum cards. It's the patriotic thing to do.

Ask yourself this--do you love your country, or do you want smaller classes for hundreds of thousands of kids who don't even pay taxes?

The answer is simple.

Soaring High,

Mister Chancellor David C. Banks

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Chancellor on Class Size

Dear UFT members: 

It's me again, your old pal, Chancellor David C. Banks (although I much prefer to be called MISTER Chancellor David C. Banks). My job is very important, and that's why I get paid $364, 000 (plus expenses of course). Gala luncheons don't come cheap, as you know. Or maybe you don't, what with being in schools that don't even have teacher cafeterias anymore. But I digress.

Today I want to talk about class size. Of course Mayor Adams and I want our students to have smaller class sizes, but we don't want to rush into things. After all, it was only 60 years ago that we capped class size because you, the UFT, gave up money to cap it. And we're fine with reducing class sizes if you pay for it. Here's the thing, though--It appears the state wants us to pay for it. We have a lot of expenses. There's my salary, for one. There's my brother's job, and with his record, it wasn't easy to find him one, let alone a plum gig like this one.

And you all know that since we dumped Skedula, it's on us to create a new system. Have no doubt we will spare no expense to develop it. Surely it will cost at least 95 million dollars, just like ARIS, which we introduced as the very bestest thing on earth and then dumped unceremoniously. Sure that was a complete waste of money, and sure, we're the guys who left little children freezing and stranded on street corners when our no-bid contract company failed to deliver, but hey, just trust me, okay?

Of course we would love to make class sizes lower. We simply don't want to pay for it. Now I know you have arguments. For one thing, there are 675 public school districts, and we have worked our way up to 663 in class size. There are TWELVE districts that have EVEN LARGER class sizes, and you should be GRATEFUL we aren't LAST. But NOOOO. You complain, blah, blah, blah, and want me to take money that could go to my salary, or additional neptism beyond little bro, any use it to HELP kids I haven't even MET.

Then there's all of you going on about academic research that suggests smaller class sizes benefit students. Some of you even say it's common sense that if students get more attention from teachers it benefits them. Well, I'll tell you three things. First, common sense is the least common of all the senses. Second, Mike Bloomberg says a good teacher could teach 70 kids at a time, and he'd have fired half of you to make that happen if only you weren't unionized. (And Bloomberg must know something, otherwise why would he have all that money?) Mayor Eric Adams suggests we could have one teacher teach 400 kids at a time on Zoom. Now there's a way to save money, but no, you greedy UFT teachers are still blabbering about class sizes. 

Now some of you think we have more space since we've gone from 1.1 million students to 850,000, and argue that's common sense. But we simply cannot afford to be guided by common sense. We have priorities. Sure, The total five-year cost for additional teachers — $1 billion — is less than one percent of the city’s current $100 billion annual budget. But there are so many other things we could spend that money on. How about a catering service here at Tweed, for example. Do you think we like having to have our secretaries call restaurants? How much could we save on our expense accounts if we had an in house chef?

Now I know that you, as teachers, think you know stuff. But the fact is that the highest paid among you only makes about a third of my salary. That makes me roughly three times smarter than you are. Therefore, you should listen to me. 

It's clear if we have to devote not only the $7.6 billion in additional federal support that has come to our schools, but also the $1.3 billion in state funds through Gov. Hochul’s commitment to fully fund foundation aid to class size reduction, we will be unable to grant the sort of corporate raises around here that Make America Great. Look, Eva Moskowitz is pulling in almost a million a year while I sit here working for chicken feed. And let me tell you, the charter folks who gave Mayor Adams at least six million bucks for his campaign are gonna be PISSED if this comes to pass. Their class sizes could go through the roof, if we can even find them a roof after taking care of those frigging public school kids.

So please, guys, give up the ghost already. It's not profitable for us to pour our extra billions into facilities for school children that don't even turn a profit. This is the American way. That's why all your school cafeterias are closed and you're all eating in your cars. Hey, your car is pretty nice, isn't it? Nicer than that nasty old cafeteria, right? Nicer than those streets we fail to maintain.

So please, call your union leaders and tell them to just stop all this class size nonsense. You know that rather than admit we have all this extra money we'll cry poverty and say we need to fire the social workers and nurses we've finally placed in schools after decades of neglect, don't you? Then we'll say it's your fault, and the New York Post will run an editorial saying you all suck.

You don't want that, do you? Remember, I'm the guy who made a video during teacher appreciation week. What more are you going to want? Please get used to your overcrowded schools and classes, and stop your bellyaching. This job is a calling, and your working conditions ought not to matter at all, even if they are your students' learning conditions.

And that's just one reason you're never gonna catch my ass in a frigging classroom. 

