Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Bum's Rush

Comedian Rush Limbaugh (as Keith Olberman would say) has announced that due to the increase in taxes to the rich in New York, he will be packing his bags and moving out.

In unrelated news, property values in and around Rush's penthouse shot up, defying the recent down trend. Also, 43 NY drug dealers applied for federal stimulus money, claiming that they can no longer stay in business as conditions deteriorated markedly today. In other financial news, the midtown retailer Pants for the Portly filed for Chapter 11 protection.

Monday, March 30, 2009

We're Number 3!! Or Maybe 4

If you do a google search on the term Accountable Talk, this site comes up as the 3rd or 4th site. I think this is great. Imagine all the teachers and admins across the country looking for information on student discussions who stumble across this blog!

If you're here by mistake, welcome! Link to me, and make this site #1! Or 2!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mr. Talk Answers Your Questions

We have no life here at AT, so if you happen to be a parent of a child I teach, feel free to email me at any time, day or night, and expect an immediate response. Because many of the emails I receive on the account so generously given me by the DOE are similar, I thought it might save time if I answered some of the more common ones here.


Dear Mr. Talk,

I noticed that my child got a U for conduct. Perhaps you are unaware that Johnny received a Nobel Prize for Good Behavior at his elementary school, so I am quite concerned. Is he making a poor transition to his new school? Is he falling in with bad companions? Is that ADHD he used to have coming back? Can you change his seat to that he can once again scale the mountain of good behaviortude?

Dear Parent, I'm glad you wrote so that I can set your mind at ease. Johnny is surrounded by good students, as placing him anywhere else would be career suicide for me. You needn't worry about ADHD or adolescence, as the issue is much simpler than that. You see, Johnny is just a pain in the ass.


Deer Mistah,

cn u tel me y danny gots a F on he's esSAy cus i think itz unfair i prsonally helped him sharpens hiz crayolaz and work on he's grammars.

Dear Danny,

Please get off your mother's email account.


Dear Mr. Talk,

As a parent of a child in your honors class, I feel it is my duty to gloat about it by informing you that Esmeralda actually earned a 101 on her report card rather than the 99 you gave her. I'm sure this is merely a mathematical error that Esmeralda could have helped you correct as she also earned 100 in math.

Dear Parent,

Unfortunately, the computer will only accept two digit report card grades. Those short sighted programmers never anticipated that any child would reach the heights of perfection that your daughter has. If it makes you feel better, I will donate the extra point to a deserving child in Appalachia.


Dear Mr. Talk,

I'm concerned by Matilda's recent report card grade of -12. I feel that I was uniformed about Matilda's poor performance despite the fact that I email you daily and you always respond promptly . Is there some way you can give me even more input into my child's school career? Can you perhaps email me hourly updates, except at 11 o'clock which is when I watch the Springer show?

Dear Parent,

Unfortunately, the space you would like to occupy up my ass has already been claimed by several other parents. However, I will inform you if I develop any new openings.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kristoff on Experts

There was a most interesting Op-ed by Nicholas Kristoff in the Times. If you haven't read it, Kristoff claims that pundits should be held accountable for their words. He was referring to financial experts, but it seems to be his words could apply to his stance on education, as well. For example, Kristoff says:

"...so-called experts turn out to be, in many situations, a stunningly poor source of expertise."

Amen. So called experts Klein, Rhee, and Gates are prime examples. Kristoff goes on to say:

"...let’s acknowledge that even very smart people allow themselves to be buffaloed by an apparent “expert” on occasion. "

Amen and amen. Kristoff has bought the "expert opinions" on education reform hook, line, and sinker.

He does allow comments on his blog, in case you want to let him know how you feel. I already left mine. You can read it below. Let's see it it gets published:

I think you're a very intelligent fellow, Mr. Kristoff, and I also believe that you yourself have been buffaloed by the 'experts' who dominate the education world. I refer mostly to those so called experts, such as Joel Klein, Bill Gates, and Michelle Rhee, who have extremely limited experience in education but who have appointed themselves its saviors nevertheless.

You seem to have bought into their dogma that testing students is an acceptable alternative to educating them. When it comes to charter schools, you've bought the entire package even though charters have never been shown to work on a large scale and only work on a small scale because they rob public schools of resources and take the cream of whatever population they serve. You also seem to have been buffaloed into believing that improving teacher quality, whatever that means, will solve all our problems. In fact, most teachers are already of extremely high quality and it is insulting to imply otherwise. Absolutely no responsibility is laid at the feet of parents, communities, administration, or the inane curriculum instituted by the Joel Kleins of the world.

