Saturday, January 31, 2009

Trading Tenure for Jobs

A perfect storm is brewing in NYC, and career teachers better take notice before they are washed overboard by the squall.

Mayor Bloomberg is calling for 14,000 education layoffs, mostly of teachers, if he can not get enough money from Washington and Albany. Of course layoffs, if they come, would affect only the newest, lowest salaried teachers in a normal world. This is Bloomy's world, however, so it wouldn't surprise me if something underhanded was afoot. Knowing the man, wouldn't he at least take a shot at getting rid of the most senior, highest paid teachers first, considering that would save more money and accomplish his goal of a cheap teacher workforce who'll be forced to do his bidding?

He could accomplish this in three steps:
  • Threaten massive layoffs if nothing is done. (Step already taken)
  • Find a union stooge (cough Randi cough) willing to assist him in eliminating tenure.
  • Trade a no layoff guarantee for the elimination of tenure.
Can't happen, you say? The UFT would never go for it, you say? Let's think about that. Randi isn't really interested in tenure--she's interested in union dues. If 14,000 teachers lost their jobs, the UFT would lose $14 million a year. They'd have to cut down on those nice gala luncheons they hold while the rank and file are fighting for their jobs. If she gets a no layoff guarantee in return for the elimination of tenure, she not only keeps said luncheons but also the 14 mil. Sweet.

This would require a contract revision, and you might be inclined to think such a thing would be dead in the water. But Unity sold out seniority in the 2005 contract with nary a peep from the members through careful manipulation of information. They put lipstick on that pig of a contract by selling us the "Open Market", which many new teachers were too ignorant to vote against and which many senior teachers accepted in exchange for more money and a promised 55/25 retirement clause. Randi trumpeted that contract as a win that would allow teachers to be free agents who could go where they were wanted. Nevermind that no one wanted them and that the ATR pool was created instead.

How does all that apply here? How could Randi sell out tenure? Easy. Convince all the new teachers that voting for the elimination of tenure would save their jobs. Scare the 3-15 year teachers with threats of virtually unlimited class sizes when the layoffs happen. And offer senior teachers a retirement incentive in exchange for voting yes. I'd say that's a majority. And then Randi would put her unique Unity spin on it, claiming not that she sold off the only remaining vestiges of teacher unionism, but that she single-handedly, through relentless negotiation, managed to save 14,000 jobs.

Thus, Randi looks like a hero. The mayor looks like a genius for averting layoffs and eliminating tenure. Klein keeps his job as he continues to slowly oscillate his head from side to side in a curiously reptillian fashion.

This whole scenario may seem unlikely to you, but you can bet that if I thought of it, so has the DOE. And I remember thinking it unlikely that I would ever do cafeteria duty or potty patrol again. Ignore it at your peril.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Break a Leg, ATRs!

You know, I think I'm starting to like Randi. She's the kind of multifaceted person you have to admire. In a recent fusillade of emails, she's shown us her many sides. There was the serious, pragmatic Randi who wanted to go beyond her job duties (whatever they may be) and support the stimulus bill. There was the patriotic Randi, who urged us to get out and vote for whoever happened to be the Democratic front runner at the time. Today, Ms. Weingarten showed us her humorous side with a missive that can only be described as rip snortingly funny, assuming, of course, that neither you nor anyone you know is affected by it.

I quote verbatim from the email: The UFT's Network to Work conference for ATRs on Jan. 11 was such a hit that we have decided to hold another one. Network to Work II will be on Feb. 28 so that ATRs who missed the first one still have a chance to take advantage of this opportunity.

The Subject line of the email read: Encore UFT Job Conference for ATRs Feb. 28.

Get it? It's a theatrical metaphor! How clever! I can see the reviews in the papers now!

It's a Hit! Let's have an Encore!--R. Weingarten, NY Teacher

It will run forever!--J. Klein, The Village Vermin

I laughed til I cried! And I'm still crying!--an ATR, The Daily Jag

Even better than the seniority debacle!--The Chief

I can't wait for the next installment. What will it be? ATRs on Ice? The Rubber Room Revue? Whatever it is, you can bet it will be a laugh riot. As long as you're not in it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Bloomberg

The debate for mayoral control of schools is underway. Bloomberg and his minions are touting their "successes" and the UFT is nowhere to be found. One way to make your voice heard is to comment on the situation on the New York Times City Room Blog, where mayoral control is a hot topic. If you have a few minutes, drop by and comment. I did.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Subtraction by Addition

Despite the fact the Mayor Bloomberg announced Sunday that the city would get an additional 1.6 billion dollars in education funding from the Obama stimulus plan, Joel Klein has seen fit to threaten teachers with layoffs. NY1 reports that Klein threatened to cut the education workforce by 12% through attrition and layoffs.

