Saturday, August 31, 2019

I Respond to Advance

I'm going to put this out there, even if it costs me street cred--I have a great supervisor. She's the best ESL teacher I know, and I have, in fact, seen her teach. If I have an issue, I can go to her and ask for advice. Most of the time I will use it, and if I decide not to, she doesn't get all bent out of shape over it. (I apologize in advance to the many, many city teachers who can't empathize, but there are some great administrators out there. And yes, I know others.)

This notwithstanding, I'm not terribly involved with what she writes on the observations.Like many teachers, anything effective or above means all's right with the world, and who really gives a golly goshdarn what else it says?

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. I know in particular because I'm the chapter leader of a large school, and no one ever comes to me with an effective rating, or a highly effective rating. I get to see all of the bad ratings, though. No one is happy with those. Sometimes there are things we can do, but not enough.

Though I've railed about junk science many times in the past, and though I'm still convinced it ought to play no role in rating a teacher, I have seen it pull a whole lot of people up in my building. Last year there were no adverse ratings. One supervisor saddled an effective-rated member with a TAP, or Teacher Assistance Plan. This is a non-contractual imposition of a TIP, or Teacher Improvement Plan, mandated for teachers rated developing or lower. Unfortunately I didn't find out until May, and it took me a few weeks to get it killed.

For me, the new observation process is nonsensical, particularly when compared with its predecessor.  There's so much more and better information in a freely written observation report than there is in some checklist. I really do believe that there is no way you can codify classroom instruction into a rubric. Possibilities are infinite, and there's no way Danielson could anticipate them all. I can't sit around worrying about what it says on 2b, or not 2b. I would fully read and reflect on a written report.

However, the elephant in the room is not, in fact, the mode of observation. I once did a project that a supervisor observed. It went well. The supervisor asked me for the manual I got the activity from. She copied the manual word for word, and that was my observation report. What can you do with someone so fundamentally lazy she can't be bothered doing what she's paid for?

While I liked the previous method better, if I had a lazy, crazy or incompetent supervisor it would make little or no difference. This supervisor might trash me if I were good, bad, or indifferent. I've seen this happen. In fact, in my own school I got to watch a videotape of a lesson that contradicted the supervisor's report in multiple aspects. What exactly can you do when your supervisor just makes stuff up? And for the record, a positive observation from a bad supervisor, while not as hurtful, is equally useless.

I have another member who worked in Banana Kelly. She got a negative rating there for observations. The only real issue was the observations didn't actually take place. Not only that, but one of these observations was said to have taken place on a day my member was sick at home. This is one lazy principal, who can't be bothered to check whether or not the teachers are in on the days observations are falsified. I think the principal was removed, but I don't recall whether or not we were able to fix my friend's rating.

As for the entire rating issue, if we ignore the plague of bad supervision, which no working teacher can, what we're left with is the law that enabled it. The very worst part of this law, the one that really needs changing, is the one placing burden of proof on teachers rated ineffective two years in a row. The notion that anyone is guilty until proven innocent is abhorrent and un-American.

Of course the plague of bad supervision, while ignored in most of the press, cannot be ignored by those of us that face it each and every day. I don't know how many bad administrators there are, but given what I hear I'd guess 25-40%. That's outrageous and unacceptable. All the nonsense we read in the paper is the tip of the iceberg. There's a reason not a week goes by without Sue Edelman turning over a rock, only to find some supervisor or other crawling out, and probably not for the first or last time.

Former principal Carol Burris once told me that she used to observe once a year. She would only go back if there were some issue, like a complaint, or perhaps the teacher asking for help. That's a reasonable position. This year there should be some sort of APPR training, perhaps a video with the chancellor and Mulgrew. I know the message will be that observations ought not to be used as a "gotcha" process. Of course that's as it should be. (Update:There's a video of Mulgrew and Carranza saying that right here.)

However, until and unless New York City does a deep cleaning to root out incompetence and vindictiveness in administration, no observation process will ever be worthwhile overall. I don't know about you, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen any time soon.

I submitted the above response to the city and provided my email address in case they wanted to ask me more. I'll be happy to speak with anyone who contacts me. After I posted the response on Facebook, several teachers said they'd do the same. I told them if they did that, the educrats at DOE would have a lot of responses to ignore.

That's exactly what I expect them to do. And by the way, here's the survey. As far as I can tell, the geniuses who put it up couldn't be bothered to make sure those who answered authenticated their responses.  I guess when you don't care whether or not results are reliable or honest, little things like that don't matter. The beauty part is that if anyone above them doesn't like the results, they can just go in and falsify them to their heart's content.

Good thing de Blasio kept all those Bloomberg leftovers in DOE. It isn't easy to work up a team like that.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Principal's Message, Annotated

I'm so happy to see you all back here. I know you're all re-energized and ready to work. Pretty soon I'm going to put up a PowerPoint and read it to you word for word so you don't miss anything. Because it's so precisely worded, I'm not going to vary at all from the text. Also, I haven't actually seen it yet since I made the APs write it. But this is very important information, and that's why I made them write it.

I'm so over having PowerPoints read to me.  I don't like to brag, but I actually know how to read. I always wonder why the person can't just send me an email. I might not read it, but I'm most certainly not paying attention when you read me a PowerPoint. Sorry, but that's a fact, Jack.

When I went to chapter leader training maybe ten years ago, UFT VP Sterling Roberson stood up, used a PowerPoint, and did a pretty funny commentary on Joel Klein using a magic mirror. I thought, "That's what this thing is for." Actually if you watch John Oliver you can see that sort of usage. You don't need to be hilarious or anything. You just need to use the display as a backdrop for introducing info that isn't on it, or you explain what is on it.

Before that, I'm going to give you the school handbook. Now I know none of you are actually going to read it. To tell you the truth, I've been so busy forcing the APs to write the PowerPoint that I haven't actually read it myself. I'm not even sure who wrote it, but it's been around for a long time, and every time the Principal's Weekly says to inform you of something, I have a secretary tack it on. Also I sometimes just make stuff up and write it there. 

The school handbook is not, in fact, anything that the city and UFT agreed upon. They can write they want you to be in a half-hour early, or that you need to go on weekend retreats, or that they want written lesson plans a year in advance. It doesn't matter. It's not actually enforceable when they write stuff like that. If, on the other hand, if the handbook includes information, like where to get keys or something, you might have something useful there. Who's read their school handbook? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

If you get in trouble, I'll have someone look something up in the handbook and probably place a letter in your file saying you violated whatever it is that you violated. Now sure, you have some kind of Collective Bargaining Agreement that is, you know, an agreement, so we're bound to follow that. Fortunately, though, the DOE has a department called "legal," and whenever I call them to ask whether or not I have to follow stuff in the contract, they say I don't.

This has been a problem since time immemorial, or at the very least since Mike Bloomberg enabled "legal." This is basically a clown car full of people intent on wiping their overeducated posteriors with the collective bargaining agreement. A teacher friend of mine who's also a trained lawyer was recently offered a job with them. (He turned them down, complaining they offered him absolutely no credit for years of service.) Absolutely every time I've had a conflict between a UFT source and "legal," UFT was right. I'm not persuaded these geniuses even bother to read the contract they're supposed to interpret, and a former employee of theirs assures me they do not.

Of course you have no voice in the handbook, and no one has agreed to it, but legal says it's okay for me to write whatever I want there, so I do. And be aware I reserve the right to amend it any time I see fit, in any way I see fit. Let's say, for example, that I don't like the way you say hello to me in the morning. I may, in that case, add a requirement that I like the way you say hello. If I fail to like it, that's a letter to file. If I repeatedly fail to like the way you say hello, you will be brought up on charges and reassigned.

That's ridiculous, of course, and it probably wouldn't fly. But principals can threaten you with anything and everything, so they could easily say something like that. I actually know someone who got in trouble for failing to say hello to her principal in a way the principal deemed satisfactory. "I am the instructional leader here," this pompous principal proclaimed, and went on to harass my friend over this and other such meaningless nonsense. She didn't bring my friend up on charges, though. Even vainglorious and crazy has limits.

