Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Chalkbeat: There May Be Fewer Suspensions. Or More. Or the Same Number.

That's the sense I get from this mystifying article in Chalkbeat. The headline asks whether schools are underreporting suspensions, but doesn't really answer. It starts with a whole bunch of caveats. For one thing, the report comes from the reformy Fordham Institute. I'm not at all sure how reliable they are, or whether they're grinding one axe or another here. For another, the actual results are confusing. It suggests underreporting could be an issue.

That finding, however, comes with important caveats: The survey includes 1,200 teachers across the country, including over 200 in New York City, but the question about unreported suspensions was limited to a smaller subset of 92 city educators, making that specific finding less robust.

That's a pretty small sample of NYC teachers. I'd say "less robust" is an understatement. 

Many educators said suspensions had not declined in their school, and so weren’t included in this aspect of the survey. 

How many is "many?" That's a pivotal question, especially when your conclusions are derived from such a small sample. Another question, which evidently eluded both the Chalkbeat reporter and the Fordham Institute, is how the hell do teachers even know how many suspensions are happening in their schools? Does the principal hang up a sign? Does he place a number in email messages? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say no, absolutely not.

So do teachers just get a vibe? I feel like there are more, fewer, or the same number of suspensions in my school? I'm the chapter leader of a very large school and I haven't really got my eye on suspensions, except when they involve issues brought to me by members. Only recently, after the latest contract, has security been required to share stats with me, Even so, what do I compare them to? 

I have to question how many teachers really know about this. You'd think that would be the reporter's job, but reporters are still publicly asking whether or not Trump is racist. We may as well debate whether water is wet.

It's an important question, actually. Back in the bad old days of Bloomberg, incident reporting was problematic, to say the least. Klein made a big thing out of reporting incidents, claiming he wanted transparency, but then ran around closing schools that complied. It's more than likely that was the death knell for Jamaica High School. My school survived, but who knows whether or not my principal reported everything? Not me. 

For my money, this Chalkbeat report ranks with the one when E4E sent them a hundred signatures supporting more work for less pay, or whatever they were pontificating about that week. (For the record, I wrote Chalkbeat, asked them if they'd publish something I got a hundred signatures for. I got a hundred signatures asking for better treatment of ELLs. It took me half an hour.  A Chalkbeat reporter contacted me, and they did nothing with it.)

There's a bright side, for me at least. It's tough finding things to write about in the summer. I understand. I have to put this blog out most days, and I always wonder what I'm gonna do next. I'm grateful that outlets run preposterous things to help me out. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Principal Who Led By Example

Lead by example.

That was the theme at the Endless Faculty Conference. It was led by The Principal, whose specialty was Endless Faculty Conferences. The Principal told us we were role models, and as such we had to display the behavior we wanted to see reflected in our students. That was the only way we could lead, he said.

Chalk and Talk was out. No more just giving info from books. That didn't work. We needed to live it. We needed to be it. We needed to show it, and once we did, that would be pretty much all we needed to do. Was that clear? Were there any questions?

Just then, a PE teacher walked in. He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. He may or may not have been wearing a whistle, but I don't ever recall seeing him without one.

The principal was horrified. "What the hell is going on here? You are LATE! Don't you know we started this meeting twenty minutes ago?"

The PE teacher shrugged and tried to take a seat.

But the principal wasn't having it.

"LOOK at the way you are DRESSED! Are you kidding me? You wear SHORTS to school? And don't tell me it's because you're teaching PE, because the students aren't here, so you AREN'T!"

I wondered how this would go over if I tried it in my classes. I actually do give students a hard time for being late. However, I only do it if they're chronically late. If you're late once in a while, I leave you alone, with maybe a request to come on time. Also, if it were an odd day, when we weren't following a regular schedule, I'd take it very easy on lateness. When your 8 o' clock class is meeting at 11, I expect massive absence and lateness. In fact, I'm happy if you bother to show up at all.

I don't really see that as leading by example. I see it as being flexible. I don't talk to every kid the same way. I don't talk to kids the same way I talk to my colleagues. And I behave differently in different situations.

Here's something I never do--I never criticize a student's clothing. Never, ever. Some teachers will criticize that girl with the halter top and the cut-offs split to her belt loops. Not me. I've sat in disciplinary hearings with teachers who've criticized student clothing choices, and even if I hadn't I wouldn't do that. I may sometimes caution students who have obscenities emblazoned on their clothing. I'm never sure if they know how people will take it. I'm also never 100% sure that my students, with limited English, even understand what the clothing says.

Here I was, faced with a principal who did something that I would never do. The PE teacher was just dressed like a PE teacher. In fact, I dress up for work, usually with a suit and tie. On days I'm not teaching, I wear whatever. I don't see exactly why I have to get dressed up to listen to lectures. I don't see it as important to set a sartorial example when I go to meetings. Maybe the principal was mad that he had to wear a tie that day and no one else did.

Here's what I know--if I ran my class the way that principal ran that meeting, my class would be one hectic place. I would not inspire my students to do much more than hate me. I can tell you the staff was not feeling the love for that principal either that day. In fairness, maybe the principal was trying to set an example of what not to do that day.

As I recall, that principal set examples of what not to do on a fairly regular basis. There are a lot of principals and assistant principals just like that. A friend of mine just told me she asked her AP to come and observe a class she was having trouble with. The AP said, "If I come in I have to write up the lesson."

What the hell kind of support is that? None at all, I'd argue. And that's precisely the sort of support that thousands of teachers are getting these days. This problem is epidemic in NYC. The very best thing the chancellor could do, if he wanted to lead by example, is to fix this problem. It's a massive ask, though.

A whole lot of people who lead by example choose to remain teachers, and a whole lot who can't or don't become administrators. I'm friends with people in small districts who are teachers and principals. They describe a completely different situation--one in which administration supports teachers and has their backs.

That's an example for all of us to follow.

Thanks to MM.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

NY Post Doubles Down on Logical Fallacy

The NY Post editorial board would have you believe yet another binary falsehood--that NY State diplomas will be meaningless if the Regents decide to do away with the Regents exams. This is yet another false dilemma, just like the one an ostensible news story pushed the other day. Then, it was that the chancellor's push for awareness of bias must necessarily preclude instruction in reading and math.

One of the worst things, for me, about this Post story, is it puts me in the position of having to defend the Regents, whose ineptitude is legendary. I mean, who else could decide that the best way to improve instruction for newcomers is via reducing direct English instruction by a factor of 33-100%? That's one of the stupidest, most ignorant decisions I've ever seen in my life (and I say that while living through the administration of Donald Trump).

It must be great to be an editorial writer. You just say any damn thing you please. You don't need to cite evidence. You don't need to make a case. In fact, you don't even need to be familiar with your subject. Exhibit A is paragraph number one:

High school diplomas all across New York state will soon be meaningless if the Board of Regents gets away with scrapping a requirement for students that dates back more than 150 years: passing several Regents exams.

That's simply not true. When I began teaching, there was an alternative to the Regents exam called the RCT, or Regents Competency Test, that led to a diploma. I was an English teacher when I started, and the lowest level classes were those that offered RCT instruction. In my brief tenure as an English teacher, I was invariably assigned those classes. The thinking then (as now) was, "You can't teach and they can't learn. Therefore it's a perfect match."