All I can say it that it's a good thing Obama's plan didn't give the city 10 billion, or Klein would have had us all shot.

Oddly enough, as I was writing this, I received the Dear Chancellor's Teacher Update email, wherein he says, "I testified in Albany today about the Department of Education's budget situation. As you can read in my testimony, we have a budget gap of $1.4 billion for the coming school year. While this is obviously a high number and would have a large impact on all of our operations, I am hoping that a Federal Stimulus Package will come through and help us to fill this gap. I will keep you posted as we learn more."

Pardon me, but didn't the stimulus bill already pass, and didn't the DOE get 1.6 billion? Isn't 1.6 billion more than 1.4 billion?

Good thing Klein doesn't have to take the math test in March.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dead Teachers Walking

We all know who they are. The unfortunate few--or not so few--who walk around with a bull's eye on their backs. All too often, they are good teachers who have simply run afoul of their admins. Most of the living dead I have seen are veterans, but occasionally the newbies are targeted.

There are several in my building. One of them came to me today, as she has a few times before. This is her second year, and already I can read the writing on her tombstone. She did one boneheaded thing a while back--nothing illegal or immoral, just boneheaded--and she's been on the hit list ever since.

She's hoping I have some insight, as I'm treated pretty fairly. Maybe she hopes some of that will rub off on her. Maybe she's trying to figure out what I'm doing differently. I do try to help her. I give her lessons, advice, and an ear to chew, but I can't help thinking it's already too late.

As a newbie, the admins have a right to terminate her at any time. If they want her out, I can't see why they don't just trade an S rating for an agreement to leave. Or just let her go. I don't understand at all how it's beneficial to keep her around without giving her the support she needs to succeed.

I used to have a bull's eye on my back, but I escaped. I know I'm one of the lucky ones. Most of the hunted are taken down.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Goes Around Just Stays There

After making nice-nice with politicians and education officials at the expense of the teachers she is supposed to represent, Randi Weingarten almost received her payback in the form of a political appointment as senator from NY. The New York Post reported yesterday that Randi came in second in the running for the position.

Who even knew that she was under such close consideration? I sure didn't. I heard her name bandied about along with about a dozen others, but I had no idea she was a real contender. I had rather the same feeling that I had when Joel Klein was mentioned as a candidate for Education Secretary. I wanted him to go, but didn't want to give him an even bigger pool to pee in.

To be fair, it's possible that Randi might have made a decent senator. She has roughly the same credentials as Caroline Kennedy, but at least she has an idea about education and some actual work experience. Tenure might have had a chance of surviving with her in office, although considering what she gave away in the 2005 contract, I'd say that's not a sure thing.

So, what about the new senator, Kirsten Gillibrand? She voted for more funds for NCLB and for additional federal money for early childhood education. Other than that, I haven't found out much except than she's a gun nut. Maybe that's how she edged out Randi (Governor Patterson, I want you to meet my little friend...}.

Considering how much corruption there is these days (Joe Bruno, after 32 years in the state senate, was charged with corruption the other day for allegedly trading favors for cash), it's actually refreshing that Randi wasn't able to buy a US Senate seat in exchange for cozying up to Klein and Bloomy. Still, it's scary just how close she came.

Friday, January 23, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

When the birds begin to sing, it's a sure harbinger of spring. When the leaves cover the ground like an orange blanket, autumn is on its way. And when the DOE gives an ELA test that's so easy that Shemp could get a 4, you know that the mayor is seeking to pad his resume in preparation for a third term.

I've proctored a lot of ELA exams in my day. Usually there's at least an attempt to ask a few tough questions, but not this year. There was basically no need for inferencing whatsoever, as almost every question could be answered by returning to the text. The questions went something like this:

TEXT: Curly was often sad when Moe turned around without looking and clobbered him with a ladder.

QUESTION: How did Curly feel when Moe bonked him with a ladder?
A. Sad
B. With his toes.
C. Scared of heights
D. Pretty

Now, you might think it's a bad thing for tests to be dumbed down to the point where any carbon based life form could pass them. But no. The chatter around my school today focused on how good this would make us all look. With these new teacher report cards, everyone was feeling pretty optimistic about the future.