But I digress. Right after I get through the PowerPoint I'm going to read aloud, we will do Right to Know, which is the same thing we've been doing every year for the last thirty years. We're required to do that, because we always assume you weren't listening the last 29 times. That's why we do it again. I feel that this will be the time you actually pay attention. And don't worry, if you don't, we'll just do it again next year.

Actually this is not on the principal, who's actually required to do this every year. But bear in mind when he ends that and starts the three-hour lecture on why it's bad for students to be late, that the DOE calendar says Tuesday, day one, should be primarily dedicated to preparation for the school year, to wit:

On September 3, 2019 the following staff report: Classroom Teachers, Bilingual Teachers in School and Community Relations, Guidance Counselors, Attendance Teachers, Nurses, Therapists, Laboratory Specialists and Technicians, and Educational Paraprofessionals. School Secretaries, Psychologists and Social Workers report for a regular work day. Employees in titles not listed should consult the applicable collective bargaining agreement. This day shall be utilized for preparation and planning for the new school year. If time permits, the remainder of the day may be utilized for professional development.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty nervous about prepping lessons for students I haven't met before. I really need time to do that well. I haven't got any books yet, I don't know when or if I'm going to need or get them, so I'm going to have to rely on my own resources and the copying machine. That copying machine will be in intense demand day one. I usually get in ridiculously early so as to have a small advantage. On day one I'm not worried about my AP catching me unprepared, I'm worried about my students catching me unprepared. They will not.

This, alas, doesn't preclude that vital three-hour lecture the following day.

Remember, students shouldn't be late, because they shouldn't. Lateness is bad. Make sure you tell them they're late, and give them a hard time about it, but not too hard a time about it, because that's verbal abuse. Also, fail them if they're late. But don't say you're failing them because they're late because you can't do that. Say you're failing them because they missed the classwork or something. But definitely fail them. Now let's move onto our next topic. How can we pass absolutely everyone in absolutely everything no matter what?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Beauty of the Small School

In my school, the most preps you'll get under ordinary circumstances is three. Of course, we're a big school. Most teachers probably have two preps. I've seen conscientious supervisors make sure no one in their departments had more than two preps. It's great when smart-hard-working people become supervisors. (Of course, no one can count on that.)

Nonetheless, not every school is a large school. Uber-reformy Michael Bloomberg was likely smoking his solid gold opium pipe in some high-class den of iniquity when one of his fair-weather friends, perhaps Cathie Black, told him that small schools were all the rage. Oh yeah, Bill Gates just loves them, and he's got even more money than you do.

Now Michael Bloomberg fancies himself an education expert, because Michael Bloomberg fancies himself an expert on all things. What is the basis of his expertise? Well, it can't be training, because he simply hasn't got any. And it can't be research, because no research supports the reforminess he so fervently embraces. What's left after that? Nothing but filthy lucre, and he's got cash as far as the eye can see. He can afford to jet off to Bermuda in the middle of a snowpocolypse. Most New Yorkers aren't nearly that smart.

Why? Because we haven't got the money, of course. So if Bill Gates has more money than Mike Bloomberg, he must be even smarter. Of course Bloomberg needed to close schools left and right at every possible opportunity, and break them up into little entities with silly names. The Mike Bloomberg Knitting Academy. The Joel Klein School of Excellence. The Cathie Black Penthouse of Whatever.

The problem came about when Bill Gates said oopzie, I made a mistake. This was quite unusual. Narcissistic, self-important, self-serving megalomaniacs tend not to make such utterances. Evidently, Gates was the exception that proved the rule. Bloomberg was unable to admit having made a mistake. Also he'd filled all the schools with newbies and there was little or no union activity so for Emperor Mike it was a WIN-WIN!

Yesterday I got a comment from someone teaching French 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 or some such nonsense. Because five preps was not enough, the visionary principal determined it would be a good idea to impose yet another class on this teacher. It's ridiculous that any working teacher should have so many preps. That would be an instant grievance in my building. Of course, if you're the only French teacher, maybe an arbitrator would say too bad for you, go teach the five preps. (The imposition of a sixth class, though, is a grievance anywhere.)

I'm thinking about how to solve an issue like that. Wouldn't a teacher without an impossible workload be likely to do a better job? If I were in a building with four other schools I'd pool students from the other schools, let my French teacher do levels one and two, yours three and four, and another five. Or maybe one teacher from each school could teach each level.

Better yet, let's put all those broken buildings back together and give walking papers to principals who issue teachers five preps and a sixth class. I mean, they're clearly incompetent. Why don't we combine the schools, keep the best principals, and make the others do something useful, you know, like teach NYC's 1.1 million schoolchildren?

With exploding school buildings, and class sizes at max as a matter of course, it's ridiculous we waste time sticking five principals in one building, not to mention the ensuing and utterly predicable programming nightmares for teachers and lack of resources for children.

Sure Bloomberg made stupid, pointless decisions. There's no reason on earth they can't be reversed.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

It's the First Day of Break

I'm crazy, right? You're sitting around, bummed out of your mind because one week from today you have to go to work. How is that fair? After all, you've finally located your true self and you're a beachcomber. The only thing you're missing is one of those metal detector thingies, and you've just seen one on sale at Costco. How could you pass up this opportunity?

And honestly, isn't it wasteful that the beach chair you've been lounging around on all summer should be unceremoniously tossed in your garage? Isn't that bad for the environment? I mean sure, it's gonna get cold, and there will be snow on the ground, but you're a reasonable person. What's wrong with opening it up in the living room, making a nice cup of tea, and just sitting there every day with a good book?

After all, to be a good teacher you ought to be a reader, and where are you gonna find time to read if you have to go to frigging work every morning? It's your job to be a role model, and gosh darn it that's what you need to do!

Actually, everything is point of view. I'm chapter leader of a very large school, and I notice that whenever a marking period ends, I get complaints. Why did it end on a Friday? Why can't I have the weekend to finish my grades? Why did it end on a Monday? Do they expect me to spend my weekend doing my grades? There's always a way to work around things like that. Plan your final test for the week before or something, and do the grades in advance. Or wait until the last minute and stay up all night. You can make your marking period end whenever you like, if you plan a little.

It's the same with summer break, in a way. Some people teach summer school. I taught DOE summer school exactly twice. (I used to teach college in the summer, which was a lot easier, but I don't do that anymore either.) Imagine those summer school teachers, though. They're out there, day in and day out, while you sit at the beach. Sure, they might have more money than you do, but money can't buy you home grown tomatoes.

In any case, summer school teachers end their term with two weeks of summer, and those two weeks are their vacation. So while you're sitting around moping and feeling sorry for yourself, they're out going to Hawaii and drinking banana daiquiris. Now sure, you don't have all that dirty summer school cash, but what's keeping you from drinking your own banana daiquiri? What's to stop you from driving that crappy car for another year and taking a vacation?

Now imagine it's December, February, or April. Imagine how thrilled you'll be. A week off! What's better than that? You can travel. You can visit family. Or you can stay home, watch Mindhunter on Netflix, and avoid visiting family altogether. In fact, you can do whatever you like.

So why is today any different from that? You've got an entire week off!  Go celebrate. You deserve it. You have the best job there is, and once school starts, you'll get used to it and things won't seem remotely so traumatic. It's Christmas vacation, President's week, Easter break or all three. Go enjoy yourself. You deserve it. You want your students to be happy, don't you? So celebrate. That's how you begin to set a good example for the 1.1 million children you serve.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Superintendent Moved for Being White, Tolerating Abuse at PS 333, or None of the Above?

There's a lot written now about superintendent Ilene Altschul, who has somehow been moved to central. A lot of people get moved to central. When principals find themselves in the midst of some shitstorm or other, that's often where they end up. Sometimes they portray it as a promotion, as in the case of the embattled Forest Hills principal, what's his name, who seemed to tolerate pot smoking and leave his bathroom door open so his secretaries could watch what he did in there.

Ms. Altschul does not seem happy with the move, and there are now allegations that she's being moved because she's white. Yet Chalkbeat has this to say about her interim replacement:

Loughlin comes from one of the city’s whitest and wealthiest school districts.

That doesn't scream minority hire to me, but what do I know about that?

