Monday, February 23, 2009

DUCK! Or Not....

A friend of mine once posed the most puzzling koan ever. I paraphrase: Suppose you're standing up to your chin in feces (this friend didn't say feces--I'll leave it to you to insert the word of your choice). As you're standing there, someone heaves a bucket of feces at your head. Do you duck?

Well, it just may happen that you'll be given that choice courtesy of your Unity Caucus. You see, there's a lot of buzz that Mayor Bloomberg will throw Joel Klein under the bus to get another crack at running for mayor. Klein is hugely unpopular, not just among teachers, but parents and ordinary citizens, as well. Bloomie may jettison his pal in order to retain mayoral control and his job.

Normally, I'd say getting rid of Klein would be cause for celebration. But let's face it. Bloomberg is in control, and Klein is his stooge. If Klein were to go, Bloomberg would certainly replace him with another, more likeable, stooge. Mayor Mike would still be in charge, and nothing would change. While sitting in the muck that is the Klein chancellorship, the mayor will be waiting with his bucket. Apparently, Randi may be readying herself to lend a hand: But on the question of Klein’s fate, Weingarten answers gamely: “I’ve found the mayor easier to deal with and more responsive than the chancellor.”

Instead of giving us the choice to duck or not, why isn't Randi pushing full steam ahead to wrest mayoral control from Bloomberg and help oust him from office? Am I the only one who remembers the moronic survey the UFT asked us to fill out last year on the last day of school regarding Klein? Nothing was done then--what's to make us think anything will be done now, other than the PR stunt of getting rid of Klein in exchange for helping the mayor keep his job and appoint still another Klein.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spot that Fallacy!

Mike Bloomberg, in his never-ending quest to educate the public, has decided to give NYC a lesson in false logic. In a stunning demonstration in the NY Times, the mayor presents us with these two gems of muddled thinking:

False Choice: “If you’re going to spend an extra dollar, personally, I would always rather spend it on the people that deliver the service,” Mr. Bloomberg said when asked about the report on Thursday, calling class size “an interesting number.”

Here, the mayor presents the situation as an either/or, when it is nothing of the sort. Most Long Island districts, as well as many districts upstate and in Connecticut, have shown that you can have both low class size and pay teachers well. What makes Mr. Bloomberg's utterance a particularly good example is that he has utterly failed to do either one. NYC teachers make less money and have the largest class sizes in the state. And, of course, the "If you're going to spend an extra dollar" dichotomy doesn't work here because the mayor has no intention of spending an extra dollar on class size or teachers, despite a mandate and an inflow of money from the CFE suit. Mikey follows up with another false choice gem: "“If you have to have smaller class size or better teachers, go with the better teachers every time.”

The Post Hoc Fallacy: In New York City, an Education Department comparison over the last two years between school report-card grades and average class size has found little correlation; in many cases, schools with better grades have bigger classes.

In reading this, you would think that larger class sizes has had a positive effect on school report card grades. This utterly ignores two critical points: The city grades itself, so the grades are inherently meaningless, and people who want their kids to have a good education tend to move to areas where the schools are better when that is an option for them. Many of the most overcrowded schools in NYC, for example, are in affluent areas of the city and Queens.

That's Mayor Mike's lesson in false logic today, kiddies. Tune in tomorrow, when Mikey will show us the fallacy of false cause by claiming that because the NYC test scores have gone up, mayoral control of schools has been a success.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

It's My Party And I'll Switch If I Want To

You gotta feel for Mike Bloomberg. All that money, and no one wants to invite him to their party. Their political party, at any rate.

The Post reports (an oxymoron in itself) that Mayor Mike has hit a brick wall with the GOP in his attempts to run as a Republican for the third term that he said no one should have. If that wasn't bad enough, it seems the Dems don't want him either, being inclined to nominate someone who may actually be a Democrat.

A source close to the mayor says Hizzoner's people are now "looking at anything and everything." Determination like this is why the Mayor is a billionaire and ordinary pond scum like you and me tend to join a party for life. Mike isn't concerned about trivial details such as whether he believes in anything the party stands for. No, goshdarnit, he's going to run for that third term and nothing as trivial as scruples will stand in his way.

So even though he has some of his best people on it, I felt I should chip in. I looked up some political parties that the mayor might be interested in. You can see a pretty comprehensive list here.