Rather than focus on the educational fix du jour, you would do well to focus on the few things that would actually improve public education: enforcing discipline, implementing a back to basics curriculum that eliminates all the popular educational gimmicks, reducing class sizes to reasonable levels, and paying teachers more. While were at it, we should begin making teachers partners in improving education rather than making them scapegoats.

So, I implore you to take your own advice. Stop listening to all the self-proclaimed 'experts'--the billionaires, talking heads and politicians who spout education jargon because they know nothing else. Listen to teachers--we're the quiet experts who know what needs to be done, and who are chomping at the bit to do it if given a fighting chance.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Running Scared

Mayor Bloomberg believes that the rich are scared. No, not of crime; most of them are motored about by bullet-proof limousine. Not of layoffs, either, like the ones the mayor threatened against 15,000 city teachers, because many of the rich don't work at all. They sit around and collect government bailout bonuses.

So just what is scaring the rich? Taxes. Yes! Facing the prospect of higher taxes, Mayor Bloomberg believes that the rich will be scared away and scurry off to Connecticut as fast as their helicopters will take them.

Instead, it seems that Mayor Mike would like to tax ordinary scum citizens like you and me. You see, we can't run off to Connecticut when we feel like it and it's much easier to tax a stationary target.

So, next time you see a rich person, be sure to hold his or her hand and say "There, there!" as they shudder with the dreadful anxiety of having to unbelt. That's right--walk right up to their limo and grab them if you must. I'm sure they'll appreciate the gesture, and it's sure to make them feel more at ease.

Extra credit: Who drew the above political cartoon? (No peeking!)

My New Hero

In the face of all the Kristoffs and Obamas and Rhees and Kleins and everyone else telling us that it's all the teachers' fault when kids don't perform, there emerges a voice of reason: Jack Cafferty. Here's what he recently said about education, and kids in general.

I don't know the status of parenting in America. But I know a little about the status of education in America. Parents' growing inability to impose manners and limits on their kids when the kids are in school is reflected in record dropout rates, as well as teen drug and alcohol abuse, teen sex, and unwed pregnancies. Maybe it's parenting that's on the decline, more than the schools.


Some parents still have this attitude that their kids are too special to be burdened by discipline. And the rest of us are supposed to put up with their little mutants. That attitude really pisses me off.

My hat's off to you, Jack Cafferty. Finally, someone who talks common sense and not the latest educational gobbledegook.

Just a Test

nothing to see here..move along.

Actually, if anyone is curious, I'm trying to fix the fiasco that comes with hosting somewhere other than blogspot.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

NY Post Scores a 1 in Math

Pop quiz: What is wrong with this chart from the Post showing that the number of teachers who 'misbehave' has risen over the last year?

Extra credit: What is the actual percentage of the total population of teachers who had charges substantiated against them? Hint: there are 80,000 teachers in NYC public schools.

UPDATE: The Post has fixed their error after I made a comment on their 'blog' page. There has been no retraction of the slur that almost 3000 teachers had substantiated charges of wrongdoing against them.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

So Right, But So Wrong: Kristoff Part Three

I remember back when Nicholas Kristoff was way ahead of the curve. He was out in front on the issue of the genocide in Darfur, and his wrenching description of the atrocities committed by the Janjaweed moved a lot of people, myself included, into donating to help ease the humanitarian crisis devastating that part of the world. George W. didn't even utter the word 'genocide' until people like Kristoff forced his hand. For that, Kristoff is to be greatly commended.

So, how did he get so far off base on education? I don't believe he is anyone's puppet. But he is far smarter than his recent series of columns on education would indicate. This week, he teams up with Michelle Rhee, the DC superintendant with all of two years of classroom experience and urges Barack Obama to throw his support behind her. And I am afraid he just might get what he wants.

Kristoff throws around meaningless statistics, touting improvement to DCs schools because "Test results showed more educational gains last year than in the previous four years put together." But in the same op-ed, he admits that only 8% of DCs kids reached the standard in mathematics. How big a statistical boost did Rhee cause if they are currently at 8%? Perhaps Kristoff needs to brush up on his own math.