The RCT required a business letter, a persuasive argument, and another task I do not recall. I'd argue those tasks require more thought and actual writing than the current English Regents exam, which is an unmitigated piece of crap. We have a new social studies Regents exam which is, in fact, a reading exam. Neither of these exams actually measures the areas they purport to.

I can't speculate on other exams, but I have no reason to suspect they're any better. This is underlined by the fact that NYSED routinely manipulates cut scores so that the tests establish whatever they wish them to. One year, everyone passes and Michael Bloomberg is a reformy genius of the first magnitude. The next, everyone fails, NY State teachers all suck, and the only cure is Common Coriness, which is next to Common Godliness.

The NY Post editorial board is aware of none of this. And lest I be accused of singling out the Post, I've seen similar ignorance in NY Times op-eds and editorials. One of the biggest problems we have in education is the fact that people who know little or nothing about it are in charge of it. Honestly, I have no reason to believe the clueless Regents will come up with anything better than the absurd examinations that bear their name.

This notwithstanding, it's preposterous to assume that dumping a bunch of crappy tests will render diplomas meaningless. If diplomas are based on absurd exercises in common coriness like the NY State English Regents exam, they're already meaningless.

The only way to go from here is up.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

US Citizen Testifies to Conditions in Trump Camps

I hardly know what to say when I read things like this. Being an American citizen, evidently, does not protect you from ICE, which may as well be Trump's secret police. They can pick you up, check your documentation, and if they don't like it they can detain you indefinitely. Rights? You haven't got any and they'll tell you so. Want your phone call? Screw you. Instead, someone you know can "self-deport" simply to inform your family you're being detained.

This is like something out of a dystopian novel you read in high school, back before the geniuses in Albany determined reading novels was of no importance. This is an American citizen detained indefinitely with no warrant and no reason. He was sorely tempted to "self-deport" himself to Mexico simply to escape the squalor in which he found himself.

Can you imagine not having a shower in 23 days? Trump's goons will liken this treatment to summer camp, but the fact is it's worse treatment than prisoners get. In Donald Trump's American, murderers get better treatment than immigrants. In fact, in Donald Trump's America, murderers get better treatment than citizens guilty of looking like immigrants.

Of course, 23 days is what this young man faced. His time was cut short only because a paper decided to publicize his plight. How many others have faced it longer, and for how long? What's Trump's solution to that? Well, he attacks the free press relentlessly. Anything he doesn't like is "fake news." Anything that is remotely critical of him is fake news.

If these aren't police state tactics, I have no idea what are. If you think you're protected because you're white, you have another thing coming. What do you think the consequences are when our leaders attack truth tellers? Donald Trump openly encourages violence against his enemies at his rallies. He even suggests he'll pay for the lawyers of those who commit violence.

As for ICE, their defense is laughable:

"While we continue to research the facts of the situation, this individual has been released from ICE custody. Both CBP and ICE are committed to the fair treatment of migrants in our custody and continue to take appropriate steps to verify all facts of this situation."

In the United States, we are supposedly innocent until proven guilty. Do you detect a presumption of innocence in that statement? I don't. I see an agency that, even after being publicly humiliated by the Dallas News, sticks to its guns and claims there is some gray area. And how does ICE treat people?

Galicia says he lost 26 pounds during that time in a South Texas immigrant detention center because officers didn’t provide him with enough food. 

That's simply unconscionable. How can we treat our fellow humans like this? Trumpies will say they're immigrants, they broke the law, and this is what they get. The fact is it's perfectly legal to seek asylum. The fact is if we and our families were suffering like those in Central America, we'd seek alternatives too. Another fact is USA has played an important role in enabling these miserable conditions. Remember First They Came?

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


Who will speak for us if we don't speak loudly, and speak now?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

NY Post--Ignore Everything and Pass Your Tests

I always love an overblown, reckless headline, and where better to find one than today's NY Post? It trumpets, "Forget reading and math, Carranza wants to focus on racial privilege, activism." I love the fact that, when we have a chancellor who finally wants to help the overwhelming majority of our students, it must be at the expense of reading and math. One person calls the chancellor's program "simplistic." There's something simplistic going on here, but it's not the chancellor conducting it.

What's simplistic is the false dilemma being peddled by the NY Post and the various critics it's managed to dredge up. If the chancellor wishes to support minority students, it's preposterous to assume it must be at the expense of basic instruction. Evidently we should plod on, ignore the chancellor's programs, and focus on test prep. That's good enough for our kids, isn't it?

Why should we focus on white privilege, let alone ask our students to? It's a democracy, isn't it? Didn't we just elect a white man President of the United States? Didn't he win fair and square with only three million fewer votes than his opponent? Haven't we got a Supreme Court to ensure that we have liberty and justice for all? Didn't the white-dominated majority party block a candidate proposed by a President of color twice-elected by the popular vote? And doesn't it swing far right because two white Presidents who lost the popular vote got to select people like rapey Judge Biff?

We live in a pretty funny country. Exactly what distinguishes us from a banana republic eludes me. As if that weren't enough, we have a President who openly suggests that Congresswomen who were elected by a majority of their constituents go back where they came from. (That three of the four were born here is neither here nor there.) I'm bone-weary of being lectured about how people should just come here legally, while looking the other way when President Trump suggests people who did just that, along with people who were born here, ought to be deported.

We have a President who promotes xenophobia, a President who separates children from their parents and places them in cages. Our President came demanded the death penalty for the now vindicated Central Park Five, stands by that, and claimed our only black President was illegitimate, based on an outlandish and baseless claim he was born elsewhere. His people just told the country that the police officer who strangled a black man on video would not be prosecuted. I could go on.

Regardless, the Post piece would have you assume there is no such issue as white privilege. It vilifies the chancellor who dares to suggest otherwise. When Joel Klein openly ignored public schools and catered to the interests of Eva Moskowitz instead, the Post did not raise a peep. When Klein closed minority-dominated Jamaica High School based on false stats, not even contradicted by Bloomberg, the Post said nothing. Who knows how much other shoddy paperwork the city did to close schools?

So now, with a President for whom race-baiting comes as naturally as breathing, the Post deems it appropriate to criticize a chancellor who wants our students to be aware of what's going on around them. Not only that, but the article is ostensibly a news piece, not an opinion piece.

“This is just a diversion,” charged Mona Davids, of the NYC Parents Union. “This is to distract parents from the fact that their kids are not being educated properly and are graduating illiterate and innumerate.”

It's an understatement to say I'm less than expert in math. However, I pay very close attention to English instruction. I'm here to tell you that the English Regents exam is among the worst I've ever seen, and that teaching to it, as regarding education, is an utter waste of time. (Of course our students can't graduate without them, so I take time away from sorely needed English instruction to help them with it.) I'd argue that high school students ought to be able to express independent opinions clearly. I'd argue they ought to be able to read and appreciate literature. I'd argue that any course of study culminating in this abysmal exam has nothing to do with that. Anyone stating otherwise, including the NY Post reporter or Mona Davids, is simply not paying attention.

Should we ignore what's going on all around us? If you go by this NY Post article, you'd have to say yes. State exams are not under the chancellor's control, but I'm glad he's looking to have our kids do something worthwhile.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Adminstrators Need to Own TIPs

A lot of teachers are very upset about TIPs, or Teacher Improvement Plans. However, in NYC, if you're rated developing or ineffective, you get one. They're supposed to be planned cooperatively between teacher and administrator. I'm not always sure that happens, and I've seen ridiculous proposals from administrators that place all the pressure on teachers and none on themselves.