The Libertarian Party seemed promising, with the cool name and all, but Mike discovered that they actually believe in giving people liberty, so that was out. The Green Party was a possibility until the mayor realized it had to do with the environment and not money. The mayor even mentioned the Labor Party to his closest aides, saying, "I am a strong advocate of workers' rights". Unfortunately, he couldn't keep a straight face and laughed until he puked on his Bruno Maglis. Luckily, his cleaning lady had just finished hand scrubbing the mayor's toilet with a toothbrush and was available to clean up the mess.

Given all these problems, Bloomberg is considering starting his own party. Thus far, he's come up with a few possibilities:

The Napoleon Complex Party
The At Least I'm Not Joel Klein Party
The Screw The Workers Party

If you have any other ideas, let's hear 'em.

Monday, February 16, 2009

No Stimulus for You!!!

This week's Top of the Class Award winner is Paul Begala. While his idea isn't directly related to education, he's certainly on the right track.

Begala suggests that all of those Republicans who voted against the stimulus package walk the walk by refusing to accept any of the money from the package. The Republicans are clearly willing to reap the political windfall that would accrue should the package fail, while taking the monetary windfall with their other hand.

This week's Bottom Feeder is none other than Michael Bloomberg, who suggested not only laying off 15,000 teachers, but also making city employees pay 10% of their own health care costs. So far, I have not heard him rescind those threats. I suspect that at the very least he will attempt to make us help pay for our health care by striking up a deal with the UFT--let's say, making us fork over 5% so that Randi can say how she helped preserve the other 5%. And if you're an ATR--watch out. I can easily see Bloomy targeting ATRs in a deal to save money and avert layoffs. Of course, layoffs shouldn't be on the table at all now, considering that the stimulus bill should help save or create 119,000 jobs in the city, restoring all the funds Governor Patterson threatened to cut.

Speaking of the Guv, Patterson receives a Bottom Feeder dishonorable mention for raising the salaries of a dozen of his staffers while asking state employess to forego a 3% pay cut.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Name That Politician!

He is an extremely wealthy man.

Despite a referendum to uphold term limits, he has decided to try to run again anyway.

He has asserted that the attempted change to term limits merely gives politicians the right to run again, and that it doesn't guarantee re-election.

He was warned that the citizens will lose much of what they have gained should he not be re-elected.

His opponents claim that he has manipulated the numbers to make himself look good.

He is trying to push through a law to extend terms limits quickly before his numbers deteriorate.

He has supported another look at the term limits law after his own term has run out.

Who is he?

A friend of Fidel Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Read the remarkable separated at birth story here.

Kristoff Gets It...Wrong, Mostly

When I first started reading Nicholas Kristoff's Op-Ed called Our Greatest National Shame, I thought he was on to something. He said that education, even more than health care, was the nation's greatest need. That part I believe is right.

But then he goes on to recite some of the same old tired "solutions" that have not and will not ever do any good. He cites the Perry Preschool program in Michigan and KIPP as examples of what we should do. To Kristoff's credit, he does state that scale matters: the Perry Program, for example, followed only 123 students, some of whom were given a high quality preschool environment with small class sizes while the others were offered no advantages. As you would expect, better educated students who started early and had small class sizes did better. What a surprise. The question is, are we willing to spend the money to give that sort of education to every student, or is this study just a way of blowing smoke about what we could do if we wanted to?

Kristoff then goes off on what we are "learning" about K-8 education. First, that good teachers matter (did he really just learn this?). He points out that the best teachers teach in the best schools, and the least effective teachers teach in the worst schools. I have no idea how he measures "best" beyond test scores, but there's surely one thing he forgot: a lot of these 'best' teachers work with the brightest, most highly motivated students. I remember a post from my fellow blogger NYC Educator, in which he stated that if you took top teachers from a good school and dropped them into an underperforming school, they suddenly wouldn't appear to be such good teachers anymore. That is right on target.

Kristoff's solution is to pay teachers more (good idea) but to pay teachers who work in bad schools more still (bad idea). The focus should be on fixing ALL schools. As long as schools are violent, broken down, overcrowded, and subject to the latest educational fads rather than effective teaching, shifting the teacher's chairs on the Titanic won't make much difference. Good schools have no difficulty attracting and keeping effective teachers.