Me, I guess I'm the glass half-empty guy. The test can't get any easier next year unless they make it a pop-up book. So what happens when all the great grades we'll earn this year evaporate? How will our report cards look then? Are your kids going to make their AYP in 2010?

Of course, many teachers, like some of those I heard gloating about the test, will be long gone by then. Only the veterans know that the DOE will use the inevitable downturn as a way to poke us in the eyeballs, Moe style. Once the mayor gets his third term all bets are off.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dropout Rate Rises

Another one bites the dust. The Post and the Times are reporting that Caroline Kennedy is dropping out of the contest for US senator from NY. Considering that Ms. Kennedy could not even make a clear statement on whether she would support the abolition of tenure, I have to say I'm relieved.

One less Bloomberg crony in office is always good news.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Inaugural Moment

Like most teachers in NYC, I didn't get to see the inauguration live, but I did get to hear it. There was a moment that stood out to me--the moment that Chief Justice John Roberts messed up the oath of office. Instead of saying 'I will faithfully execute..." he put the word 'faithfully' at the end of the sentence. It seemed like a blot on the inauguration at the time.

When I watched it on video, I noticed that Obama paused, smiled, and gave Roberts a chance to correct himself. Although it was clearly Obama's moment, he tried to give an ideological rival a chance to save face. It was a truly gracious act.

I think America made a great choice.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Paris for US Senate

With it looking more and more like a fait accompli that Caroline Kennedy will be appointed the next US senator from New York, it's time that public spirited citizens make a last ditch effort to suggest new names to Governor Patterson in hopes that he sees the light (yeah, I said that).

Caroline has a lot going for her. She is rich, well-heeled, and a socialite heiress. While I'm sure we can all agree that those are the most important traits a prospective senator can possess, she is still missing something. For example, she has never campaigned before, so her run for re-election in 2010 is an unknown. She has some difficulty with public speaking. Her ability to raise funds for the Democratic Party has never been tested. And no one knows where she stands on this issues.

I'm offering a solution. Paris Hilton. She is rich, a socialite, and an heiress to the Hilton Hotel fortune, so she matches up well with Caroline in those respects. But Paris offers more. She has campaigned before, having made a run for the presidency in 2008. She has no difficulty with public speaking other than to call people her bitches on occasion, but that's better than a lot of "you knows" and "uhms". Paris knows how to generate cash. Finally, we do know where Paris stands. She supports gay marriage and has a comprehensive energy plan, "Barack wants to focus on new technologies to cut foreign oil dependency and McCain wants offshore drilling. Well, why don’t we do a hybrid of both candidates’ ideas? We can do limited offshore drilling with strict environmental oversight while creating tax incentives to get Detroit making hybrid and electric cars. That way the offshore drilling carries us until the new technologies kick in which will then create new jobs and energy independence. Energy crisis solved."

What's her stand on education? I'm not sure, but if I had to guess, I think she'd probably say that it's kinda hard.

Well, that's my take. Any other nominations?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Kudos to NYC Educator

NYC Educator's blog was just named the number 13 education blog. Let me just say that this is a highly deserved accolade. I was a reader of and a participant in NYC's blog long before I started this one, and NYC gave me valuable advice and a few plugs to get this blog off the ground.

I've only been at this a little more than a month, and my admiration for people like NYC has grown by leaps and bounds since that time. I have no idea how he finds the time and energy to constantly update his blog, but I know he always does it with great humor and an incisive mind.

Congrats, NYC.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Letter to Randi

I've been getting a lot of mail from Randi Weingarten lately. Much of it started with the presidential campaign, when Randi urged me to vote for Hillary. She even spelled my name in all caps, as in Dear MR. A. TALK, to show me how special I am to her. Soon after she asked me to support Barack Obama. Today, I received another highly personalized message from Randi, urging me to fax my representatives to show my support for the stimulus package.

I certainly will do so. After all, the stimulus package will be a boon to education and teachers, containing as it does...wait, I have a copy here somewhere...I know it helps teachers somehow. I beg your indulgence as I peruse the document...let's helps bankers, and retailers, and Wall Street brokers, and.... Oops, my bad. It doesn't help teachers at all.