In fact, I've seen administrators write plans for teachers rated effective. Instead of TIPs, they call them TAPs, or Teacher Assistance Plans. This occurs when administrators don't like the rules and decide to just make up their own. We actually have an agreement, and TAPs are no part of it. Tell your chapter leader if you get one, and don't wait.

Nonetheless, this is the system we're in. I'm not entirely sure MOSL measures anything, and that's why it's got such rampant opposition statewide. NYC is a funny place, though. I was sitting next to a chapter leader at the DA, and this chapter leader told me half the staff would've gotten negative ratings if not for MOSL. Last school year, as a direct result of MOSL, none of the members in my building were rated below effective.

The MOSL could go, and in much of the state people want it to. The problem in NYC is the large number of supervisors who do not, in fact, wish to support staff. I've seen some supervisors revel in giving bad ratings. A teacher recently told me she asked her supervisor to help out in a troubled class. The supervisor said, "OK, but if I come in I have to write it up." This is about the farthest thing from support I can think of.

Then you get supervisors who indulge in personal vendettas. They come in on half days when no one is there, and write up teachers because no one is there. They tell you your classes suck and have no suggestions to make them stop sucking. You ask them NOT to come in on a specific day and they show up. Fifteen kids raise their hands and they only see two. They trash you all over the building, in front of anyone and everyone. What can you do with a supervisor like that?

The worst thing to happen to a supervisor like that is to see the despised teacher get a decent rating due to MOSL. There are, of course, things they can do. They can double down, worsen, or even falsify bad observations the next year. Alternatively, they can unilaterally decide to place effective-rated teachers on TAPs. This has the double value of asserting something the system denies, and also demoralizing the teacher in question. It's a WIN-WIN!

Here's the thing--if the TIP doesn't work, and even if the illegal TAP doesn't work, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. This is the failure of the administrator. If I'm gonna be judged by the test scores of my students, administrators ought to be judged by the performance of their teachers. Anyone with a TIP who doesn't improve reflects a direct failure of the administrator.

If they get two consecutive failing TIPs, they ought to be reassigned and face charges. Also, burden of proof should be on them. This would solve two issues. One is the inequity between the way admin and teachers are treated. More importantly, this might help us to shed the incredibly large number of inept and vindictive administrators in NYC.

If we could do that, we would no longer need anything like MOSL, and quality admin could support teachers and teaching, as it does in much of the state.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Parents Threatened With Losing Children Over School Lunch

You can't make this stuff up. NYC is ahead of the curve for once, in that we simply serve lunch to every student who wants it. In at least PA community, they are less enlightened, and that's a gross understatement. They're talking about placing liens on people's homes over lunch money. In fact, they're threatening to take children away from parents for owing lunch money. They're not actually allowed to do that, but they seem to think this threat is a good idea.

In fairness, that makes them better than Donald Trump, who takes children away from their parents out of sheer cruelty, and then charges $800, from people who likely as not haven't got it, to reunite them. Here's the thing, though--being better than Donald Trump is nothing to brag about. It certainly doesn't rule out being morally bankrupt, which this school district most certainly is.

Once, when my daughter was in elementary school, she came home and told me she'd been eating peanut butter sandwiches all week. I asked her why, and she didn't know. I went to the school to find out. I'd given her ten bucks to pay for lunch for the week. The teacher had sent the kids to pay for lunch, and some kid who always paid weekly hadn't done so. She just assumed he did, and let my daughter eat peanut butter all week.

I was a little bit angry. I made a few calls. The school changed their policy and made the teacher record who paid rather than giving her best guess. Later in the year, at some school plant sale or something, the principal handed my daughter ten bucks. I felt pretty good about that, because no one had offered to pay us back. However, the policy of giving kids with no lunch money peanut butter sandwiches beats the hell out of threatening to take your kids away.

This school board needs to be fired. Though they don't quite rise to Trump levels, they are completely unfit to have anything to do with education. Extorting money from poor people by any means necessary may be a good con, but it's not what any kid should be getting in school. Actually, instead of providing tax cuts for people who least need them, our federal government ought to provide free lunch to all kids. I'd argue our kids need it more than our zillionaires.

I don't know what the laws are in PA, but this ought to be a violation. I'd argue that anyone involved in this miserable decision ought to pay a steep fine, at least enough to cover all the student lunch fees, and then spend a few months in jail, or at least cleaning the garbage on the highways.

I don't know how these people sleep at night. If it weren't for Trump and his goons, I'd call them the scum of the earth.

Friday, July 19, 2019

If You Don't Exercise Your Rights, You Haven't Got Any

I keep shaking my head over the racist and vitriolic attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar, not to mention the preposterous defenses of Trump's assertion she and others should go back where they came from. It's incredible how people are utilizing arguments of anti-Semitism to rationalize their racism, not to mention that of the President.

Even the Orange Man himself offered to backtrack after his crowd of racists shouted to send her back. He said he didn't say it. The thing is, though, he did say it, albeit in a tweet. He says he tried to stop the chant, though it's on video and he quite obviously did not. It's tough to defend yourself successfully when you're a pathological liar. It's even tougher when you make your lies so obvious a kindergartener could recognize them.

 

He's right about one thing. Three of the four came from America, and our government is now a complete and total catastrophe. That's not only due to Trump. You also need to credit Republican Senators, the biggest whores on planet earth. Look at Lindsay Graham, who basically says Trump isn't a racist. (However, in 2015, he called Trump a race-baiting bigot. Go figure. ) You see, according to Graham, only critics of Donald Trump need to be sent home, and therefore this isn't racism.  Let's take that at face value for a moment (and let's not do it for more than a moment, because it's an outrageous lie anyway). If, in fact, we are only deporting dissenters, we have essentially eliminated free speech. Criticize Trump and you have to leave the country. I kind of like what Jimmy Kimmel had to say about Graham:

Lindsay Graham is probably the closest Donald Trump will ever come to owning a dog.

Of course, that's a slur on dogs. Nonetheless, if you take Graham's position as acceptable, there goes the First Amendment. An unused right is just a bunch of words on paper. I see this played out at smaller levels as well. If you're a New York City teacher, you need to know that a lot of people from city agencies are not your friends. Lying is pretty much a way of life for them. If you don't believe me, become a chapter leader and listen to the blithering nonsense that comes from "legal."

That's why it's very important to avail yourself of the right to representation when the suits come to your school. I tell members to say, "Please give me your card. I'd be happy to speak with you as soon as I have representation." I also tell them to call me, even in my classroom, if they want me to say it for them. I'm amazed at some responses agency people give us.

Once, a guy from SCI came in. A member had called me down. He challenged me.

"Do you even know what this is about?"

"No."

"Do you care what it's about?"

"Protocol is the same regardless."

At this point, the member asked me to step out so she could tell me what it was about. The guy was right, in a way. It was something very disturbing. It didn't involve the member, except for her having knowledge of it. Still, I don't trust these guys any farther than I can throw them. Who's to say they wouldn't blame her for things that were out of her control? I told her to wait until we arranged representation.

I went back. I told the guy I now understood what the issue was. He asked if she was ready to talk.

"Please give us your card, and she'll be happy to speak with you as soon as she has representation."