What I do know is that PS 333 is a veritable sewer. It's not an open sewer, because there are people there who don't want their stories told. Some want them kept private out of fear, and others want them kept private out of simple respect for privacy. However, I'm personally sitting on two stories, both of which are worthy of wider press coverage, and neither of which I can share here. Nor will the press, which is sitting on at least one of them.

I can tell you, though, that anyone who protects a person who enables the sort of things that go on at PS 333 has issues beyond skin color to contend with. While I won't share information against the will of those victimized at PS 333, just yesterday there was a feature in the Post about the parasitic business model used by PS 333, a model first revealed right here last week.

This is a school in which parents are terrified to come forward for fear of reprisals against their children. I've spoken to several of them. It's unethical to pressure parents to use a service that inflates prices not only for its own benefit, but also so a school can receive kickbacks. I don't know how much disposable income PS 333 parents have, but it ought to be their choice as to how it's disposed. If there is no regulation about schools using a parasitic company like Yubbler, there ought to be.

Now I'm not sure, in actual practice, whether superintendents are really responsible for principals they supervise. Given the volume of Bloomberg leftovers still infecting the DOE, I wouldn't be surprised to see outright abuse rewarded rather than punished.

But I can tell you with 100% certainty that there have been cruel outrages perpetrated at PS 333, and superintendent Ilene Altschul has not lifted a finger to correct them, let alone discipline the principal who oversaw them. Neither of the two with which I'm familiar seem to relate primarily to skin color, though both have to do with discrimination that ought not to have been tolerated.

I can also tell you with 100% certainty that if teachers were to engage in the kinds of actions that took place at PS 333 they'd be facing 3020a and job loss. This superintendent is getting a transfer to a job that pays exactly the same. The principal of PS 333 gets to stay principal, and things the staff and parents know well get to stay conveniently buried.

I hope the superintendent sues and it all comes out.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Charter School Hires Hopelessly Out of Touch Staff

I'm fascinated by this story in Chalkbeat. A former teacher, former school leader, and current leader of some after school program tells about his experience leading a charter that he taught in for up to six years. Evidently he was the only teacher of color there. Aside from all the standard charter school issues, all the other teachers were white, and none whatsoever were familiar with the community in which they worked.

You have to wonder exactly why a charter school had trouble attracting teachers of color, since this particular school only managed to find one. Actually charters have trouble attracting teachers period. Every single student teacher and observer I've ever met tells me charters are a last resort. They make more demands and pay less. In fact, the workload can preclude things like, oh, starting a family or having a life. I'd argue that doing these things can be helpful and important in a role model.

What on earth made any school leader hire virtually an entire staff that was utterly unfamiliar with the community it was ostensibly serving? It had to be either desperation or incompetence, neither of which inspires confidence in me, at least.

I've taught in many different schools, both in the Bronx and Queens. I've always walked the neighborhoods in my free time, if for no other reason, out of idle curiosity. I've always spoken with colleagues about the neighborhoods in which I've worked. On days when we had more free time than usual, we'd go out to walk or eat. I'm very surprised that teachers at whatever school this was lacked such basic curiosity.

Evidently they feared the community:

During the tour, many of these teachers realized that people in Camden, a city considered to be one of the most dangerous in the United States, are like those in rural and suburban areas. They saw people working. They saw people who loved themselves and loved their community. They saw life in a place they thought was dead.

Wow. How incredibly ignorant this staff appears. Afterward, though, they saw things they hadn't realized. I'd think they'd have gotten that sense from being with the students who lived in the community, but evidently they hadn't. One thing missing from the story is when exactly they found time to take this field trip. Though I think it might be a great thing for our school to do something like that, I can't imagine when we'd find the time. We're pretty busy just doing our jobs.

Of course, a whole lot of charters work more weeks than DOE schools do. Some charter teachers have tasks that go well beyond what we do. I'm sure you've read about teachers bringing home cell phones to answer homework questions. Evidently these teachers don't fritter away their time helping their own children with homework, since their workday is quite a bit longer than ours. Teachers ought to be able to conduct lives of their own after they leave school. (In fact, I hope our students have the same opportunity when they come of age. That's just another reason I oppose charters and privatization.)

I have a colleague who started in a charter school in Pennsylvania. She had to spend days visiting student homes. That might be a good idea if there is time for it, but this was in addition to all her other duties. She also made quite a bit less money than she does working for DOE. She was delighted to get out of charter schools, and she's never going back. She now has a baby, and also has time to care for her baby.

As for the writer of this piece, he spent six years as a teacher, maybe or maybe not all at this charter, became school leader, and then got out of the charter business altogether. Is that school staff all white now? Do its current teachers retain the awareness they may have gleaned on this field trip? Are any of them even still working at the school?

Who knows? While the author taught only six years, that's a long career at a charter school. I have a friend who's a charter teacher, a very intelligent friend who was screwed over by the DOE for no good reason. She tells me that there's rampant turnover in charters, and that it's par for the course. You just get a job somewhere else.

The turnover is good in that it's always easy to find another job somewhere. It's bad in that it renders teaching more of a gig than a career. It makes institutional memory a virtual impossibility. The lack of union leaves teachers few or no rights, and that's precisely why our enemies support charters. This is not the kind of career I want my child or my students to have.

It's great that teachers get to know their communities. It's awful that a school would hire people so ignorant or afraid of them. But it's pretty easy to imagine where there are more teachers who are more aware and less afraid.

That would be in the real public schools, working with you and me in UFT.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

What Should We Do About Cell Phones?

It's happening in some schools, and I know a lot of my colleagues will love the idea. I've got mixed feelings. Certainly I spend more time than I'd like to looking out for cell phone use, and certainly I also have more phones confiscated than I'd like to. (Ideally, it would be zero).

For me at least, most cell phone use is stopped with a word or a look. Students know I'm a pain in the ass and generally put them away when signaled. Of course, there are those who take extreme measures, like challenging me, and that doesn't end well for them.

Once, in fact, after I called the dean on a repeat offender, he announced, "I put the fucking phone away." I'm not sure how that was supposed to improve the situation. After that, when the dean came, he punched the wall outside with his fist and was removed from my class permanently.

More frequently it's about me bending over in some odd position to see the phone underneath the table or desk. Now here's the thing--I've got varying degrees of patience, and the phone is not the only thing that tries my patience. Sometimes students come in late every single day, and I hate that. I will call home, and I will speak to the student, and I will do whatever I can think of to alter that behavior. But by the time that student uses a phone in my class, my patience may be exhausted, and mom or dad could have to come in and pick up the phone.

This may discourage a student from lateness, or whatever habit I'd like to see discouraged, or it may not. But it couldn't hurt to try after everything else has failed. I've seen teachers get bad write-ups on rating sheets because too many students came late, or because they failed to challenge them. I've also seen teachers get letters in file for the way they spoke to them when they arrived, Why did you challenge the student? Why didn't you wait until you could speak privately? So that's a lose-lose when you're dealing with some supervisors.

Maybe the phones discourage things students used to do back when I was in high school. Maybe there are fewer notes being passed. I don't have a statistical study. However, as long as there have been classrooms, there have been students who didn't want to be in them, students who watched the clock and searched for something, anything other than your lesson to occupy their restless minds. Is the phone simply a vehicle for that?

It may be, but it's a lot more effective in some ways. In the past, I'd have had to copy all the answers to a multiple choice test to help you cheat, or you'd have to be seated strategically close enough to copy from me. Now I can just photograph the paper and text it to you. Personally, I hate cheating, and I hate the idea that I have to be uber-vigilant to prevent it. Nonetheless it's 2019, and getting harder every moment to keep up.

I wear an Apple Watch, and I get info on my wrist all the time. First, it gives me the correct time always, not matter how far off the school clock may be. It tells me the weather outside. And every time I get a text or email it flashes across my screen. Though mine doesn't, some of these watches can transmit and receive info independently of the phone. That technology is almost certain to be expanded upon in the very near future. Are we going to also check the watches? What's the next development going to be? Will we check student glasses to make sure they don't transmit anything?

Simple answers are tough to come by. I understand putting forth tougher measures when we are testing, even if they are a pain. Day to day, I think we're going to have to find more practical solutions. Our school policy is this--students may carry phones, but are not permitted to use them in class without express permission of the teacher. So far, that's mostly worked for me.