I guess I am just an optimist. I keep waiting for that letter from Randi that will urge me to walk a picket line on behalf of ATRs, fax the mayor demanding the abolition of rubber rooms, or informing me that the UFT intends to sue the state and city for utterly failing to implement the CFE funds to reduce class size.

Last time I checked, the UFT was taking more than a thousand dollars a year from me for union dues. That works out to more than 80 million annually in the UFT's coffers. Excuse me for asking, but at what point will some--ANY--of that money be put towards supporting the members instead of Arne Duncan? Will a dime be spent toward opposing the mayoral control of schools that has been such a disaster for teachers, parents, and students alike?

Has our union totally lost its purpose? It is supposed to work for us. Call me harsh if you like, but I don't want even one more letter from Randi asking me to help the victims of Katrina until I get a letter telling me how the UFT is going to help the teachers who are victims of an out of control educational oligarchy.

So, here's my letter to Randi:


Do your job!

Love, MR. TALK

Thursday, January 15, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Dorothy was right. There's no place like home. Unfortunately, there's no school like home, either. At least not any more.

Despite my crabbing, I actually like my school very much. The students are great, the building is clean though overcrowded, and the administration leaves me alone to a great extent. Sometimes I wonder why I'm not happier in my school, considering the place I came from. Then today, it kind of hit me. My school isn't like home.

I don't expect them to provide me with a sofa and a big screen TV, but school used to be a lot more like home. Many of my teacher friends were close friends--not just 8-3 friends like I have now. Teachers prided themselves on how long they had been in a particular place--there was a sense of attachment and loyalty, just as in a family.

The teacher's lounge used to be a hub of social activity. Today, it's a place where you had better watch your words because there's bound to be someone around who'll report any negative comments to the administration.

It's the same for the students, I am sure. They come to school and are sent through the test prep grind. Teachers dare not bestow an encouraging pat on the back, and all joking is out the window, because God forbid if some student takes what you say the wrong way. Rubber room time.

School used to be like The Waltons. Everyone had their peccadilloes but we all basically got along and wanted the best for each other. These days, school is much more like Married with Children. My previous school was closer to the Manson family.

I don't think we'll ever make much progress in education until all the participants (I hate the word stakeholders) feel at home--as if they are part of an actual community. If anyone has any ideas on how we can achieve this, I'd love to hear.

It won't be easy. Bloomberg wants schools to be more like factories and less like Saturday night with the Cleavers.

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Higher Standards?

Joel Klein appeared on NY1's Inside City Hall program tonight and endorsed Caroline Kennedy for US senate. In so saying, he claimed that Ms. Kennedy has "a wealth of experience in terms of thinking about education."


The man who talks endlessly about higher standards now considers thinking about education the same as having experience in education? Of course, we must remember the source. Klein is a man who spent about 5 minutes in front of a classroom and still thought himself qualified to be Secretary of Education.

Mayor Mike Takes a Stand

I admit it's a bizarre question, but bear with me: Have you ever seen the mayor sitting? The guy is always standing up. I did a Google image search on this topic (no cracks about how I need a hobby, please) and I could only find a few images of Hizzoner on Hizzbutt. And when he is sitting, he looks extremely uncomfortable, as if perched on an unusually large cactus.

Oddly enough, what started me thinking about this is baseball season. It's on the horizon, and I'm looking to get some tickets for the Mets at the new CitiField. The only place they are available right now is on Stubhub. The prices? Astronomical. The reason? CitiField has 10,000 fewer seats than the old Shea Stadium. Even the new Yankee Stadium has about 5,000 fewer seats. Mayor Bloomberg was involved in the finanancing of both stadiums.

So, what gives? What's with the mayor's deep-seated (!) fear of seats? Why do all his pet projects seems to end up with fewer places to park one's posterior than they once had?

None of this would matter much except for two things: we paid with our tax dollars for the privilege of fewer stadiums seats that none of us can afford to buy, and this mania extends to our schools. After seven years of Bloomberg, schools have fewer seats than ever.

We shouldn't take this lying down. Let's send the mayor walking.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Shoe-In for the Mayor

No, I don't mean he's a shoo-in for a third term. In fact, if we can start a trend, he may end his tenure at two terms. It began the other day, when Pro-Palestinians threw shoes at a photo of Mayor Bloomberg to protest his support of Israel (one of the few things I agree with him on). I suggested that teachers hold a Shoe-In to protest his educational policies, with 80,000 of us slinging shoes at a picture of Hizzoner on the steps of City Hall.