The guy started screaming. I didn't care about kids. All I cared about was protecting teachers. Actually, I care a lot about protecting teachers. It's a big part of my job. I knew this guy didn't give a damn about my colleague, and his intent was bullying us into giving up her rights. Too bad for him. She didn't.

Even amongst ourselves we sometimes exercise this nonsense. I once ran successfully for UFT Executive Board with MORE. I agreed to back their priorities, which I thought I shared, and they agreed I'd voice my own. When I introduced a class size resolution, they were very upset. Why didn't I run it by steering? Who said it was okay? Then, of course, they tossed everyone out who they didn't like, just like Lindsay Graham wants to do.

Your voice is all you have. If you give it up, you may as well get used to being nobody. It's literally our job to set an example. We can't afford to be nobodies at work, and we can't afford to be nobodies in the United States either.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Racists Among Us

It's nothing new, you know. They've always been here. They are our neighbors, our colleagues and our families. They are everywhere.

What's different? Well, President Donald Trump is what's different. He doesn't talk about welfare queens. He doesn't only talk about criminals. He doesn't use the requisite buzz words. He cuts straight to the heart. With time, his filters, which barely existed anyway, have virtually disappeared. No more do you just hear about troubled cities, or whatever it is they were saying before he showed up on the scene.

Now it's, "Send her back." This is red meat for his racist target audience. Let's get rid of that woman. After all, not only is she a woman, but she's a woman of color. Not only is she a woman of color, but she's a Muslim. Not only is she a Muslim, but she wears a hijab. Not only is she a hijab-wearing Muslim woman of color, but she supports Al Quaeda. Also she's an anti-Semite. 

Actually, she doesn't support Al Quaeda. She's never claimed to, despite Trump's lies otherwise. And I've seen no evidence she's anti-Semitic either. She opposes the Israeli government and its policies. Actually, the Israeli government is the Israeli government. It's not Judaism. But Trump can make that leap of logic, tell lies, and get the racists all hyped up.

Here's the thing about racists, though. I grew up in an all-white neighborhood, surrounded by them. Racists tend not to like Jews either. I learned this the hard way. I don't believe for one moment that the Trump supporters in North Carolina would stand for me any more than they'd stand for Rep. Omar.

Some of Trump's supporters are Jewish. Maybe they don't understand the nature of racism and bigotry. Racism and bigotry is intolerant of The Other, and that's what Jews are. Maybe you're Jewish, and maybe you support Israel. That doesn't mean you have to hate Muslims, and it doesn't mean you have to support Trump. He would go after you in a New York minute. If you don't believe that, just take a look at how he treats New York. I don't suppose I'm the only one who noticed he's cut our tax deductions so we could send more money to the red states that support him, the ones in which he holds his odious rallies.

What's really dangerous here is Trump has as much as told his racist audience that their racism is acceptable. They don't need to hide it anymore. His campaign rallies are celebrations of bigotry and racism. Those who attend don't care about his outrageous and demonstrable lies. He's told them their racism is okay, and that's good enough for them. As long as they can be openly racist, it doesn't matter that he showers tax breaks on those who don't need them (at the expense of his rally-goers) and deprives Americans of health care.

This has been building in the United States for decades. It began with Reagan, or maybe Nixon. It accelerated when Reagan got rid of the Fairness Doctrine and enabled Fox News. If you aren't watching The Loudest Voice on Showtime, about Roger Ailes and Fox, take a look. If you haven't got Showtime, make friends with someone who does.

America is at a turning point. Are we going to officially become an outright and openly racist nation, with pockets of tolerance? Are we going to allow blatant misogyny, bigotry and racism to be the unquestioned coin of the realm? Or are we going to fight and win against this would-be despot who rips families apart, places children in cages, and appeals to our very worst base instincts?

In little over a year, we'll find out.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

On Elia's Exit--One Down, 17 to Go

It was surprising that MaryEllen Elia jumped ship for a better-paying gig somewhere else, but that's what people do sometimes. Elia was not as awful as Reformy John King, but she didn't substantively improve education in NY State. There are still the tests that so many residents have their kids boycott, and from all accounts I've seen, they're just as crappy as they ever were.

Of course, as a high school teacher, things look a little different. For all the years we read about the moratorium, nothing changed for us. Despite the fact that test scores couldn't be used to rate some teachers, they've consistently been used to rate us. Also, there's no opting out of Regents exams. As every teacher of ELLs knows, if you don't pass the English Regents exam, you don't graduate high school.

Thus, teachers like me have spent a lot of time teaching students how to pass these tests. In the past, there were a lot of writing tasks. I'd show kids how to satisfy them by writing formulaic essays. Now, I do the same thing, but there's a lot less writing and thinking involved. This is because the current test is an exercise in common coriness. I'm not clear on how that quality makes anyone college or career ready, but of course I'm not among the elite geniuses from Albany who make these decisions.

Now they're forming a committee to decide what graduation requirements will be. I hope there aren't any teachers on that committee, and I'm certainly glad none were interviewed for the article. Only the geniuses in Albany are qualified to make decisions of that magnitude. They believe that, you know. They sit around some building that looks like Hogwarts, go to gala luncheons and cocktail parties, and make arbitrary judgments about how to translate test scores into college and career readiness.

They don't waste time taking advice from those of us who actually do the job, because if we were so smart why would we be wasting time in classrooms? Why aren't we at the gala luncheons and cocktail parties where real decisions are made? Instead, we're just waking up each morning and going to work with kids.

The Regents are completely out of touch. Were that not the case, they'd never have allowed CR Part 154 to go forward. How are newly arrived high school students supposed to learn English with little or no English instruction? It's not a problem for these Regents, who simply move the cut scores so as to make it appear they're doing better. When they want teachers to look incompetent, they raise the cut scores. When they want Mike Bloomberg to look like a genius, they lower them.

Of course they pass rules to make sure teachers don't grade their own students on state tests. After all, since they themselves change the rules whenever they feel like, and since they themselves juke the stats to make things look however they wish them to at any given moment, they expect us to do the same. That's curious, because teacher grades are a better indicator of college readiness than standardized tests.

Who would think that those of us who spend our working days with actual students would know them better than some company that designed a multiple choice test? Actually, just about anyone with an iota of common sense would figure that. Not the Regents, though.

About a month ago, a group of teachers from my school, the largest in Queens and most overcrowded in the city, wrote to our local Regent to ask her to meet with us. We wanted to discuss Part 154, since it's got us at a disadvantage. Even though NY State doesn't think we need to teach newcomers English, we still kind of think it's important. Of course, we got no response, since Regents are doing Very Important Stuff.

I think we need Regents who are answerable to the people in NY State. I think we need Regents who talk to teachers and understand what it is we do. Since we don't have them, I think it's time we replaced them all.

What do you think? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Go Back to Where You Came From

It's remarkable to have a President of the United States who indulges in behavior so juvenile you'd be crestfallen to see it play out in your high school classroom. I can't believe the things that come out of his mouth, or his phone, or wherever it is the despicable tweets come from.

Go back where you came from is not a new thing. I've heard it from racists all my life. You are strange. You don't look like me. You don't go to my church. You eat food that smells funny. What the hell are you doing here?

In a way, if you live in an insular community, that might be a normal reaction if you're five years old and don't know any better. After all, it's possible that everyone you've met has been a certain way, and you've never seen anything or anyone like this. On the other hand, it's just as likely that you've been taught this. Maybe your peers are racist so you think it must be okay. And where did that come from? Could it be parents who've never learned any better?