And he also touts her because "Her aim is for Washington to become, in just six years, one of the best-performing urban school districts in the country, while drastically reducing the black-white achievement gap." That's it? We should support her because she is aiming high and incidentally right at the backs of teachers?

Kristoff also claims that Rhee recently has reached out to teachers, while also demonstrating that Rhee doesn't give a damn about working with teachers, saying that “If we come to an impasse, we’re going to move forward with our reforms anyway....Then it potentially gets uglier.”

How could Kristoff, who once got it so right, get it so wrong when it comes to eduation?


I'm a parent in the NYC public school system as well as a teacher, and I'll tell you here and now that I don't want any more information about my child. I have enough as it is. Report cards just came out last week, and I was very happy with the results. My wife and I spoke with the teacher. There were no surprises. My daughter does her homework, studies for tests, and is respectful at all times. As parents, we make sure of that. I don't need to see her teacher more than twice a year, because I deal with everything properly at home.

Nevertheless, her teachers and school keep giving me too much information, or TMI as my daughter would say if she every said anything rather than IMing it. Aris, Acuity, report cards, personal goals---I don't want to know anymore. I don't need an $80 million computer system to know which way the wind blows.

As a teacher, I give even more information than I get. We have to post assignments online, and communicate with parents through DOE email. Which is actually OK, as I have to make WAY fewer phone calls. There's something about impersonal communication that is right up my alley.

Some parents, however, take this too far. They write me about every little thing. I hear stories about Johnny's absence due to constipation. I hear about how Cindy wanted to hand in her homework, but somehow it was inadvertently mailed to Tibet. I'm told how little Martha is suffering from extreme anxiety because she has ballet lessons and 4 girls scout badges to earn including advance knitting so would I mind putting off my test next week so she can practice her stitches instead?

Another problem is that it's too easy these days for parents to fire off an email asking something that I've already answered 50 times (Does homework have to be handed in on time? Yes. Can you send me Clarissa's assignments for the next six months as we're going to the Pyrenees tomorrow? No.)

Luckily, I've mastered the art of being snippy and sarcastic in email. I often begin with, "As I stated in my last 14 emails to you...." So far, I've heard no complaints, and I doubt I will. Being a rather bloodless communication form, I can get away with snarkiness in email that I could never manage in person or on the phone. Sometimes I purposely answer questions in a vague manner calculated to cause an apoplectic fit in the overly anxious recipient. I'm thinking about adding emoticons to my most sarcastic letters, just for fun. What do you think?:

Dear Parent:

I regret to inform you that your child has missed 172 homeworks.

On the plus side, we have installed new air conditioners for summer school!

Best regards,
Mr. Talk

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This Week's Surprise Bottom Feeder

Pop quiz time: What popular host said the following: "For the good of our children, the overly powerful and selfish teacher's union must be busted"?

Bill Orally? Rush Limpballs? Man Coulter?

No, that idiotic comment came from a liberal who decided to drink the Obama/Duncan Kool-aid and give the finger to the teachers of America.

Bill Maher said it on Real Time this past Saturday night. And he didn't just stop there. He also said, and I am paraphrasing here because I'm not currently listening to the recording I made, that teacher unions are like the Catholic Church because they move bad teachers around like the church moves pedophiles around. Now it's well known that Maher has a bug up his ass about religion, but why suddenly go after teachers? Unions don't move anyone around--at least not in NY. To get a transfer here now, you have to pray for a miracle on the humorously titled Open Market.

Maher claimed that teachers are too powerful because 1 in 10 Democratic delegates was a teacher. When did participating in our democratic process become an abuse of power? If we're so powerful, how come we got a reform dillweed like Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education?

It was shocking to me that such a staunch liberal would attack teachers, and unionism in particular. But I really shouldn't be surprised. Anyone who attended school at least til third grade now considers himself an education pundit. By this reasoning, I should run the police department because my apartment was burglarized once. It's amazing how many people think they know how to fix the public schools without ever having attended one or taught anything, anywhere.

For the record, no one wants to get rid of truly bad teachers more than me. I suspect many of my colleagues feel the same way. Who wants to work next to someone who doesn't get the job done? However, the city has three years to decide whether someone can teach and the ability to dismiss such teachers without any explanation for those three years. I can figure out the same thing in three days. So if administrators grant someone tenure (and the key thing to remember is that they have to GRANT it after three years of good performance) then you're damn right it should be difficult to fire those teachers.