Next, Kristoff points to a study that supposedly shows that it matters not whether a teacher is certified. Studies like these are, in my view, stupid, because they compare newly certified teachers with new TFA recruits or Teaching Fellows. The problem is that almost all new teachers struggle. Almost no one is a good teacher in their first year. I'd say it takes a minimum of five years before you even become aware of all the mistakes you've been making. Those who go the traditional certification route are the ones who plan to stay in the system. TFAs plan to cut and run as soon as their resume padding is completed. Experience DOES matter.

So I give Kristoff credit for recognizing the gravity of the problem, but he needs to listen to teachers more than he does studies. He is correct that throwing money at the problems in our schools today won't fix them, but neither will the proverbial bigger hammer. We need to be smart, which means doing what we know will work. We need to reduce class size, pay teachers well, involve parents, and create safe, nurturing school communities.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Mother of all Stimulus Packages

With Bloomberg seeking a third term, I say it's high time we looked for qualified candidates to oppose him. Personally, I'd like the throw the name of Mexico City's mayor Marcelo Ebrard into the mix. It seems he is giving out free Viagra to poor men. Talk about your stimulus package!

In stark contrast, our current mayor wants to make city employees pay 10% of their own health costs. When told of Mayor Marcelo's plan, Bloomberg replied stiffly, "Look, this is nothing new. We've been making it hard for New York City teachers for years, without costly drugs. They need to focus on getting their test scores up. Whatever else they want to get up is their own problem."

Chancellor Klein echoed the mayor's words. "I don't take Viagra myself," he said, "and there's no reason why teachers should. The one time I tried it the pill caught in my throat and I had a stiff neck for weeks." (rimshot)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Didn't Hear It Through the Grapevine...

One of the few things I liked about the UFT website, other than the laughs, was the Grapevine. It started when the dreaded Open Market replaced seniority transfers. It was a place where teachers could anonymously (we hope) post what they thought of their school, good or bad. The idea was to help teachers steer clear of transferring to a school with an awful principal or non-existent parking (the DOE still doesn't realize how important parking is to drawing people in).

Now, I don't think anyone even knows the Grapevine exists. It's buried pretty deep on the UFT front page, on top of a link for Grief Counseling, which, trust me, you will need when you try to get a transfer. I think that's a shame. People don't dare talk about the plusses and minuses of their schools even in the teacher's lounge anymore because virtually all admins have spies scurrying to and fro.

I still think something like this needs to exist, if for no other reason than the entertainment value. And if that doesn't float your boat, watch this video of one of the great singers of all time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rhyme Scheme

A teacher in Brooklyn was fined a thousand bucks by the Conflicts of Interests Board for trying to sell her book of poems to parents. I have no idea whether this teacher was guilty or not, but it sure feels good to know that the COIB has its groove back.

You see, the COIB has been dropping the ball for some time. Going all the way back to the Snapple debacle, in which the bidding process for the exclusive rights to peddle sugary drinks to children was overseen by a company that also represented Cadbury Schweppes, the Board has looked pretty lax. But Mayor Bloomberg said the process was fair, so fair it was.

The COIB also cleared the way last year for the mayor and members of the city council to grant themselves an additional term, despite the citizens of New York having twice voted no to extending term limits. The mayor said that was fair, as well, and so fair it was.

So it's good to see the COIB putting its foot down. A teacher selling a book of poems for $10 is not fair. Only billionaires and politicians get to abuse their positions with impunity.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tomorrow's the Big Day!

Don't forget to wear your blue tomorrow! In a masterstroke sure to have Mayor Bloomberg begging for mercy, Feb. 10 is Wear Blue To School to Support the Stimulus Package Day (or WBTSTSTSP Day, for short). Never mind that the stimulus bill has already cleared all hurdles in the senate--just shut up and wear your blue! We Unity folks HATE all the whining you teachers do. We sweat to the bone thinking up brilliant ideas like this!

The UFT expects more than 20,000 teachers to wear blue tomorrow, and will hump this fact endlessly. Once again, ignore the fact that 20,000 teachers wear blue to school on any given day anyway--we're making a point here! The union is encouraging you to send in pictures of yourself or anyone else in your school wearing blue so they can let everyone know what a smashing success their protest has been.