It's hard to say. But if you live in a place like NYC, you have to be totally without perception not to see the wide variety in culture. It must be a misery to live as a racist here, hating almost everyone you see or meet. And yet there are a whole lot of people who carry around this hatred day to day.

My wife is from Colombia. She's the sister of a former college student I had. I used to think that if I lived a bad life, I'd spend eternity at Court St., going from floor to floor finding out my college transcripts had arrived on this floor but needed to be resent to that one. That, of course, was before I started visiting immigration services. The DOE has absolutely nothing on them.

I remember, to go to INS, I'd have to take a day off from work. One day, we went in and got there around 9 AM, you know, business hours. A woman asked me if I had an appointment. I said no, I thought we just had to come here. She said we needed an appointment, but if we got here around 6 AM (I think) it wouldn't be necessary. Whatever the exact hour was, it was very early.

I remember the next time we went in, it was maybe the coldest day of the year. I always go early to important appointments, and I distinctly recall standing around freezing our asses off for a long time. I don't know if it was hours but it sure felt like it. When we finally got in, I went right up to the same woman who told me to come in early. She said, "We changed that policy. Now you have to make an appointment."

I went crazy. I started screaming. Sometimes if you do that, people will give you what you want so you'll shut up. Not at INS. Two very large federal cops came over to me and offered to take me to jail if I didn't shut up. My wife insisted that I shut up, and I did.

A nearby white woman told me I should go back where I came from.

I told her that I came from here, and defied her to tell me where I should go. Because she was not quite as stupid as President Trump, she kind of slunk away.

She was, of course, a bigot, just like the President. She thought she was better than me because she was born here and I wasn't. Unlike the President, she knew she'd made a mistake when I called her on it.

It's very sad to have an ignorant, juvenile, recalcitrant bigot as President of the United States.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Double Whammy for ELLs in NY State

I've written quite frequently about CR Part 154, which the geniuses in Albany revised so that ELLs would get less direct instruction in English. MaryEllen Elia and the Regents decided it was discriminatory that ELLs were in classes by themselves learning English. What a waste of time, they thought, leaving them in classes with other language learners. So they cut direct langauge classes by a factor of 33-100%, and decided to take another approach.

The new NY approach is sit around, do nothing, and hope for the best. In a way, it works. For one thing, the most recent iteration of the NY State English Regents exam is a piece of crap. It measures neither reading nor writing. It isn't called a Common Core exam anymore, but that's what it is. In NY State, because Common Core exams were so unpopular, the geniuses in Albany removed the name Common Core. They just left the tests the same and hoped no one would notice.

They've accomplished several things here that benefit taxpayers. First, they cut services to the most vulnerable students in the state, saving districts a ton of money that may have been frittered away teaching newcomers English. After all, who needs English in the United States of America? There are plenty of jobs washing dishes and collecting aluminum cans that require no English at all. Second, they saved the taxpayers the unwanted expense of rewriting a test.

Now sure, you'll say, a teacher like me can write a test in ninety minutes. But what do I know? I'm just a teacher. We need to run tests by psychometricians and people with doctorates. We need to find out what people in offices think about them. Then we need to run all sorts of tests. We need to place questions on current tests to test the tests. Now sure, after we do that the tests may still be total crap, but we'll have spent millions of dollars developing them. So you see, NY State, by allowing the crappy tests to continue, has saved the taxpayers millions.

Now sure, counselors may look through college application letters and notice that even their very best scoring students can't write their way out of a paper bag, but what difference does that make? After all, they'll get accepted somewhere anyway. And if their college application letters are crap, at least the colleges will be 100% certain the students themselves wrote them.

Then we come to the test that ELLs take to demostrate their English level. This test is called the NYSESLAT. Here's what teachers I speak with have been noticing--our students are lower than they ever were before. I notice it too. Last year I taught an advanced class for the first time in ten years. This is because there were fewer beginners. Why?

The NYSESLAT says that students I used to teach as beginners are no longer beginners. That's no accident. NY State sets cut scores any way it golly goshdarn pleases and needs to show progress. So lo and behold, ELLs are scoring higher and doing better. My beginners, who often used to be false beginners with more background knowledge than we expected, are rank beginners. The false beginners, who truly need what I have to teach, have been placed higher.

In fact, I had a whole lot of beginners in my so-called advanced class. They couldn't produce a coherent sentence in English. This notwithstanding, they'd tested out of English instruction and passed the ridiculous English Regents exam. For those who didn't, it was my job to teach them how to pass the Regents exam. This came, of course, at the expense of learning reading, writing, or English, all of which they required.

I'm really baffled as to why educational activists statewide seem not to give a damn about ELLs. It mirrors the Trump administration's indifference to newcomers. Maybe they don't know. Maybe they don't care. Only time will tell.

Friday, July 12, 2019

AFT Teach in Washington DC--We Give President Trump a Lesson

Friday was a pretty full day at AFT Teach. I thought we were going to go to workshops but there was just a little more. That's the AFT crowd in the afternoon at US Customs and Border protection. New AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn de Jesus mostly ran the rally, as President Randi Weingarten was injured.

Evelyn had a prepared speech, which kind of surprised me. She usually speaks off the cuff. But she was very good, not happy at all about the atrocities Donald Trump commits on a daily basis.



I was moved by this group on the right, which had not only bilingual signs, but also a photo of children. The President of the United States is putting children in cages. I'd never have imagined such a thing happening back when I was a little kid studying civics. Of course, they don't teach civics anymore. That might at least partially explain why we have a President who's thoroughly uncivil, a President who behaves like a recalcitrant child, a President who takes credit for everything and responsibility for nothing.

I'm fond of this sign, and how the teacher made it so graphic. I suspect this is from an elementary teacher. They seem to have better eyes than we do. I have awful handwriting, so rather than make my own sign I just photographed everyone else's. We are horrified by this ongoing atrocity, and that's the only sane or reasonable response.












There was a lot of press there, English and Spanish. You can see Evelyn speaking to the press on the right
here. I have no idea what language they were speaking, but this event was planned very well and there were people with cameras and mikes all over the place. I know because I was taking photos right along with them.

Washington Governor and Democratic presidential hopeful Jay Inslee showed up. He spoke very well and displayed precisely the sort of outrage the situation calls for. He bemoaned this shameful episode of our history and told us we were going to make Donald Trump history in 2020.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait.




They can't wait either.









This is later on. In the evening, AFT marched to a park just next to the White House. We had a police escort, and it was incredible. We marched, chanting, "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here." I thought a lot about my students who, along with their families, are living in fear of the xenophobic lunatic boy-man in the White House.


People applauded as we went by. 








 We were walking under a
tunnel, and a reporter photographing us told us they've never let anyone walk through it before, and that the only way she'd ever gone through was in a car.






Above us, we could see people on the bridge applauding us. It was a remarkable moment.



All along the route people had great messages for us and we invited them to join us.


I couldn't get a clear photo of this group, but it's a bunch of people holding letters that say, "UNCAGE KIDS." It was pretty powerful if you saw it, and I'm sorry you can see so little of it.













There was a huge crowd at the candlelight vigil when we finally arrived. We heard from a lot of immigrants. One from Sri Lanka said, "The diversity of this crowd is the beauty of this nation. It is not our weakness. It is our strength." AFT President Randi Weingarten spoke as well. She was injured and in a wheelchair, but said this was too important to miss. From where I was, I couldn't see her at all, so alas, no photo.