If we use those pouches, do we allow students to take them out in the lunchroom? Do we require they be shut in some of the time or all of the time? Do we make parents call the school in case of an emergency, and hope that someone answers the phone, and hope that the person who answers the phone is not only able but inclined to seek out the children in question? Are you good with that as a parent?

Also, will the pouches work, or will we end up monitoring for pouch violations instead of phone violations?

What works for you? How would you make policy, if you were the mayor or chancellor? What do you tell your kids about phone use in school?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

From Chalkbeat--Unfounded Conclusions on Subpar State Tests

Well, the state test scores are not in yet, but the speculation on what exactly they mean has begun anyway over at Chalkbeat. They'll be in soon, and then we'll have some inkling what they are about, maybe. This notwithstanding, I'm left with more questions than answers.

For one thing, though it does not specifically say so, it appears the story does not consider high school exams. For years we'd read about how there is a moratorium on using test scores. At the same time, our students were not permitted to graduate without passing the tests. They were the same Common Core crapola elementary students were getting, but for some reason it was okay. For some reason, it was also okay to rate high school teachers on these same tests.

Challkbeat says the 2018-2019 tests are apples to apples for once and that we may therefore glean something or other from them. I'm not so sure. Years of skepticism over these tests have dominated press coverage. There's a statewide opt-out movement that's given Gates acolytes like MaryEllen Elia well-deserved screaming nightmares.



Haven't these tests been revised since last year? If so, the results are not, in fact, apples to apples. This notwithstanding, what exactly do we learn from measuring one year's test results to those of last year? If we're assuming that all the other tests are so flawed or inconsistent they don't measure examination, why on earth would we assume these two years' versions somehow have validity? We've struggled for years with an assumption these tests were problematic, and that's why a moratorium was imposed. What exactly has changed that we now presume these results to establish something? Twitter is not persuaded.


So are they the same or aren't they? As far as I can tell, even if they've been changed, the tests are the same nonsense they were last year, and that's why the opt-out movement is alive and well. Admittedly I'm unfamiliar with the elementary tests, Nonetheless, the tests to which I have access are all crap. The one that fundamentally screws up my life is the NYSESLAT test. This test places the English Language Learners (ELLs) I teach, and has done nothing to help either them or me.

Along with my colleagues, I note that the levels in ESL classes are lower and lower. As the geniuses in Albany strive to prove their latest revision of Part 154 (the one that strips ELLs of most direct English instruction) is working, they simply lower the standards. So beginners are often not only unfamiliar with English, but often unfamiliar with reading and writing in their first languages. Intermediate and advanced students are really beginners, and desperately in need of beginner level instruction that they most definitely will not receive.

We offer an English Regents exam that tests neither reading nor writing. It's all about this close reading nonsense, which in this case is not remotely challenging. It pretends to be about research, but actually spoon feeds students the information they need for said research. Passing it does not establish familiarity with reading or writing, and as for familiarity with literature, forget it. Were we trying to establish a generation of readers, we could not offer a worse test than this one.

In fact, the new Social Studies Global exam is a reading test. It requires no familiarity with history. I read it carefully and would have aced it. I am far from expert on global history, and I can't remember the last time I studied it. Because I'm a careful reader, I'd have done fine. Because we are not grooming our children to be readers, I have a lot less confidence in their success.

It's pathetic that the Regents place their titles on these exams without examining them even as carefully as I, a lowly teacher, do. Were I a Regent, I'd disclaim any and all responsibility for them. Then, I'd change my name and move into a lonely forest somewhere.

The current Regents couldn't care less, and will go to their gala luncheons oblivious and indifferent to what their utter negligence is doing the the children of New York State.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Long Discredited, Merit Pay Dies in Newark

I'll leave it to Jersey Jazzman, who's followed this far more closely than I have, to fill you in on chapter and verse. He does mention, though, that only 20% of those with a choice opted into the system, and that highly rated teachers were mostly found in the opt-out pool. I'd argue well-informed, smart people make the best teachers. Diane Ravitch has written extensively on merit pay, and states it's been around for over a hundred years, and has never worked anywhere.

Why on earth does it keep bouncing back? In a world looking for quick fixes and quick answers, it makes sense. If you're good, you should earn more money. The question then becomes how you measure who is good. The answer, usually, is via test scores. When I first started this blog, I assumed that test scores measured something. I've since evolved. I think it was Alfie Kohn who suggested what they actually measured was zip code.

I'm in a funny position. Someone told me recently that my students had very good test scores. Assuming that's true, it has very little to do with me and everything to do with the test. I'm rated on the NYSESLAT, and it appears that everyone is advanced, even if they know little to no English. Can't form present tense? Advanced. Can't write a coherent sentence? Advanced. Can't make basic conversation? Advanced.

So I'm a frigging genius, and all my students will go to the advanced class. Therefore, I deserve merit pay. However, the tests give, and the tests taketh away. Next year, NY State could decide that teachers all suck and it needs to be scientifically established. So they'll raise the pass scores and I will suck. Once I suck, there goes all my merit, there goes all my pay, and I'll have to forgo my much-anticipated chateau in the Ozarks.

Merit pay is like Forest Gump's box of candy--you never know what you're going to get. This can be problematic if you're planning on, oh, having a life, living somewhere, supporting children, buying the occasional toy for your dog, etc. I guess if you're young and indoctrinated by TFA or something, you can believe you're a superstar even though you've got no experience whatsoever. But I know better.

When I think about merit pay, I always think about what a former principal of mine said. "Hey, I don't want merit pay. If you're waiting for merit pay, and you aren't giving me your very best right now, I want to fire your ass."

I'm not generally sympathetic to principals talking about firing teachers. They often do so for ridiculous reasons. But hey, if you have a job it kind of behooves you to do the best you can. Teaching is complicated. Every year there are different students, and every year they have different needs. (Sometimes it seems like by the time you really know them well enough to make a difference they're moving on. ) He was right, though. If you're waiting on more money to do your best, you need another job. I have no idea what that job is, but that's your problem.

Teachers ought not to have to worry about money. They ought to worry about their jobs. I had to work a second job for at least twenty years to be able to get by. A whole lot of my colleagues do all kinds of extra things. Teachers need a salary, not a tip.

I'm glad to see merit pay go away in New Jersey. It's a terrible idea, it's always been a terrible idea, and it's part and parcel of the Blame Teachers for Everything movement.

We can do better.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Yubbler Business Model (and Why PS 333 May Toss Perfectly Good Materials)

There's a recent piece in the NY Post about the incredible waste in some NYC schools, including PS 333. While the photo at left is supposedly from PS 166, I'm gonna suppose the Post does not make daily visits to the building dumpster. Who knows how much waste there is?

I'm told the principal of 333 is obsessive about throwing things out, and will toss student projects rather than have them linger, however temporarily, in hallway cubbies. If students are left weeping because all their hard work has literally been tossed into the trash, well, too bad for them.

PS 333 has a preferred vendor called yubbler.com, which claims to give 50% of the profits back to the school. It's hard to say how much profits are. I know Costco gives consumers wholesale plus 14%, and I've seen things sell at CVS for almost double what they cost in Costco. What possible motivation would a company giving half profits to someone else have to be consumer-friendly?

Nonetheless, a particularly ethically-challenged principal might see this as a golden opportunity. Literally, it's money, and what's better than that? You could use it for whatever you like. Does the DOE even care how you spend found money? Who knows?

Since this is the preferred vendor for PS 333, it must be an approved vendor. (Correction--It is NOT an approved vendor on Shop DOE and PS 333 uses it anyway.) That being the case, it's clearly a corrupting influence. How do they allow principals to manipulate parents like this? Who knows how much Yubbler jacks up prices in order to make enough to share half the profits? Has the DOE looked into that? Do they even care? Who knows if the so-called base prices are above and beyond the price they actually pay? Who knows whether or not they exaggerate the wholesale price so as to minimize these so-called profits?