Here at Accountable Talk we encourage you to copy and paste the picture to the left and send it to the UFT following the same instructions. Let's see if anyone notices.

Taking Attendance for Dollars

Former Lafayette High School Principal Johlonta Rohloff, who was removed from her job for allegedly asking teachers to be janitors and refusing to give textbooks to kids, now has something else to worry about. Now, you'd think that would be reason enough for her to be in trouble, but no, she was almost offered another principalship. Maybe that school needed some cleaning, too. After parents and teachers objected, she was given the job of running the SI rubber room.

According to the Daily News
, she got in an altercation with a teacher in the rubber room named Helen Settles. Ms. Settles claims Rohloff slammed her finger in an attendance book. The police were called. That must have been one heavy book.

Ms. Rohloff, who I'm sure had many very important duties other than just taking attendance and playing mousetrap with the attendance book, reportedly makes $141,823 a year.

Just a note to Chancellor Klein: I'd be willing to take attendance at the RR for a mere $110,000.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Diane Ravitch on Mayoral Control

If you haven't seen this yet, you should. Why is Diane Ravitch speaking truth to power while the UFT stands silent?

Send this video to every teacher you know.

Reality? Check, Please.

Not to be outdone by Randi's bizarre request for all teachers to wear blue on Tuesday, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein joined the fray with their own entries for the most freakish comment of the week.

Mayor Mike kicked off the festivities by claiming that if mayoral control of the schools isn't renewed, "...I think there'd be riots in the streets, given the improvements" to schools, according to the Post. Apparently, the mayor feels that people would never riot over the layoff of 15,000 teachers, flat test scores, overcrowded schools, and the disenfranchisement of parents and teachers. But wrest mayoral control from him? Then you'd seen all hell break loose.

Joel Klein, justly under fire for the bus fiasco that led to thousands of schoolchildren being stranded in the cold, finally admitted two years after the fact that "I made the mistake, and I'm responsible for it," according to the Daily News. In his defense, Klein proceeded to claim that the consulting firm he hired that resulted in those frozen kids saved the city a lot of money. Due to the current fiscal emergency, Klein also announced some new cost cutting measures, such as leaving blind children in the middle of the highway and dumping handicapped students from their wheelchairs.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Gloves are Off

The mayor had better watch out. Randi has taken the gloves off. Perhaps inspired to new union activism by the courageous efforts of Charles G. Hogg, our feckless--I mean fearless--leader has decided to get tough with Bloomberg on the issue of layoffs.

Her plan? Launch a massive ad campaign targeting the mayor's uncaring attitude towards the children he has sworn to protect and educate? Lead a march of her 80,000 plus members through the streets of Manhattan to City Hall, snarling traffic to show our outrage at these proposed cuts? Calling a wildcat strike or a sick-out to draw attention to the problem?

No, her plan is MUCH more devastating than that. On February 10, she wants us all, en masse, in a powerful show of solidarity, to wear blue.

You see the simplicity of it all? When the citizens of New York see as many as five or ten teachers all entering a school dressed in blue, they will finally understand the gravity of the situation and demand action. I can hear them now: "Hey, what's with all the blue? We'd better stop those layoffs immediately!"

Despite the brilliance of this plan, it's possible that more action may be needed. So the UFT has organized a rally for March 5th. To ratchet up the pressure on the mayor, Randi has proposed several new ideas for that rally:

  • To show that we really mean business this time, everyone will be urged to wear magenta.
  • All attendees will be asked to link arms and high step, Rockette style, until our demands are met.
  • New teachers will wear feather boas and fishnets while they sing "Cabaret" in husky voices on the steps of City Hall.
  • The few remaining male teachers over 50 will be asked to wear black socks, sandals, and Bermuda shorts.
Of course, these are only a few of the suggestions that Randi has managed to come up with for her 100 mil plus a year. If you have any other ideas for bringing the mayor to his knees, post 'em here. Personally, I'm leaning towards asking Leo Casey and Randi to dress up as Peter Pan and Tinkerbell.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Great Thing...

...about writing this blog is that I get introduced to new, excellent blogs all the time. If you haven't read Life at the Morton School, you should. I particularly liked the post on TFA and the Fellows program.