Over at Ed Notes Online, Norm suggested that we begin faculty conferences with an anti-Bloomy Shoe-In. While I like that idea, I'd rather do it at union meetings (assuming your school still has union meetings). It would be like an Orwellian Two-Minute's Hate, with the mayor's mug projected on a screen while we all shout obscenities at him and throw shoes. Think of it! Real action at a union meeting! According to Orwell, one way to get people motivated is to unite them against a common enemy. And if any union needs to get its people motivated, it's the UFT.

I know what you're thinking. Why Bloomy? Why not Keds for Klein? Not a spare sandal for Randi? Not a boot for Bush? I don't know about you, but I just don't have enough shoes to spare for all the people who've screwed up this system.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fixing the Schools, in Five Easy Steps! Step Five--Fire All Administrators

What's the difference between you and your administrator? Not much. You both have degrees, and if you've been around a while, you have a master's, too, just like the person who supervises you. Some admins are far less qualified to make educational decisions than you, such as those who come from the "Leadership Academy". So how come they make so much more money than you? (You can find out just how much more here, at a creepy site I discovered by visiting Ms. Brave's blog.

So I say, let's fire them. Yes, all of them. Let's replace them with some of the business people who've recently lost their jobs thanks to the Bush economy. Their only function would be to run the building--a task they are far more adept at than principals. We'd pay them with the money now being spent on parent coordinators, who would become obsolete. Then let's leave the real work of educating children to the people who understand it--the teachers themselves.

Sounds crazy? I don't think it is. Let's talk cost first. There are roughly 1200 principals and another 4000 or so APs. Let's say their average salary is $110,000. If we assume the salary of the average teacher is $65,000, that would mean we could hire 8800 teachers (we might even consider letting some of the principals and APs apply, but only the nice ones). With those additional teachers, we could do two things: reduce class size, and reduce the number of teaching periods from 25 to 22, giving each teacher an additional three periods in which to do the work of the lost lamented admins.

I know, I know--you have enough to do without adding more jobs on top. But remember--a professional is running the business end of the school. You'll use your three additional free periods to meet with parents, plan lessons, order books, observe your peers, and so on. Because teachers will be running things, we can throw out time wasters such as keeping a teacher assessment notebook or other educational gimmicks.

There are some details to be worked out here, such as who does the hiring, firing, evaluating, etc., but I think these can be done by committee or some other arrangement.

If you're still not convinced, look at the numbers:

  • Parent coordinators at $40,000 each: $48 million
  • Principals and APs at an average of $110,000: $572 million
  • The look on your ex-supervisor's face when he or she realizes you're on the hiring commitee: Priceless

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Shoe Solution

Any day that starts with a news article about people throwing shoes at a picture of Mayor Bloomberg is a good day. Pro-Palestinian protesters launched a barrage of Blahniks at the photo, drawing cheers from teachers across the city.

My question is, why can't we teachers do this ourselves? All these lame candlelight vigils have done nothing for us. Let's go for the shoe solution!!! The UFT should organize a huge Shoe-In, calling all teachers to hop down to City Hall, one shoe in hand, and begin firing our Ferragamos (or in my case, flinging my Frye boots) at a picture of the mayor. Think of it--80,000 shoes pelting a picture of Hizzoner and strewn across the steps of City Hall.

Some of the more radical of you are probably asking why we don't just hurl our shoes at the mayor himself, as the Iraqi reporter did to Bush. It's illegal, and would give Bloomy a reason punish us all on the spot. I hate the thought of 80,000 shoeless teachers crammed into the rubber rooms. Maybe Randi could chuck her Chanels at the mayor for us in a symbolic act of defiance.

Oh, well, I can dream, can't I?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fixing the Schools, in Five Easy Steps! Step Four--Attracting and Keeping the Best Teachers

I always hate news stories and editorials that proclaim that we must start hiring the best teachers, as if the ones we have now are chopped liver. I'd estimate that of all the teachers I've ever worked with, I would be satisfied with about 80% of them teaching my own child. Another 10% I'd be ambivalent about, and the final 10% I wouldn't want near my flesh and blood. I think that's actually a fine ratio.

Still, there's always room for improvement. The obvious answer is to pay more; there is fierce competition for teacher vacancies on Long Island, with hundreds of candidates applying for each job. In NYC, recruitment has always been a chore, with low pay and poor conditions being the major hurdles. We've had recruitment drives in foreign countries, including Spain, Japan, and for all I know, Borneo.