So, this week's bottom feeder award is regretfully given to Bill Maher, who should be sentenced to spend some time teaching in a random urban middle or high school, and then report back to us on how easy it is to teach. After some "Real Time" in the classroom, he just might change his tune.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dot's Crazy!

Guess what your union dues are going towards now? Because you help pay for Edwize, the unofficial mouth organ of Randi and her minions. you are also helping to pay for an advertisement for Green Dot Charter School.

Of course, this should come as no surprise, considering that the UFT is a 'partner' with Green Dot.

What's wrong with that? Plenty. The UFT should be categorically opposed to charter schools--not running two of them and pimping for applicants for another. Charter schools siphon off resources that could be used to fix our current schools. Instead, the money goes to schools that recruit students who perform better than average and whose parents are willing to commit their own time to helping out in the school. It's not hard to produce a good school when you get good students, involved parents, and a student/teacher ratio of no more than 22:1.

Politicians use these schools as a way to promote even more charter schools. They tout their results as "proof" that these schools work better than traditional public schools. Personally, I teach in a school where the class sizes typically reach 34:1 and where parents are rarely seen outside of parent teacher conferences. And I work in what would be considered a good school by NYC standards.

Why are our union dues being spent to support charters when they are antithetical to what we are trying to accomplish? Only Randi knows, I guess, but I'm betting there's money in it somewhere.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kristoff, Part II

Nicholas Kristoff of the Times has done it again, pontificating of the 'reforms' proposed by Barack Obama. And once again, he gets it wrong.

He says he wants comments from teachers--go give him yours!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Must Read

Pissed-off Teacher posted the speech she intended to give at a meeting on education with Mark Weprin. It's a good one. You should take a look.

Widening the Gap

No, not the achievement gap. The salary gap. Remember when Randi touted the disastrous last few contracts, claiming they helped achieve some sort of parity with a number of neighboring districts? Well, it was a joke then, and it's an absolute crying shame now. When those contracts were signed, our top salary was 100,000. Assuming that we get the 4% that other unions, such as DC37 got, the top salary will be 104K. In today's Newsday, it was reported that many LI teachers will get 6%, and some as much as 8%, bringing the top salary of many teachers on the island to well over 140K. That's a gap of over 40%.

To make matters worse, even the measly 4% isn't guaranteed. Bloomy is running around shouting that the sky is falling, and... DC 37 pact followed a pattern set by other municipal unions before the economy tumbled. Bloomberg has said he wouldn't make the same deal today. Well, what deal is there left to make other than the deal with teachers? Additionally, Bloomy wants teachers to pay 10% of our health premiums, which would effectively wipe out any gains anyway. Does anyone expect Randi to be able to successfully negotiate even the pattern set by DC37 for us?

There's an interesting debate going on at NYC Educator's blog touching indirectly on these very points. A poster from Gotham Schools named Ken equates NYC teachers to lazy slobs and thinks school choice (charters and vouchers, presumably) will change everything. I pointed out that the thing to do is fix all the schools--not just a few charters with small class sizes and vast resources that make the city look good. Imagine how many great teachers NYC would attract if we had what Long Island does: 140K salaries, good working conditions, and involved parents. But no, that would actually fix something. Ed reformers don't want to fix anything because then they'd be out of a job. They'd rather apply a bandaid to the schools and whine about how we'd be doing better if we left education in the hands of the private sector.

As to the job the private sector has done, let me say a few words: AIG, Citibank, Contrywide Fianacial, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Is this how we want our schools run? Into the ground?

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Taxing Situation

The mayor, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that we should not tax rich people such as Mike Bloomberg. Instead, we should do much smarter things, such as threaten to lay off 15,000 teachers, or raise the sales tax. Anyone should be able to see the logic in this:

Rich people generate jobs and taxes with the expensive things they buy and the fancy restaurants where they eat, Bloomberg said.

Exactly. If Bloomberg were to raise taxes on the wealthy, they would clearly stop buying things and begin starving themselves. Either that or the lines at McDonald's would reach epic proportions as CEOs and mayors queued up to buy from the dollar menu.

Bloomberg has a MUCH better idea. He wants to increase the sales tax in order to raise a billion dollars. By doing that, poor ignorant commoners such as yourself can pay an ever increasing percentage of your income so that Mikey can continue to dine at the Four Seasons. On the bright side, your line at McD's will be shorter, assuming you can still afford the dollar menu.