While I have real problems with TFA and Fellows, I suspect they may not survive the current economic crisis anyway. At a minimum, I suspect a hiring freeze is at hand; at worst, we'll see massive layoffs. In either case, both those programs may become irrelevant.

Top of the Class

I realize that I didn't bestow the coveted Top of the Class award yesterday. I couldn't really think of any one person. (Don't forget that nominations are always welcome). So I think the first award will go to a group I admire greatly--my fellow bloggers. This blog has only been in operation for less than two months, and it probably would have gone out of business had it not been for the incredible support and encouragement from the fine educational bloggers I have come to know and respect. I won't name names, because they are numerous, and many can be found on the blogroll.

My thanks, sans the usual snarky remarks.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

This Week's Bottom Feeder

The winner of the first Bottom of the Class award goes to Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute. I had no idea what the Manhattan Institute was--it sounded vaguely like an atomic bomb project. It turns out that they are a think tank (translation: can't get a real job?). Well, someone must have cut off the oxygen to Mr. Winters particular tank. How else to explain his inane editorial in the Daily News advocating the layoffs of senior teachers?

Ignoring the obvious question as to what sort of think tank wants its work published in the Daily News, for crying out loud, let's examine Mr. Winters' argument. He posits that the city should lay off the most senior teachers because "...there is basically no relationship between seniority and teaching ability." Using his think tank skills, Mr. Winters deftly offers no evidence of this whatsoever, choosing instead the ad populum argument that the body of evidence of this is "scarcely disputed". As a parent, I can tell you that I would opt for teaching experience over a respondent to a subway ad for Teaching Fellows any day. As a teacher, I can assert that it takes at least five years before a teacher becomes reasonably competent--i.e., he or she knows the business and has enough experience to be an effective educator.

A particularly brain dead assertion by Mr. Winters is that "After several years in the classroom, teachers can earn much higher salaries, even surpassing $100,000." I can tell Mr. W, without equivocation, that there is not one--not ONE--teacher who makes anywhere near 100K after a few years in the classroom. And unlike Mr. W, I hereby offer my proof--the salary schedule in the UFT contract. In order to earn 100K, NYC teachers must not only have a master's degree and thirty credits beyond that, we must put in 22 years of service. And then you pass the 100K mark by a whopping $49.00.

One of the most glaring of Mr. Winters lapses in logic is that the school system would continue to attract qualified teachers if the seniority layoff provision were done away with. Who would want to make teaching a career knowing that their jobs would be in peril every time there was an economic downturn? Does he believe, like other non-educators such as Joel Klein, that we can attract talented people by offering them less money than surrounding districts, higher class sizes, and no job security?

Mr. Winters also worries about losing new, potentially effective teachers, without giving a thought to losing experienced, proven effective teachers.

So, we offer a hearty Bronx cheer to Mr. Winters, which is more than he can do until someone stops pumping the oxygen from his think tank.

Top and Bottom of the Class Awards

We are introducing a new feature this week, mostly because we couldn't think of anything else to write and we enjoy using the royal "we". Starting today, this blog will bestow Top of the Class and Bottom of the Class awards to deserving educators, bloggers, educational pundits, politicians, and whoever else has made a huge step forward or backwards on behalf of teachers everywhere.

You can nominate someone for either award by writing to me, accountabletalk AT Give me the details as to why this person deserves accolades or the Bronx cheer. Each week, assuming anyone gives a damn, I will select a winner and a loser and announce the results here. I won't reveal who your are, nor will I use real names of principals or teachers. Public figures are fair game, of course.

If anyone with creative design skills and a lot of free time would like to design an award jpg, I'd appreciate it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Charles G. Hogg for UFT President

Charles G. Hogg, a groundhog from Staten Island, predicted an early spring this year. Then he proceeded above and beyond the call of duty, giving teachers in NYC an early Christmas by biting Mayor Bloomberg.

A fracas broke out as several teachers began chanting "Hogg for UFT President!". They then seized the groundhog and proceeded to Tweed in search of Chancellor Klein. A startled Klein threatened to send the recalcitrant Hogg to a rubber room, whereupon the bemused rodent (Hogg, that is) reportedly said, "Hey, I may eat grubs, but even I wouldn't bite him!"

The groundhog was reportedly brought to the emergency room for rabies testing and subsequently released.