More importantly, who knows how much extra cash hard-working parents piss away by shopping on this site? My first choice for school supplies was always Costco, which has consistently low prices, is at least partially unionized, and treats its employees well. When I couldn't find what my kid needed, I'd start looking elsewhere. If I had to worry about sending money to principal Claire Lowenstein things would be different. It's abhorrent that parents have to even think in passing about making an impression on the school principal while shopping for supplies.

I've spoken to multiple parents of PS 333 students. Every single one was terrified that Lowenstein would find out who they were, and would retaliate against their children. When a principal like that says shop here, and actually has the capacity to check on whether or not you've done so, that's a terrible burden. There ought not to be any "preferred vendor" for working parents. If they want to shop at the 99-cent store, that's none of the principal's business. It's none of the principal's business who buys Crayola crayons, who buys generic ones, who shops at Yubbler, and who pays their likely inflated prices.

Yubbler allows schools like PS 333 to create their own pages. In fact, here's their page. It's easy-peasy. Parents of second graders buy 76 bucks worth of school supplies, exactly what the school asks for. Plus, Principal Claire Lowenstein gets a kickback. What could be more ideal than that if you're Principal Claire Lowenstein?
 
A business like that of Yubbler could explain why perfectly good supplies are tossed. Why keep them around when you can simply have parents buy them again, and send profits to your school budget at the same time? It's a WIN-WIN.

I don't know if Yubbler is the root of all evil, but it's certainly the root of some. This is a dirty little business model. If teachers are not allowed to take gifts of significant value from students, principals ought not to be allowed to take significant bribes from businesses. In a locale as expensive as NYC, parents trying to make ends meet ought not to have to worry about the budget, let alone the personal inclinations of someone like Principal Claire Lowenstein. 

It's very hard for me to see how this business model isn't tantamount to bribery. If you have any notion why it isn't, please share in the comments.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

What's Left of MORE

I was in Texas, heading toward a detention center when someone emailed me this piece from Politico. The headline blares, "Democratic Socialists look to take over New York's powerful labor unions." I found that pretty interesting. I'm not all that familiar with Democratic Socialists, but I know quite a bit about MORE, having run twice and won once with their backing.

The first time was all about making connections. People I respected wanted to make inroads into the state union,  None of those people are any longer affiliated with MORE, but they were then. While teaching in Queens five days a week, I ran around the whole state like a bloody lunatic trying to become Executive VP of NYSUT.

I got a lot of guidance and support from small locals in Long Island, but almost none whatsoever from what's now left of MORE. In fact, they argued against even trying, saying that winning brought a possibility of corruption. I can't really argue with that, but not trying to win brings a 100% likelihood of getting nothing done.

It was a few years later that a bunch of us, none of whom are now affiliated with MORE, decided we would make a run to win the UFT HIgh School Executive Board seats. It seemed less quixotic than the NYSUT run, perhaps even viable, so I was all in. We published and distributed a newsletter, at our own expense. (After the election, current MORE leadership appropriated the newsletter and rapidly allowed it to drop dead. Writing and distributing newsletters citywide is, you know, work.)

I was beyond thrilled when New Action offered to run with us. This was the element, I thought, that would bring us over the edge. The people currently associated with MORE argued against it. Would we compromise our principals by running with them? There was a vote, they lost, so we ran together and won the seats.

For the last three years I've been going to Executive Board meetings twice a month. A prominent member of what's left of MORE told me she'd be at every meeting. Actually, she showed up twice in three years, and didn't stay long either time. Others showed once, twice, but mostly not at all. One of our Executive Board members, who may or may not be in what's left of MORE, showed up two or three times, made an impassioned speech that failed to persuade the Executive Board majority, and never showed again.

I'd be driving to school early in the morning and I'd get calls from the people left in MORE.

"We want to support you. Can you come to a meeting on Saturday to discuss the E-Board?" (They call it the E-board. Being very busy, they haven't got time to enunciate long words.)

"Why don't you come before the meeting on Monday? We're always there a couple of hours early, and we meet with everyone."

But they were busy on Mondays. I know how that is. Not only am I busy on Mondays, but I now go to UFT Executive board two Monday nights a month. I teach five days a week, I'm chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, the most overcrowded in the city, I write this blog, I walk my dog, and I do five million other things.

"We want to meet with the guy who never comes and see what he thinks."

"What does it matter what he thinks?" I asked. "If he doesn't come, he's nobody."

"We want to see how we can involve him if he doesn't go."

Ludicrous, I thought. I declined to go, but Mike Schirtzer attended. He told them we'd like to work on expanding our victory by winning the middle school seats. He spoke for both of us, as I was probably walking my dog, or drinking coffee, or watching cartoons, or doing whatever working teachers do on Saturdays.

What's left of MORE did not lift a finger to help us move ahead. Instead, in an effort to antagonize and alienate us, they decided to pick idiotic fights. Their grand plan was to take charge of the organization, which they figured would flourish in our absence.

Ostensibly because I'd promoted a resolution to lower class sizes without approval of their steering committee, a committee whose existence I was not aware of, they voted that every resolution we proposed would have to be run by said committee 24 hours in advance. (Evidently demanding smaller class sizes was a controversial issue among this committee.) This was after Unity resolved we give them one hour's notice.

Because they are so clever, MORE did this on a day I was working as a volunteer at a UFT event for ELLs  If I'm not mistaken, it passed by one or two votes. I'd have voted against it if I were there, and I'd have gone if I hadn't had a commitment to be elsewhere. Nonetheless, I'd run under an agreement that I'd support MORE's priorities, but was free to bring up my own. They broke that agreement. I don't know about you, but I've got little regard for people I can't trust.

A few months later, their cleverness failed to bear fruit. The vital steering committee had to be elected again, and was term-limited. Those people, the ones whose approval I ought to have begged for, all lost their positions. A new committee was elected. This was intolerable.

 No remedy would do but a mass purge. It included Mike Schirtzer, who sat with me on the Executive Board. (As far as I can tell, the only reason I wasn't expelled was that I'd stopped coming to their meetings, but I would have stood by Mike regardless.) They also dumped the entire steering committee, you know, the one it was so important to run things by. Evidently, if they weren't on it, it was of no importance whatsoever.

What's left of MORE did not give a golly gosh darn about any of its bylaws. It did whatever it wanted. It followed no rules whatsoever. In internal documents I've seen, they referred to us as "right-wingers." That, evidently, is what you are if you support Bernie Sanders for President as opposed to, well, whoever they support. In writing, that's how they rationalized doing what they did.

Here's what the writers at Politico see fit to quote:

“UFT is the largest local of one of the largest unions in the country. It has the potential to be extremely influential in electoral politics,” the group wrote. “It is extremely internally undemocratic, but there is a reform caucus, MORE, which has many active DSA members.”

This is absurd, and the reporters have not bothered to look any deeper. The myopic jackasses who run MORE are among the least democratic individuals I've met in my entire life. They want what they want, and have no scruples about lying or cheating to get it. Furthermore, they have urgent priorities that somehow preclude supporting those of us actually out here doing the work.

Their antics caused them to lose 80% of the vote they got last time and irreparably fractured opposition in the UFT.  Not only that, but they frittered away a name it took years to build. To suggest that MORE leadership is on the verge of anything but having another meeting where they discuss how cool and elite they fancy themselves is outlandish. Their appeal is sorely limited and none of them have the energy to lead anything beyond a patty cake session.

LeRoy Barr told Mike Schirtzer and me that they, leadership, wanted to keep us on the UFT Executive Board. He asked us to our faces to keep challenging them because they thought it was healthy. That was a whole lot different from what we heard from MORE.

MORE blew their chance to be a big tent, a viable entity to help all teachers, and just to make sure, it canceled the alliance with New Action. I'm chapter leader of a large school, and I represent 300 people. I don't have the luxury of examining whether they are left wing, right wing, or dual-winged, I represent absolutely every member, regardless of political inclination. That's what a union does, but that's not what MORE does.

What's left of MORE prides itself on being intolerant and insular. It does not wish to deal with viewpoints that vary one iota from theirs. As for what that viewpoint may be, I have no clue. I only know that whatever it is shuts me out as a "right-winger."