What I could see, and what all Americans need to see, is that this is an atrocity. We have a country moving backward into the very bad old days, and we have to use every means within our power to set it right.

2020 is just around the corner.

Meanwhile, AFT has a message for the President, who thinks democracy is him doing what he wants, how he wants, when he wants, to whoever he wants.

Teachers see democracy just a little differently--speaking truth to Trump. 


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Crossing the Line

We all have lines. We make lines and we respect them. Some lines you just don't cross. Now if you're Daffy Duck, or Donald Trump, you just draw arbitrary lines and tell people not to cross them This is the line of death, you say. Cross this line and you die. Then, when they cross it, you draw a new one and say this is the line of death. Cross this line and you die.

Most of us have different lines, and we don't rewrite them over and over. If we did, we'd have no character, and we'd be Daffy Duck, or worse. Some lines are necessary. Some are stupid. Judging which are which is a challenge.

I crossed a lot of lines this year. When MORE unceremoniously booted my friends from the caucus, they crossed a line. I was never going back there again, and I'm sure if I'd only been attending their meetings they'd have kicked me out too. I crossed another when people from Unity invited us to run with them. I'd never envisioned doing anything like that, but it seemed like the best decision. I want to be active beyond writing things on a blog.

Of course there are consequences for crossing lines. For me, I suffered a few nasty comments online. Some people are funny with me now, and not in that ha-ha sense. For MORE, there went 80% of their vote. But they're happy with that, because winning was never the goal for them. They considered it a disaster. Fortunately for them, having redefined themselves as losers, they will remain exactly where they wish to be. I'm in DC right now at AFT Teach, and I'm spending time with people a lot more interesting than most I encountered in MORE.

I crossed another line when I trashed the geniuses in Albany last week. I'm getting a little blowback from that. Oh, they may double down on bad policy because they're offended. What does it say of ostensible educators that they'd double down on bad policy that hurts thousands of children because they don't like what someone says about them?

Regardless, I hope they're offended, because it was my express intention to offend. Their actions, depriving children of vital basic English instruction, makes life harder for kids whose lives are hard enough already.

Yesterday I got to hear an Albany rationale for the changes to Part 154. You see, by giving students classes with other ELLs, we were segregating them. They weren't getting the chance to meet other people. Therefore, dumping them into general classes with less English instruction was a bold step, a definite improvement.

Okay. Let's take that a step further. Why are we dumping only the kids who want to learn French in French classes? Isn't that segregation? Why don't we just dump everyone in French classes? That's absurd, isn't it? Would you want to be the French teacher after that happened?

Actually, I'm all for having ELLs attend classes with speakers of English, as well as other languages. I just want to give them the opportunity to prepare for it. Not only that, but the only people who need explicit language instruction in English are ELLs. So no, I'm not placing them in a linguistic ghetto. I'm placing them in a group with people who share their needs, people who empathize with them and can mutually support one another.

I wrote that NY State, by depriving learners of the instruction they desperately need, but pulling away the only safe place they had to practice English, was practicing an awful kind of discrimination. Someone told me that was not their intent, and that they were rather trying to make up for something. I believe that. But why, I asked, did they place such an awful, stupid program in its place? I anticipated every single negative consequence that would occur. Why didn't they?

"Because they aren't teachers," the person answered.

Now here's the thing--the very first time I read about Part 154, I knew what the consequences would be. Of course, I don't attend the meetings of the geniuses in Albany, and being geniuses, they don't need teacher input.

So they had good intentions. But most if not all of the students they hurt are students of color. So they're practicing discrimination. Is discrimination any better if the intentions are good?

For my students, the results are exactly the same. So no, it isn't any better. Not even a little. I'd like to see a whole lot of people stand up and tell the geniuses in Albany this is outrageous. You must fix it.

But a whole lot of them won't. They don't want to cross that line. You have to be nice to the geniuses in Albany, they say, because they have good intentions.

I don't care. I'm over the line. If they fix Part 154, I'll sincerely apologize and tell them how much I appreciate it. If not, I couldn't care less just how many good intentions they've used to pave their shiny new road to hell.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Saga of the Rainbow Bridge

Last month was Pride month. Someone decided it would be a good idea to paint the bridge at Silver Lake in Baldwin. I don't live in Baldwin, but my sister in law does. I'm there a lot and I walk my dog there a lot. To my eye, that's a distinct upgrade. It's also a celebration of a nationally recognized observance.

A lot of people in Baldwin didn't see it the way I did. I won't post social media without permission, but they argued it was graffiti, that graffiti was bad, and that it therefore must be removed.

Not only that, but it was removed, and quite quickly. Within days the town had covered over the offending rainbow and it was no more.






The next look is on the right. It was very quickly painted over. You'd think they'd at least let it last the month, but you'd be wrong. This happened after only a few days.

A lot of people said that yes, sure, it had been a good look, but graffiti is graffiti. It didn't matter what its purpose was. There was a statement, referred to in the photo, from Legislator Debra Mule in the photo. It pretty much said the same, and that if she were to tolerate this painting, she would have to tolerate other less well-meaning statements on public property. I'm not accusing her of bad intent, but I'm not pleased with her position either.

I wondered why they couldn't have just left it up for the month of June at least. Actually, the new neutral look did not last long, and you can see what looks like now.

I have to agree with that caption on the left. Now it really is graffiti. As far as I know, that's how it looks now. Or perhaps there's a renewed urgency. Maybe town officials are jumping up and down to remove that seditious message, "Live, laugh, love." After all, who knows where they'll be living, what they'll be laughing at, or who they'll be loving?

It looks to me like people just got all bent out of shape over that little rainbow and it had to go. I understand we don't want swastikas painted on public bridges, but I hardly see how a symbol of hate can be conflated with one of tolerance.

I find myself really disappointed in the alacrity with which the rainbow bridge went away. It bothered people. They can say all day long that they're just concerned with the graffiti issue, but it's more than that. We're an intolerant country with a bigoted xenophobe ostensibly in charge, and little things mean a lot.

In one respect, it's amazing they couldn't look the other way on a little rainbow bridge. In another, it's no surprise at all, and there's just no painting over that.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

When Principals Embrace Alternative Facts

What can you say about holocaust deniers? In this era of "alternative facts," you might say they're par for the course. We have a President who can't even open his mouth without lying. He can say any goshdarn thing that enters his head and almost half the country will cheer wildly. He can separate children from their families, place them in cages, deny them basic necessities and call it patriotism.

After all, we all need someone to hate. It makes us feel better about ourselves somehow. I was born here, and am therefore better than you are. My parents had more money than you did, so I have more money than you do, and I'm therefore better than you are. My skin is this color and yours is that. I speak this language and you speak that.

The thing is that we as educators have a mission. What is it? It depends a lot who you ask. If you ask the geniuses in Albany they'll say our mission is to make kids pass tests. Actually they may say something else, but their actions suggest testing is the only thing they care about. I have a different idea entirely.

I'd say our mission is to fight stupidity and ignorance. Our mission is to encourage questioning and thought. I'd also say that it goes beyond figuring out whether a, b, c or d is the proper response to a question. That's what sets me apart from the geniuses in Albany. That, and you won't see me posing as a genius anytime soon. I don't know everything and I don't pretend to.