More pay, however, won't solve the problem all by itself. Surrounding districts would merely jack up their own pay scales and start skimming off the top again. So, what to do? Start with accomplishing steps one, two, and three of this series, to wit, eliminating senseless educational gimmicks, enforcing discipline, and reducing class size. All those steps would make teaching in NYC a lot more attractive.

Nevertheless, these steps alone may not be enough. So, as part of my never-ending drive to replace Joel Klein as school's chancellor, I came up with a few more ideas that would attract teachers in droves:

  • Keep Tenure. Tenure is one of the best things about teaching. Even in down economies, teachers are generally safe. Furthermore, tenure makes teachers think about the possibility of teaching as a career, not the pit stop that such farces as Teaching Fellows and Teach for America are turning the profession into. The bogus argument that tenure keeps bad teachers in place is absurd. Admins have three years to fire anyone not up to snuff. I could go to a strange school and tell you who all the good teachers are in three days. Any admin who can't figure that out in three years should be fired himself.
  • Give teachers autonomy. Let us pick our own texts, and teach in our own way, as long as we are getting the job done. Simply put, treat us as professionals. More on this in Step 5.
  • Make schools safer. No one likes parking in the morning and saying a little prayer that their car will still be there at 3PM. And speaking of cars....
  • Give teachers parking. It sounds like a small thing, but making the block surrounding a school a "Teacher's Only" zone would instantly make many schools more attractive places to work. Michael Bloomberg, who gets driven to the subway in his chauffeured SUV each morning, decided to reduce the number of teacher parking placards from 63,000 to 11,000. If he really wants to attract and retain teachers, he would increase the number of actual spots from 10,000 to 80,000.
  • Restore seniority rights. If you want to keep people around, reward them for it. Simple.
That's what I came up with. Any other suggestions out there? What other measures can we take to attract and retain the best teachers?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Confessions of a {gasp!} Happy Teacher

I fully realize that this blog has a decidedly cranky tone. I can only say in my defense is that it's due to me being decidedly cranky. Yet...I have to confess....

I like teaching. Despite all the crap we have to put up with, I wouldn't want to do any other job. I feel this sense of--dare I say it--cheerfulness even as we approach the return to school tomorrow. This feeling was solidified when I read a post by Pissed Off Teacher that said pretty much what was going on inside of me.

So here's to all of us, who will return to work tomorrow with a smile beneath the grimace. Enjoy!

PS: I promise to return to my old cranky self ASAP.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fixing the Schools, in Five Easy Steps! Step Three--Reduce Class Size

OK, I know reducing class size is a no-brainer. But as the people running the schools have no brains and still have not done this, perhaps it's time for someone with a brain to step in. (I'm available, Mr. Mayor. Call me.)

Reducing class size is the only sure fire way to improve student performance. Almost everything else is a gimmick. I've spent most of my career teaching classes in excess of thirty students, and sometimes far in excess. I've also taught in so-called 'triad' classes in which three teachers split up two classes, giving each teacher roughly 22 students. Guess which way worked better?

Decreasing class size will also improve teacher quality dramatically. It's a simple fact that teaching 35 kids is hard, which is why Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee fled the field as soon as they could. Teaching 22, while not easy, lightens the burden considerably, especially in terms of planning, grouping, and giving individualized attention. Discipline problems float away. Real teaching occurs.

Many high powered education pundits (by which I mean know-nothings) regularly discount class size as a factor. Oddly, most of these individuals are extremely wealthy and send their children to private schools--schools that trumpet their low class sizes as a major plus. I've never heard a millionaire say, "Hey! That public school has 35 kids per class! Let me send Muffy there!"

The main problem in tackling class size is money. It simply costs more to hire more teachers and build more schools. While I don't have all the answers, I do know that it would cost less to lower class sizes nationwide than it is costing us to bail out a bunch of multi-millionaires who invested in unintelligible mortgage-backed securities.

And I do have a plan for getting more teachers into the classroom at virtually zero cost. Unfortunately, it's also a no-brainer, so it's unlikely that it will ever be implemented. Still, I have hope.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Fixing the Schools, in Five Easy Steps! Step Two--Enforce Discipline

Despite announcing my candidacy for the chancellor's job in yesterday's post, I have yet to hear from Mayor Bloomberg. I suspect he is just being coy. Or perhaps he's waiting for Governor Patterson to appoint Caroline Kennedy to the vacant US Senate seat, which is now apparently a done deal. The mayor knows I am a strong proponent of Ms. Kennedy, and waiting for her to take office would give him the political cover necessary to make the bold decision to appoint someone who actually knows something about education as chancellor.