If I'm a right-winger, so is a good 95-99% of UFT membership. What's left of MORE represents what's left of MORE, and little else. One of their members, not satisfied with having her ass kicked by Michael Mulgrew in a UFT election, ran for Lieutenant Governor with Howie Hawkins and managed to lose by an even more spectacular margin. This seems to reflect the current vision of MORE.

What's left of MORE is the ghost of Teachers for a Just Contract, a union caucus that disappeared in 2012, having never gotten anywhere or won anything. MORE has small shoes to fill and they fit right in. Too bad Politico doesn't ask more questions of more people. Nonetheless when MORE sets its eye on losing, it does so in a big way.

MORE is a house of cards, propped up by disingenuousness and gross intolerance. That may fly on a national level, bolstered by well-financed Fox News, but I don't see it catching fire on a shoestring anytime soon in New York City.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read a version of the blog I posted yesterday at AFT Voices, edited by someone who is, you know, an editor, as opposed to me. They're certainly better at formatting than I am (but my version had more pictures). Also AFT added a last line that I stole and added to my blog post.

Friday, August 16, 2019

AFT in Texas

Last Tuesday I went with a UFT contingent to McAllen Texas. AFT had requested entry to the detention facility there. The US government, in its infinite wisdom, not only denied us, but also waited until the day we arrived to do so. They said we had no reason to be there. When you think about it, what possible interest could teachers have in children? AFT kept reaching out and trying to change that, but our time was very limited.

The following morning, we assembled in front of the facility and held a vigil. We were filmed by several people, including someone from Telemundo, who produced this segment.  There's nothing quite like a Wednesday morning rally on a 103 degree day. Members spoke of the unconscionable treatment of children in that facility. Several offered prayers. AFT Executive VP Evelyn De Jesus, among her hundred other titles, is an ordained minister and was in her element.

After a while, a uniformed agent with a gun came out and asked us to move to the sidewalk. After all, who the hell did we think we were, American citizens standing on the grounds of a facility that our tax dollars pay for? We didn't move. A while later he came out with three colleagues, and explained that we'd be arrested if we didn't move. They had called the police.  I thought we were going to be arrested, and wondered how the hell I would call the DOE. (I haven't been arrested since I was 19. I was hitchhiking in Syracuse. The cop fined me five dollars and told me if I didn't show up for trial my five bucks would be subject to forfeit. I had a feeling a Texas jail would be a little tougher than that.)

At that point though, we moved, along with the cameras. We were still standing with the backdrop of the government building, and it really made little difference. There were questions. How could we treat children like this? What were they doing back there? Were they being fed? Were they being taught? Were they getting adequate care? There were more prayers. We were winding up when our buddies from customs appeared again and told us we would now have to walk all the way across the street. It was kind of odd because I thought sidewalks, kind of like government buildings, were public property.

To underline their determination, the agents had not only summoned the police, but had brought their
own tow trucks. Who'd have thought that the Border Patrol actually needed their own tow trucks and kept them handy at their facility? We had three vans that they threatened to tow who knows where. AFT President Randi Weingarten told us all to get in the vans and waited until everyone was in before she stepped off the grounds. She told me if anyone got arrested it was going to be her.

We met with some high school students from an organization called Beyond Borders. They go to a Catholic Charities facility several times a week to meet with and support newcomers, largely from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. These people have typically walked thousands of miles to get here. Many end up in New York, and I've had some in my classes. I've had students who've told me stories of fleeing after family members were murdered, kidnapped, or both. (Despite what you may hear from Donald Trump, you don't give up your home and walk thousands of miles just for fun.  As a matter of fact, it is not illegal to seek asylum.)

On the left is a bus station in McAllen, Texas. This is where newcomers who have a place to go are sent. Hopefully they have money for a bus ticket, or a plane ticket, or some way to meet whatever family or friends they have in the United States. In any case, the US just drops them off there pending hearings.

Catholic Charities made it a point to move right across the street from this building, so now Customs actually coordinates with them to let them know when newcomers are arriving. (The people in Customs are very busy doing things like trying to arrest teachers and tow their vehicles, so they haven't got time to give these people showers, clothing, food or any other such trivial nonsense.)

Catholic Charities feels it's their duty to step up where the
government falls short, and we met a bunch of volunteers there, many college students who've devoted their summer break to helping these people. One of them gave us a tour of the facility.They rely completely on donations.

Our guide told us that when newcomers arrive, Customs takes away their belts and shoelaces, so they are particularly in demand.  (You have to wonder why they maintain facilities so miserable that people there, after having sacrificed everything to come here, would contemplate suicide.) We got to speak with some newcomers. One was a woman along with her 16-year-old son. Her husband was in Houston and she hadn't seen him in fifteen years. Her son had no memory of his father.


We brought boxes of belts and shoelaces, among other things. They're doing great work there and we will continue to support it as long as they have need. If you'd like to contribute, you may do so right here.



It was pretty gratifying, as we left, to see a bunch
of children playing with teddy bears we'd provided. Our guide told us children could be pretty
resilient, and often looked almost brand new after just a shower. Nonetheless, their needs are the same as all children and don't end there. This is just one aspect of a humanitarian catastrophe that we've created.

The next time someone tells you that teachers are selfish, and that all we think about is ourselves, remember who was out in the 103 degree Texas heat looking out for America's children. We did this on our own time (and we didn't do it just for fun).  And we’ll continue to work toward a more humane immigration policy in the United States.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Till Your Well Runs Dry

I'm in McAllen, Texas right now with AFT. We've been meeting some local union leaders here, and I've been hearing things that kind of blow my mind. I should've known these things before. I have a friend from Florida who described working conditions there, and they're quite similar here. The reason they have things like one year renewable contracts is they don't do that whole collective bargaining thing. We pay you what we want, and if you don't like it, go screw yourself.

Collective bargaining is a cornerstone of what union does where we come from. Whatever you may think about the most recent contract, or those that preceded them, at least they're contracts. Without them, your negotiating stances are sorely limited. There are always things you can do. For example, several red states went out on strikes recently. With conditions like those, it's pretty easy to understand why.

There are some highly unattractive disadvantages to this system. As in Florida, tenure is doled out in contracts that last somewhere between one and five years. Should they fire you just because they feel like it while your contract is in force, the union can help you. However, whenever your tenure, or contract, or whatever you want to call it is up, they can simply choose not to renew. That's one way to discourage activism. On the other hand, turnover can be massive in places with these systems. It all depends one whether or not your local Board of Ed. gives a crap about educational quality.

There are other drawbacks to this system as well. For example, say you start on a contract and beginning pay is 30K a year. Let's say the board votes to give all teachers an across the board raise of $760. So year two, you make 30,760. Each year you made an extra $760. Let's say five years later, starting pay goes up to 40K. This means that a new teacher makes more than you do. I suppose you could quit and hope they'd hire you back. On the other hand, once you come back they could give you credit for time served and therefore award you a lower salary.

Sometimes there are consultations. The board will decide that they will make agreements under consultation. They will pay you this much. They will give you this benefit. They will agree to A, B, and C. What if they determine the next day they don't want to follow through with this? Too bad for you. The agreement isn't worth the ink on the contract it isn't written on.

Union? I've met a whole bunch of people from AFT locals, and from what I see and hear, these folks are the real thing, working hard to do their best for their members. But here's the thing--without contracts, there may be one union, or there may be five. Maybe your friend Bob decides to start Bob's union, for the betterment of Bob. That won't likely draw many people beyond Bob.

On the other hand, Bob could charge less in dues than the local AFT. Sure, Bob doesn't actually do any work, but membership is free to Bob. And when AFT actually accomplishes something, Bob can certainly walk around and boast that all benefits are due to his diligence. Now I have not actually heard about anyone named Bob doing that. What I have heard about is organizations that are "professional" and don't want to get all dirty asking for money. Instead, they'll, I don't know, sit around and wear ties all day. So they look good, but a gorgeous silk tie will not always impress your landlord sufficiently that he won't move all your stuff to the curb.

One thing that a whole lot of teachers may find familiar is the old bait and switch--We'll give you a $5,000 raise, but we'll also raise your health premium by $5,000.  It's a WIN-WIN! Of course it's no such thing. It's you funding your own raise and they pay you the same.