I know that it's idiotic, at best, to say the history of the holocaust is open to interpretation. I know it's idiotic, at best, to say the same about slavery. This Florida principal seemed to say it about both. There are people on both sides. Well, there are people on both sides of science too. Donald Trump can stand up and oppose it as many times as he likes, but it won't change anything.

Someone has to help kids understand what's true and what isn't. It's positively Orwellian that we have school principals who refuse to take sides between reality and alternative fact. How on earth are children supposed to learn anything from people who feel it's only fair to give equal time to birthers and flat earthers?

As always, there are reasons for this. There's racism. There's bigotry. There's xenophobia. There's homophobia. There's good old, old-fashioned stupidity. Any of them can explain why you'd take history and deny it. But anyone who suffers from any or all of the above ought not to be an educator, let alone a principal. That's why it's great to read that this principal is now seeking other work. Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't involve people. 

A teacher's job is to help students think for themselves, not to justify ignorance of any kind. In these times we are needed more than ever. You know who should lead schools? The best teachers, the ones who are willing to share their craft with the new teachers. Instead, look what we have.

Too bad the geniuses in Albany are so obsessed with test scores, because school leaders like these are most definitely not limited to Florida.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Bill de Blasio Offers Valuable Lip Support Against Privatization

I got to see a little of the NEA forum with Democratic presidential candidates, ably covered here by Chalkbeat. Bernie Sanders really shone here, in contrast to his indifferent showing in the debate. He seems to have gotten a better focus on the education issues that were so thoroughly neglected by all in 2016. He's not the only one.

Of course, there were disappointments, including Beto O'Rourke, who trotted out the old canard about opposing private, for-profit charter schools. That's a dubious distinction, as only two states even permit so-called for-profit schools. Yet they all make profits, one way or the other. I like Mayor de Blasio's message much better.

That said, it's tough to take his opposition very seriously. When de Blasio first ran for mayor, I supported him enthusiastically. I declined to support his primary opponent, what's-his-name, who had told the Daily News editorial board that NYC couldn't afford to give teachers the raise that NYPD and FDNY had gotten under Emperor Bloomberg. The time to support what's-his-name, in my view, was four years earlier when he ran against Bloomberg.

I contributed to de Blasio, went to Queens UFT to make calls for him, and attended his inauguration. I froze my ass off out there, having neglected to wear warm shoes, but it seemed worth it. We were finally going to have a mayor who was Not Insane, a mayor who didn't hate us and everything we stood for. What was one day of cold when we'd finally be able to move teaching into the twenty-first century?

De Blasio, though, didn't make the moves that were necessary to fix NYC. He left most of Bloomberg's awful educrats in place. Worse, he appointed one of Bloomberg's leftovers as chancellor. Carmen FariƱa made her bones as a principal. She replaced teachers and students somehow, and got her school to get good test scores. I failed to see the miracle-working inherent in that. If you get to pick your students, the miracle would be not getting great test scores (a feat many charters appear to
achieve somehow or other).

Mayor de Blasio ran on a platform of opposition to charters. This was one of the things I most appreciated about him. However, Andrew Cuomo, having taken suitcases of cash from BFFs of Eva Moskowitz, didn't much appreciate this. Thus he and his Heavy Hearted Assembly passed a bill saying if NYC didn't approve charters, it had to pay rent for them. After all, who wants Eva's company frittering away its hedge-fund millions on things so petty as rent?

Mayor de Blasio didn't have a whole lot of options. He had to enable the charters one way or another. I can't blame him for that. However, I haven't heard him utter a cross word about this law. I haven't seen him lift a finger to oppose it. After years of absolute inaction on this, it's hard to accept de Blasio as a strong privatization opponent.

If he's still in the race by the time it hits NYC, he's very low on my list of choices. He's better than Beto. He's better than Booker, who's actually Betsy DeVos with a tie. He's better than Biden, who can't think on his feet or keep his foot out of his mouth. But I love Bernie. I also loved seeing Kamala Harris jump on Biden, and would love to see her debate Trump. Elizabeth Warren is getting better on education.

If Bill de Blasio wants his campaign to catch fire, he's gonna have to provide a viable spark. Thus far, I'm not seeing it.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Principals' Principles--How Low Can They Go?

 I know principals who'd laugh at that picture. I know others who'd place their noses in the air and feign horror. They're way too important to entertain jokes about their Very Important Work. Of course, those who take themselves uber-seriously have enormous potential to be terrible leaders. There are all too many of them in NYC.

Everyone has opinions about school leaders. Michael Bloomberg believed in the imperial principal, a person who can do whatever he golly gosh darn pleases. He enabled this, in part, by establishing a legal department to advise them. Every chapter leader has heard about "legal." They're the people who present the principal with contract as menu. Choose the parts you like, they say. Ignore the rest.

This is, of course, a terrible situation. It precludes working hand in hand as teachers and school leadership should. UFT doesn't advise me to ignore rules and do whatever I want. Also, UFT offers me accurate interpretations of the contract, as opposed to alternative facts. I'm in a completely different place than principals are.

A big question is what can be done about blatantly abusive school leaders. Sure, a lot of them have drunk Bloomberg's Kool-Aid, but some of them are way over the top. They're positively Trumpian in their intolerance of opinions differing from their own. Over at CPE 1, Monika Garg placed the UFT chapter leader and delegate on 3020a charges. It's like they were the resistance in some fascist regime, imprisoned without cause.

Garg thought her actions would intimidate and silence all who resisted her reign of terror. To the contrary, it energized the school community. Parents stood with UFT against her, and they just would not back down. Garg tried to ban parents from the school their children attended. Things got worse and worse, until someone at DOE with an iota of common sense moved the principal somewhere she could do no harm (or at least less harm).

There are other models. There is Forest Hills, and more recently La Guardia. Terrible leaders are brushed aside and sent elsewhere, to do whatever it is they do in Tweed. There is one thing these schools have in common. School communities united and took a stand against these leaders. This is a big ask for teachers, who didn't precisely sign up to be revolutionaries.

Nonetheless, if you push us too far, we will stand. We see this replicated all over the country, as teachers in red states walk rather than endure the slow death GOP lunatics envision for public education. We see it in multiple schools in the city. Of course, we don't see it everywhere.

Bad administrators are a plague here. I would not be at all surprised to learn that 25-40% of administrators ranged from inept to outright destructive. I know many readers of this blog would place that percentage higher. How many teachers suffer in silence? How many run away from the job rather than face these lunatic Boy Wonders who make demands of everyone except themselves? Does DOE care about teacher retention enough to do something about it? Not so far.

There are a few things successful schools have in common. There are votes of no confidence. This indicates a united front. It shows the staff has been pushed too far. There has also been media coverage, and for that at least someone has to be willing to go public. DOE seems to be sensitive to terrible media coverage, which is odd, since as far as I can tell, they couldn't care less about school morale. It would be good if we could change that, but that would likely entail dumping the Bloomberg leftovers who form the DOE's morally bankrupt soul.

It's really tough to organize resistance in a dispirited staff, but it can be done. I don't think there's a magic formula. A thing happens, a line gets crossed, and there's no turning back. It's hard to predict what those things will be. If we knew what they were, CSA would probably seek a way to preclude them. Doubtless they're trying to find a way to put a stop to these actions.

Fortunately for them, there is a solution. No, it's not walking things right up to the line of mutiny and leaving them there. That's not productive. It's not good for your staff and it's not ultimately good for schoolchildren. Theoretically at least, we're trying to get them to be responsible citizens who express themselves. How do we do that when we ourselves are living in abject terror?