Whatever the case, it's time to shore up my candidacy by introducing step two of my plan to fix the schools: Enforce discipline.

Now, the mayor might argue that the schools already have an elaborate disciplinary code (by which I mean it weighs more than a Harry Potter novel). But the enforcement system is so convoluted that the only way the code would have any real effect on discipline is if you rolled it up and threatened to strike a student over the head with it.

My proposal is much simpler: Put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few. The vast majority of students have at least the basic skills needed to function in a classroom. Yet there are always a few who simply can not control themselves. Our traditional method of dealing with these kids is to give a phone call home, a referral to the AP or dean, or in extreme cases, an in-school suspension, during which they can pal around with their miscreant friends. Then, they are returned to the classroom where they can start the process of disrupting the education of the rest of their classmates all over again.

I don't propose a sea change in handling discipline. Teachers should handle all of the problems they can through traditional methods, and then send the problem up the ladder. But when it becomes clear that one or two students are preventing the others from learning, we need to begin--drumroll--suspending them out of school.

Yeah, yeah, I know. These students have rights. Unfortunately, these students also trample all over the rights of kids who come to school to learn. When rights come into conflict, someone has to win and someone has to lose. I propose that the losers should be the rule-breakers for a change. Send them home and let their parents deal with them. Trust me, when parents have to start missing work or other activities, you'll see their children straighten up and fly right pronto.

I'm not unsympathetic to children who have ADD, ADHD, CCCP, or any of the other acrostic maladies that prevent them from functioning in a regular classroom. But if they have such issues, they should be helped in an appropriate environment, and not be allowed to use their problems as an excuse to run rampant in a classroom.

This could all take place easily if we did one simple thing--stop punishing schools who suspend students. The number of suspensions shows up on those idiotic school report cards, giving principals a disincentive to suspend anyone for anything less than class A felonies. As things stand now, we actually reward principals for NOT reporting serious incidents. Whoever thought up that idea should be battered about the head and neck with a rolled up copy of the discipline code.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Fixing The Schools, In 5 Easy Steps! Step One--Stop the Gimmicks

Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg can't last forever, thank goodness, so I thought I'd start my campaign to be the new schools chancellor right now. What qualifies me? For one thing, I have about ten times more teaching experience than Klein, Michelle Rhee, and Caroline Kennedy combined. For another thing, I think fixing the schools will be easy. Not cheap, but easy.

The first thing we need to do costs nothing: Let's stop the gimmicks. Gimmicks are the first resort of the clueless. For example, the latest and most damaging gimmick is to close schools. Closing schools accomplishes less than zero. It upsets parents, disrupts the education of the students, and displaces countless good teachers. Unfortunately, it looks good for the politicians and pundits. "That school was failing, so we closed it!" they say, as they scurry away to some educational jaunt in Bermuda.

Let me say this so that even Bloomklein can understand it. Closing schools does nothing to fix them. The same children--with the same parents--will attend them, and the same social and economic problems will still exist. Unless you fix the underlying problems, nothing will be accomplished. More on how to address these problems in future posts.

Another gimmick that is very popular today is the collection of data. If you walk into almost any school and ask to see the teacher assessment notebooks (TANs) of just about any math or English teacher, you will most likely be presented with a telephone-book-sized binder stuffed to the breaking point with data about each student. It takes so much time to collect all this data that there is precious little time left to do the real work of teaching. The dirty little secret of education is that virtually no one actually uses TANs to help plan; they are mostly kept for hauling out purposes when admins and school evaluators come to visit.

Speaking of data, ARIS and Acuity are computer systems (i.e., gimmicks) that cost a lot of money, while still managing to be almost totally useless. The DOE can say things like "We spent 80 million on a data collection system to help students achieve!" when they should be saying "We spent 80 million dollars on this??? What the hell were we thinking?"

The list of gimmicks goes on and on. School report cards, white boards, group instruction for every waking get the idea.

I'd like to hear your most hated education gimmick. Feel free to post it to the comments section. If you leave your name, I will show my appreciation when I am chancellor by instructing your principal to hound you until a 3020-A hearing sounds like a walk on the beach. No, wait--that's how it's done now. Never mind.