There are several ways to fight back. You can use social media. Maybe a better solution I've heard is to try to run for office. Find people who actually give a crap about education and have them run for school board.

Maybe an even better solution is to raise public awareness. Once you do that, you can elect politicians who, you know, actually care about working people. Unfortunately, such work is not exclusively the province of Texas. Does anyone think Andrew Cuomo wouldn't come to our homes and place stakes through our hearts if he thought it would win him public support?

More to the point, while Texas and other states move to better their lots, we have to do the same for ourselves. Make no doubt about it, those people who just passed Janus would like nothing better than to impose every crazy Texas rule on the entirety of these United States. That's bad for us, it's bad for our children, and it's bad for all the students we serve.

We all need to appreciate what we have, understand its fragility, and work to move things forward.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Chancellor and the Post

 That's NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on the left. If you're a city teacher, you can see he's in a school building, because those ugly tan bricks are unmistakable. The Post feigns outrage and claims to be standing up for our students,  but when's the last time you saw a NY Post editor in a real school? Don't all jump up at once.

This are strange times indeed. As the chancellor tries to move forward with culturally relevant and sustaining education, a notion which appears to have been mandated by the state anyway, he finds himself under fire. The editorial board at the NY Post is apoplectic. How dare he? Instead of spending 30 million to repair a school, he should snap his fingers and make a new building appear out of thin air. (It was idiotic to forget Chinese translators at a recent PEP meeting, but I'd bet dimes to dollars that idiocy came from some leftover appointee who should've been gone with Emperor Bloomberg.)

I'd like that building to magically appear nonetheless. I'd like a new magic building to replace Francis Lewis High School too, please. (Through UFT-initiated efforts, we're getting an annex, but we still won't have enough space. We won't even be able to retire some woefully inadequate classrooms.)  We work in a chronically overcrowded building. Though it's one of the best schools in the city, physical conditions are deplorable. As custodial employees retire, they aren't replaced. It's kind of like what Bloomberg did as teachers retired, resulting in an epidemic of oversized classes. 34 is more the norm than the exception these days. Where's the NY Post editorial board on that? Where were they when Joel Klein spent every spare moment kowtowing to Eva Moskowitz and as much as told public schools to go to hell?

As for school conditions, I've been teaching in the city system since 1984. Anyone who mistakes an NYC school for the Hilton is lacking at least several senses. And anyone who maintains these conditions originate with Carranza is either highly ignorant or willfully delusional. I'd conjecture the Post editorial board to be the latter (along with several other local editorial boards). Sometimes I think the editorial boards of the News and the Post don't read their own education coverage. I'd say the same of the Times if they bothered to cover education.

While the school in question may have been particularly awful, awful is par for the course in Fun City. Bloomberg closed schools left and right in a particularly hurtful game of musical chairs. Though Francis Lewis High School was sorely overcrowded, he sent letters to incoming freshmen at then embattled, now closed Jamaica High School that their school sucked and they ought to go to Lewis instead.

We survived not because Bloomberg supported us, but rather in spite of his utter indifference. He'd have been more than delighted to close us and make our staff into 300 ATRs. Instead, he overcrowded us as much as he possibly could, and responded to us only when some noisy teacher or other moved us into the pages of the News, the Times, and yes, even the Post (and more than once).

Chancellor Carranza walked into a minefield sustained and enabled by Bloomberg, and ignored by Carmen "It's a beautiful day" FariƱa. As he tries to give a voice to long neglected students of color (not to mention everyone else), he's relentlessly attacked by a tabloid owned by the guy who brought us Roger Ailes and Fox News, which brought us President Donald Trump. Though I often like the education reporting in the Post, I don't recall a single op-ed in support of public education, ever. As for the editorial board, forget it.

I understand how some people would want to hold on to the SHSAT. If it works for them, it works for them. A colleague of mine, one for whom I have great respect, is as upset as anyone. She has her elementary age daughter already prepping for that test, and her plan is to send her to a specialized school. I understand that, but it's sad to see some people being manipulated to align with the Post.

There are certainly people with more simple anti-Carranza agendas. Anyone who aligns with President Trump's xenophobic vision will resist anything culturally sensitive to kids like those I serve. They're invaders, running an invasion, trying to undermine our white values, or something to that effect. And despite what they may be saying or doing this week, they don't love Asian students any more than they love black or Latino students.

In fact I teach mostly Asian students. None of the students I teach are going to Stuyvesant. My school takes everyone, and I am much more concerned with everyone than I am with students attending highly selective schools. Here's the problem students like mine are having--not only are they not attending Stuyvesant, but the geniuses in Albany have sorely cut the English instruction they vitally need.

The story of cutting instruction to ELLs is not as sexy as that of protesters mad as hell at Carranza. However, there are a whole lot more Asian students affected by that than by whether or not they're getting into Bronx Science. I'll sit while I wait for the Post editorial board to take a stand for my kids. As usual, I'll have to do it myself. I'll see them in September, and I will seek and get help for them, one way or another. The Post editorial board, despite their prominent crocodile tears, won't be lifting a finger to support them.

So much for their passion for our kids.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

NYC DOE Puts the "Rat" in "Educrat"

There's a nasty gene somewhere--some people have it and some don't. I've got it, but I use it selectively. My first go-to is courtesy. I'm never nasty with kids. Sometimes I'm sarcastic, but only with the ones I know will give it back to me. They're delighted to oblige, for the most part. I will always speak calmly and quietly with sensitive kids. I'm much more tolerant of kids than adults. We ought to know better.

The DOE has a whole lot of nasty sitting there at Tweed. I notice it sometimes when supervisors tell me what they're going through with one piece of red tape or another. I know some supervisors who are born for this stuff. You bite my head off, and I'll bite yours off twice. It's a skill. Maybe it's an art. Of course it's a shame that anyone would need to exercise such an art. It's one reason I'm glad I never went into supervision. Nonetheless, I absolutely see its value in dealing with the DOE.

Then, of course, there are the supervisors who use this nasty gene as a matter of course. Sure, it's good to use with the evil empire that is the NYC Department of Education. In fact, there may be no better way. Using it with people who wake up every morning with the express intent of teaching children is inappropriate. To take it a step further, using it with actual children is as bad or worse. I've seen and met supervisors who do one, both, or all, and none belong at their jobs.

I had a job one year as LAB-BESIS coordinator. There were a number of factors that led me to apply for it. One was the fact that I'd have an office. For most of my ten years as chapter leader I haven't had one, and sometimes people come to me quite upset. I didn't much like the job. It was a whole lot of tedious data entry. I quit at the end of the year, and lost the office.

It wasn't only the job that led me to quit. It was also dealing with the educrats at Tweed, Sometimes I would have incomplete information because they failed to send me things, or, you know, do their jobs. Invariably, when things like that happened, they would ignore my repeated emails. Once there was some issue that actually hurt a student somehow. I believe it was a native speaker of English whose paper registered wrong, or got lost or something. When I complained, I got this threatening response. I was going to go through hell, or be fired, or maybe worse, be forced to work with the nasty people at the DOE.

As chapter leader, I sometimes have to deal with people from city agencies. They're the most inept bunch of boobs you've ever encountered in your life. They've never met a deadline they could meet. Not only that, but their decision-making skills are almost nonexistent. I will never forget when some bully or other screamed at a member and me because she wouldn't talk without representation. You only care about protecting yourselves, he shouted. You don't care about children.

I foolishly started to argue with him. You don't know what I think, I said. That's a straw man. He didn't know what a straw man was, so he said I was using one. Some of these people are so twisted, incompetent, and fanatical there's no point even talking to them. These are the people Bloomberg put in place, and these are the people de Blasio left in power.

It seems so unnecessary. Nonetheless, it's the coin of the realm over there. Threaten loudly about whatever rather than take responsibility for anything. You even get hints of it from the people they send to do PD, or just talk with teachers. I recall some endless stupid meeting with some woman who said if we didn't include Common Core goals in our lesson plans, our school would close. I pointed out that we had a contract, and that it specified lesson plans were for the use of the teacher. It also specified that neither she nor any other administrator had the right to dictate how our plans were written. Several teachers told me they were grateful for my presence.