"The first rule of taxation is ... you can't tax too much those that can move," said Mayor Mike, who, although he is the richest man in New York, shows no signs of wanting to move. Perhaps this is the best reason of all to RAISE taxes on the rich--maybe we can induce hizzoner to move somewhere that doesn't tax him so much, like Wasilla, Alaska. Of course, there he'd be eating mostly moose that Sarah Palin shot from a helicopter, but it's better than paying those damn taxes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Worst Person In The World

I woke up this morning to watch NY1, as I usually do. I heard something that made me shudder, from none other than: Mayor Bloomberg. If Keith Olberman needs a worst person in the world for tonight's show, I think I have a winner, uh...loser.

I couldn't find it on NY1's site, but sharp eyed Patrick Sullivan of NYC Public School Parents blog grabbed it from WNYC. The mayor was addressing the quite justified complaints of parents that they had to scramble to get child care because of the late announcement of Monday's school closing. He said:
If you got up this morning, looked outside and it didn't come to you right away, the thought that, gee, I wonder of (sic) school will be closed today, and you didn't know enough to call 311, I'd suggest another day in school is probably a good idea.

Forget that the Mayor hasn't closed schools for snow in the last five years. Forget that the snowstorm of 2006 dumped three times as much snow on many areas and Bloomberg still didn't close the schools. Forget that almost all other schools announced their plans with plenty of time to spare for parents to make arrangements.

And if you're a teacher or a student who trekked out into the storm because your school opens at 7 or if you have a long commute, you must be an idiot because you could not read the mayor's rather limited mind.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the man who wants you to vote him in for a third term and once again give him total control of the schools. He thinks you're an idiot. Let's prove him wrong at the ballot box.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Stopped Clock

Well, I have to admit I was wrong. I thought there was no way they were going to close the schools today, but they did. I was lucky, because I was restless at 6AM, turned on the TV and heard "This just in....NYC Public Schools are closed today." So I turned over and went back to sleep, and at 10AM snagged some great tickets to the St. John's game at Citifield, which I never could have gotten while at work. So, thanks Joel Klein! You got one right (I don't think I have ever said those words in a non-snarky way before).

Of course, Klein should have closed the schools by 10PM last night. By waiting until 6AM, he threw a lot of parents into a frenzy and upset a lot of plans. It was clear to anyone looking at a radar map that it was going to snow a ton, but I heard Klein say that he wasn't sure we'd really have as much snow as they said so he waited. So, thanks, Joel Klein! Don't forget to use data to drive your decisions! (the non-snark doesn't last long).

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The DOE Bizarro World

In the Bizarro World of the DOE, where everything is done the opposite of what is rational, the announcement will eventually be made that schools will be open tomorrow. Other schools, in the real, rational world, will announce that they are closed so people can go back to bed.

So, place your bets. At what time will the DOE be announcing that they will NOT be closing the schools tomorrow? I'm betting it will be some time around 4 AM--a time that will be useful to absolutely no one. The real time to announce should be tonight, around 9PM, when people could make rational plans for dealing with the snow tomorrow, but this is the DOE.

Get Your Snowshoes

The predictions are dire. From 6 to 12 inches of snow will fall on the city overnight, while it continues actively snowing until 10AM tomorrow. This means roads won't be plowed and driving will be extremely dangerous.

And NYC Public Schools will be open.

Mind you, not a single parochial or private school will be open. They close when the wind blows. Still, public school teachers and students clearly aren't worth the trouble it would cause the Mayor to close them. If you recall, in the snowstorm of February 2006, a record was set when more than 26 inches of snow fell on the city, and the public schools were open. Of course, that was different, because the snow fell on a Sunday and the streets were plowed by Monday morning. Never mind that there were no spots to park your car, and that sidewalks weren't cleared. Never mind that scads of parents kept their children home and school was little more than a babysitting service. The show must go on.

The mayor himself, of course, will be taking public transportation to work, after his servants pick him up at his mansion and drive him to the station. He's a trooper. He just can't understand why those whiny teachers don't want to risk their lives driving in horrendous conditions so that we can give out crossword puzzles to the 7 kids of 34 who show up.

On the plus side, we get to sharpen our crossword skills. Anyone know today's 17 down? (a sphincter--2 words, 14 letters).