There's a better way, CSA. Tell your members that being autocratic assholes does not equate to leadership. Tell them you lead by example, and it wouldn't hurt, if they want us to be great teachers, to be great teachers themselves. You want us to give a highly effective lesson? Get up in front of our classes and show us how it's done. That would make us respect you a lot more than watching you sit in back of our classrooms and telling us how much we suck. When's the last time your principal or AP gave a lesson, as opposed to a lecture?

For us, it's about organization. We need to stand together in small ways before we can rise together in big ways. It's harder for us than it is for CSA. I don't have a magic formula either, but I've seen how events can unexpectedly unite a staff. I'm very glad not to have had to hold a vote of no confidence where I am, but I certainly understand why others have done it.

We can encourage and enable these small revolutions. It would be much better, though, if the DOE and CSA would act to make them unnecessary. I don't know about you, but I plan to sit while I wait for that to happen.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read my new column in City Limits today. NY State may not place newcomers in cages, but they do them little service by depriving them of the direct English instruction they need most.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

More Abuse in PS 333--What's in a Name?

I'm a cancer survivor. It was one of the toughest things I've ever faced, and I've taught teenagers for over three decades. That's a tough job. Half of the people who start it drop out after the first five years. Nonetheless, cancer makes it seem like a walk in the park.

I wear scars from it, figurative and literal. I won't bore you with details, but I will tell you most people I worked with were very understanding. I took a sabbatical for restoration of health. The first day I went back to work, I told a supervisor I was really happy to be there.

"Here?" she said. "You happy to be here?"

She didn't know. 

"If you were where I was," I told her, "you'd be happy to be anywhere."

Sometimes people ask me why I'm no longer scared of things that once bothered me, of things that trouble my colleagues. Once you look at cancer, there's not a whole lot at work to scare you. Why is this about PS 333?

Because I've spoken to a lot of parents from there. They don't want anything that will identify them on this page. Is the principal as scary as cancer? Maybe, maybe not, but we're talking about their children here. No one wants reprisals against their children, and every parent with whom I've spoke thinks Claire Lowenstein is absolutely capable of it. Why on earth is she still there?

There is a great story about this abusive principal. It's got humor. It's got pathos. It's got incredible irony. It's been shut down on other forums for various reasons, and I've been asked not to post it here either. Sorry. (If you're reading this, Mr. Chancellor, let me know and I'll send it to you.)

Instead I'm gonna talk about names. At PS 333, everyone is on a first name basis. The teachers, the students and the principal all use first names. I could live with that. I worked at the English Language Institute at Queens College for 20 years and we used first names. The problem arises when you mandate a first name system, but the leader is, say, a space monster, a Leadership Academy Graduate, or a self-centered Boy Wonder. (And yes, of course there are Girl Wonders too.)

When I was in a system that used first names, teachers, admin and students treated one another with respect. That's what the whole first name thing represents. It can work, but there has to be an underlying understanding to make it successful. Clearly this is not carried off well at all in PS 333. The practices presupposes a trust that simply doesn't exist there.

Let's imagine you're a teacher at PS 333. We'll call you Frodo. A student gets up in the middle of your class.

"Frodo, I'm going to see Claire right now."

"You know, this is not the best time. Please return to your seat."

"Well, Claire said I could come to her office whenever I want, and I'll tell Claire that you just tried to stop me from going there, and she'll get you fired for that, bro."

Imagine having to deal with that on a daily basis. That's not the fault of first name usage. It's the fault of an irresponsible administrator who fails to set boundaries, who uses children as secret police, who grants them freedom and presumptions they most certainly ought not to have. The first name basis thing just makes it worse. If you abuse authority like that, you don't deserve to have it.

Principal Claire Lowenstein needs to go back to kindergarten and learn how to get along with people. That may not be possible, as there are contractual demands and due process likely precludes it. I don't oppose due process. Nonetheless, I've seen teachers accused of far less than Lowenstein reassigned pretty quickly.

It blows my mind that the city will tolerate so much more from principals than teachers. By the simple nature of their positions, they have the ability to do so much more damage to so many more people than teachers. I haven't got a clue as to why the city sees fit to tolerate this. Principals can damage entire communities. Common sense dictates they need to meet a higher standard, as opposed to a lower one, or more likely, no standard whatsoever.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

NYSED and ESL--Stupid Is as Stupid Does

"Gee I want to learn Spanish so I can take math tests in another language, " said no kid ever.

Yet that's precisely the policy of NYSED, whose official rationale for stand alone ESL classes is, and I'm not kidding.  “Students receive English language development instruction in order to acquire the English language needed for core content areas."

As teachers, it’s our job to somehow persuade students to love our subjects. My job is to teach English to speakers of other languages. It’s pretty easy to make kids love English. I don’t even have to trick them. They can take what I teach them and use it not only that very day, but also for the rest of their lives.

If you’re the child of immigrants, your parents might depend on you for more than just taking out the garbage and doing homework. Since you’ll learn English faster than your parents, you might become a part-time translator. Dental appointment? ER visit?  Let the kid help. Trip to the supermarket? Bring the kid in case you have questions. Over the last thirty years I’ve heard countless examples.

Not only that, but you might have personal needs. The very best language learners are social. That’s intrinsic motivation. When the teacher shows you how to introduce yourself, you hang on every word. After all, you want to make friends. When the crazy teacher sits you at a table with three people who don’t speak your first language, it may be the only time in your young life when you’re forced to use English.

One of my students wrote a very funny story about his struggle to order a hamburger in a restaurant. He described the gesticulation and pointing, the misunderstandings that occurred, and the eventual communication between he and the server. After taking my class, he was able not only to order hamburgers easily, but also to write about his struggles to learn how. (That may sound like a minor achievement, but if you’re with teenagers all day you know perpetual hunger is a an ongoing issue.)

I could certainly re-orient my classes to conform to NYSED’s concept. What would happen if I revolved my classes around geometry or earth science? Do you think my students would respond better with test-prep over communication and survival skills? I don’t.

Not only that, but everything I’ve read about language acquisition suggests NYSED is horribly wrong. Language is different from other subjects in that how well you grasp it may not be as linked to intelligence as it is to affect. For example, my student, I’ll call her Maria, loves being here. At first, she was angry when I placed her at a table with no one who spoke her language. Within weeks, however, she was chatting with the boy next to her. He and Maria shared sharp senses of humor. They unwittingly helped one another to learn English all year long. That’s what I call a win-win.

On the other hand, my student John didn’t love the US and was dragged here kicking and screaming. He never spoke to anyone. He didn’t care who he sat with, and his sole interest was figuring out how to use his phone in class without having me confiscate it. I can smell illicit phone use, John didn’t like that, and eventually he stopped coming altogether.

Do you think English lessons revolving around geometry would have won him over? I don’t. Had I done what NYSED wanted, I’d have lost not only John, but also Maria and her friend.

Newcomers need a place they feel understood. They need a place they feel safe. I can give them that, and I can ease them into using our language. I can show them the joy of communicating in a new language. Were I to do what NYSED wanted, all of my students would not only fail my class, but also lose their very best path to understanding the others.

NYSED’s notion that English is not in itself a subject is nothing short of idiotic. I’m a teacher, and idiotic is not remotely what I want to model for my students.