How many times had that presenter spouted the same idiocy in front of teachers who either didn't know, or didn't feel comfortable challenging the information? How many times did she do it after my having corrected her? Who knows?

Last summer I was on a committee tasked with negotiating the contract. I described in detail what it was like to teach oversized classes, as well as why classes that met contractual limits were already too large. The DOE reps didn't give a flying hoot. They weren't interested. They aren't interested.

It's odd. We teachers are forever criticized for being indifferent about the students it's our job to serve. Bill Gates and his clueless minions toss money everywhere to enable our enemies. Here's the thing--cruelty and indifference abound among the people he enables. MSM can paint targets on our backs in perpetuity. It won't change the fact that we're the ones concerned with serving these kids.

Educrats can scream bloody murder all they like. The fact is a whole lot of them are parasites. They draw salary and offer nothing but negativity. It's ironic that these people sit around Tweed, doing whatever they do, while those of us who actually served children are routinely vilified.

Only in America.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Socialist Menace

It's right up there. Fox News graciously created the graphic to inform their viewers about AOC's terrifying program. You can see, right there, how it starts. There it is, that Medicare for All. That means every American would have health care. No more will people with chest pains have to decide between going to the ER and dropping dead of a massive coronary.

This is an unmitigated disaster. Not only will we have to give up our precious co-pays, but Americans will no longer have their God-given right to face bankruptcy due to catastrophic medical emergency. They haven't got that right in awful places like France and the United Kingdom, probably because they hate our freedom.

As if that weren't enough, they're going to take the right of pharma companies to charge many times what they do everywhere else in the world. Americans will be able to buy insulin, epi-pens, and who knows what else without taking out second mortgages. Socialist bastards.

Then they want everyone to have housing and a job. How is that fair? Who's gonna buy loosies at the bodega once that happens? Not only that, but Fox somehow missed the fact that the socialists want to raise the minimum wage and make sure everyone makes enough to, you know, live. How the hell is business supposed to flourish in an environment like that, even though it manages to do so in just about every country in Europe?

Of course, they're coming for our guns, just because a few schools got shot up. And no, they don't want to arm teachers to dissuade the miscreants or mentally ill, the ones who Trump now says he wants to keep guns away from, after moving to make it easier for mentally ill people to get them. If we let the socialists take over, who's going to fight for the right for mentally ill people to have guns, while concurrently paying valuable lip service to opposing their having guns? Answer me that, socialists.

Then you move down the list, and they want to end private prisons. How the hell are people going to profit off the misery of others if we do that? Then the government will be back in the prison business, giving health care to sick prisoners whether it's cost-effective or not. They'll have to serve prisoners real food instead of whatever they're getting now, and that will cut into the profit margin. How's anyone supposed to make a buck when we run things like that?

They want to abolish ICE and stop terrorizing immigrants who are trying to work. Just yesterday, there was  a raid and ICE rounded up hundreds of undocumented immigrants. So what if they separated a mother from her children? The law is the law, and we ought not to bend if for anyone, no matter how cruelly we wield it. Unless, of course, it's someone important like President Donald Trump, blatantly profiting and pouring federal money into his own businesses. Or foreign nationals interfering with our election, if they're doing it the right way.

Solidarity with Puerto Rico? Please. Didn't we already throw them those paper towels? Mobilizing against climate change? Does that mean we aren't gonna use coal anymore? How do they expect us to heat NYC schools? Let's put coal furnaces in every school in the country, and send our children down to the mines to support America.

Another outrage is clean campaign finance. How's someone like Michael Bloomberg supposed to buy elections anymore? How's a self-respecting billionaire supposed to buy an exemption to term limits, one-time only for himself and his cronies, just to extend his grip on power, a grip he'd bought fair and square? How will billionaires like Bloomberg be able to defy the twice-voiced will of the people via ballot? And what is this higher education for all? You mean everyone will have access to college, even people who can't scrape together the cash for exorbitant tuition?

And then there are those women's rights. This is an old, old story, and the socialists have been pressuring us to give women rights ever since suffrage. Women have already brought down great American heroes like Roger Ailes and Bill O' Reilly, and who's gonna be left on Fox to give us the no-spin zone if we keep doing this? Also, if we pay women as much as men, then what will we have to brag to women about?

And it's not only women those bastard socialists want us to support. We have to support LGBTQA, which means people will get to use any bathroom they want! Do you let people use any bathroom they want in your house? Can you imagine the consequences of such nonsense? And then they want us to support seniors.

Finally, they want us to curb Wall St. gambling. What's up with that? It's the American way. And what's the risk? The fact is, if they screw up on Wall St., we have the entire American treasury at their disposal to bail them out. Everyone knows they're too big to fail. If we fritter away our money paying for health care for ordinary Americans, making sure people have jobs and college, how are we going to help banks when they screw up by gambling all their money on bad deals?

Those damn socialists must be stopped at any cost.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Orange Is the New Black Takes on Immigration

I was pretty surprised to see the last season of this Netflix show to focus on Trump's horrific treatment of newcomers. The series managed to put human faces on something we usually just read about. It began when several inmates were fortunate enough to get early release, only to be immediately intercepted by ICE.

One of the first things you notice is that ICE detainees have fewer rights than prisoners. No one wants to work in their kitchen because, unlike prisoners, the detainees aren't paid. Their access to phones is limited as well, Whereas we frequently see collect calls going out from the prison, the ICE detainees need to buy phone cards, and that's only possible when the vending machine works.

When are they going to be released? Five to seven? No one knows. Whenever the so-called wheels of justice are ready to move. We see babies going to trial. We see young children without lawyers, without awareness of what's even going on around them facing judges. How these judges mange to sleep at night is a mystery. 

It's one thing, in my view at least, to deport dangerous criminals. It's quite another to break up families because one or more members aren't documented. In the show, a boyfriend goes to visit a detainee, ICE surreptitiously checks his credentials as he visits, and when they deem them lacking they send the guy back to Honduras. So the woman in prison loses one more all too precious means of support.

You also get a look into private prisons, always focused on the profit motive. Hey, let's close the psych ward because it's costing us too much money. We'll simply drug them. Let's take a look at which drugs get us volume discounts, and that's what we'll use. Is it good for the patients? It doesn't remotely matter as long as it's good for the bottom line.

Let's expand. We'll build an ICE holding facility. We'll collect by the day for each person we hold on to. In the show, they get like $150 per day per person. That's a pretty good profit when you simply run a dormitory where people are literally on top of one another. I'm not sure when they wrote this show, or where they did their research, but it actually costs around $775 a day to keep immigrants in detention. For that price, we could put them all up at the Hilton and let them eat room service. It's kind of remarkable that Trump, who passes himself off as an astute businessman because he stiffs everyone who works for him, would agree to such outrageous price-gouging. Of course it isn't his money, and who knows if he even pays taxes, so why the hell should he care?

This is the kind of system that spreads corruption like a virus. Of course the employees of the privatized prison are underqualified, probably so they can be underpaid, and need to find other ways to supplement their income. They could drive Ubers after work, but with a thriving market for drugs inside the actual prison, why bother? I suppose ICE employees are better paid, but they're on a mission. Their mission seems to preclude actual concern for their fellow humans, so they're treated with the same contempt that emanates from the mouth of Donald Trump.

We see the story of a young woman cruelly separated from her young children. She's very smart, and works like hell to fight the machine that's crushing her, but the odds are way against her. The theme of unfairness pervades the show, and hits not only immigrants, but also those caught in the penal system. We also see how prisoners are tossed aside and subject to all sorts of nonsense that makes returning as productive citizens challenging, to say the least.

I'm going to Texas in a week to actually see what these places are like, and I'm sure I'll be writing about it right here. Meanwhile, if you want to see how Donald Trump's anti-immigrant machine treats humans it finds inconvenient, I highly recommend this show. If you're a teacher with a few days available for binge-watching, this is more than worth your time.

It's not all bad. There are stories of redemption, of growth, of inspiration. There is some great acting. You're left, though, with a portrait of a heavily flawed system, one that rewards corruption, and profits handsomely off human misery. You're left with a clarion call that it's high time for a change.