Soaring high,

Chancellor David C. Banks

Monday, May 30, 2022

A Memorial Day Wish

I'm thinking of my dad today. He passed a few years back, but he was a veteran. He was in the Battle of the Bulge. Unlike many others, he did come back. He lived into his nineties. Toward the end of his life, he needed long-term care. He had a policy, one he paid into for decades, that was supposed to cover it, but really didn't. (I have the NYSUT catastrophic medical emergency insurance, and I'm acutely aware that doesn't cover it either.) 

Toward the end of my dad's life, his wife was looking into divesting him of his assets and getting him into Medicaid so she wouldn't lose her home paying care facility bills. Meanwhile, my friend's grandmother in Canada got end-of-life care from the government with no out-of-pocket expense.

When I was a lot younger, my friend's father had to sell his house to pay for his wife's medical expenses. I don't recall exactly what was wrong with her, but I remember she lost her leg and lingered for a long while. When she finally passed, the father had to move into the basement of one of his grown sons. He didn't seem to like it there very much. I know that because one Christmas Eve he blew his head off with a pistol. This was the first time I realized something was very wrong with our health care system.

Once, I had a job playing fiddle in a bluegrass band in a small theater in Pennsylvania. We were opening for a name band much bigger than we were. I remember there were four guys in the band, and three of them were really overweight. Only the banjo player was not. They sent us all to lunch in a nearby restaurant, and I sat with him. I remember we both ordered Reuben sandwiches.

That was a Saturday. The following Tuesday, this banjo player had chest pains. Playing banjo is not generally a very lucrative career, and this particular banjo player, of course, had no health insurance. He thought about going to the ER, but also had to think about the thousands of dollars that visit would have cost him. (I know for a fact he didn't make thousands that Saturday night. The singer probably paid him sideman wages, whatever they may be.) He decided to ride it out, but the ride didn't go well. He died of a heart attack later that day.

Throughout the years, I've seen musical heroes of mine get sick. Often, I'd see people giving benefit concerts for their health care. Sometimes I'd contribute to GoFundMe or similar things for musicians I knew who'd gotten in trouble. These artists I respected, and likely ones you respect too, ought to have been covered somehow. In Canada they all are. In fact, anyone working in a Taco Bell in Canada has full health coverage, as they should. I don't think anyone deserves to have health care because their jobs are more important, prestigious, or better-paying. I think everyone needs and deserves health care. As for expenses, it would certainly be cheaper in the long run to guarantee it for all and cut out the parasitical private health care companies.

It's a moral imperative that we give health care to all, one way or another. NYHA could be a first step. I recently read a book called The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee, that examines our culture. A core question McGhee poses is, "Why can't we have nice things?" The answer, in short, is that America presents benefits as a zero-sum game. Oh, if we have that, then those bad people (read people of color) will get it, and somehow you'll lose something. Thus, white people don't get it either, no one gets it at all, and we're all somehow losers. Bigots can congratulate themselves for preserving freedom, whatever the hell that is, and Tucker Carlson will urge them to be vigilant in protecting it. 

UFT has a position on single-payer. As I understand it, we oppose the New York Health Act (NYHA) because its expense would somehow cut into education funding, or interfere with benefits we already have. This is odd, because I voted for a resolution that said, albeit in past tense, that we supported the 2015 NYHA. It does go on to state that we support national single payer. I don't agree with the current position on NYHA. If we have issues, we should negotiate with the sponsors of the bill and fix whatever the issues may be. We are union. Union should be in the business of rising all boats, not saying, "Our boat is fine and yours can sink for all we care."

I have heard UFT President Michael Mulgrew say on more than one occasion that we prefer a federal health care program, and that we support that idea. Despite that, NYHA could be a first step, something for the rest of the country to aspire to. I'm horrified to find the UFT on this list of organizations that oppose single-payer. It says it's about NY, but doesn't really make the distinction of only opposing state-run health care.This particular site maligns Canadian health care, and clearly implies that any government-run health care program would be a failure. Despite that, I see a absolutely no country with universal care moving toward a US model. And Medicare belies that too.

Yes, I like my health care. It's a whole lot better than nothing, the US standard. That said, I'm not crazy about the copays. I'm not crazy about having doctors tell me they've dropped my insurance. My friends and family in Canada don't have that issue, they don't have insane wait times, and they don't envy us at all. I'm sure gazillionaires in Canada and elsewhere can fly here and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the best specialists in the United States. Still, I'm a US resident with relatively excellent health care, and I can't afford that either.

People reading that site could interpret the UFT to be an organization whose policy is, "We have ours, so screw you." That's fundamentally an anti-union position. In fact, it's an anti-human position. I'd also argue that our brave veterans didn't give their lives so people could go bankrupt over catastrophic medical emergency, something that happens in no other developed country I know of. We owe it to their memory, and we owe it to our peers and children to leave them something better than this. 

Whatever objections there may be to NYS single payer, we can ask that they be addressed. And even if they aren't, we should get our name the hell off that list. With our name there, we appear to support the status quo. We look like every disingenuous GOP politician from Trump on down who advocated replacing Obamacare with the nothing we had before.

This is not a good look for the largest teacher local in the country.