Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Goodbye, Dolly

In a display of tastelessness that makes Sacha Baron Cohen look like Miss Manners, the American Girl company released its "Gwen" doll. Gwen is a homeless doll. She costs $95.00.

Not to be outdone, City Hall today released its Mike doll. Dressed in the finest Armani suits, the Mike doll hands out one way plane tickets to Gwen dolls and forces them to fly out of New York.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

If Campaign Ads Told the Truth

Yes, I know it will never happen. But if Bloomberg put out a truthful campaign brochure on his education record, it would look quite different than the swamp of paper currently clogging everyone's snail mailbox.

Bloomberg--Change You Can Fudge with Data.

Here are some of Mayor Mike's Education Accomplishments:

  • Kept class sizes from growing much larger, despite massive cash infusions from the CFE lawsuit.
  • Brought pride to the parents of even the worst students by dumbing down tests to the point that an amoeba could pass them.
  • Used those tests to promote more students than ever despite an end to social promotion.
  • Raised teacher salaries to the point where they are a mere 40% less than some suburbs.
  • Ensured that few teachers would earn those salaries by increasing the rubber room and ATR pools.
  • Increased graduation rates through innovative programs such as "seat time" and just not counting a whole lot of kids who don't return to school.
  • Spent 80 million on a data collection system that virtually no teacher actually uses other than the nightly log on to prove he/she uses it.
  • Spent another 200 million to close schools and pay teachers to be permanent subs.
  • His chancellor, Joel Klein, imposed a hiring freeze until those subs are placed, after implying that these subs are lazy and incompetent.
  • Created many charter schools by allowing them, in a Blob like fashion, to eat up space that could be used to alleviate overcrowding in regular public schools.
  • Did away with wasteful and time consuming nuisances such as parental input and teacher involvement.
  • Eva Moscowitz.
  • Ditto Joel Klein.
Can we afford not to give Michael Bloomberg another term? Probably, but he can afford to buy it anyway. So Vote to Re-Elect the Mayor. If he can't fix it, he can fudge it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Extra Credit(s)

OK boys and girls--it's contract time once again, and you know what that means! RUMORS! Now let me state at the outset that this is just a rumor. I am not one of the 300 members of the negotiating committee. I am Michael Mulgrew.

No, just kidding. I'm an ordinary teacher with just one pension, unlike our UFT friends, so I don't know any more than you do. But the rumor is a doozy.

According to someone who knows someone who is kind of friends with someone who knows something, I can irresponsibly spread the rumor that the UFT is angling for a new salary step--45 credits above the masters.

At first blush, I thought...Nahhh...it doesn't make any sense. But then I thought about it, and from a UFT tucking in Mike Bloomberg perspective, it makes a lot of sense.

Think about it. Mulgrew negotiates the usual pattern 4% minus the .58 percent we lost to get the two days before Labor Day which we used to have but then gave away but got back. (Whew.) That's not really much of a victory, is it? But suppose they put in a new step--a 45 credit above the master's step?

Well, that changes everything. Suppose Mikey gives even a measly 2 grand for that 45 credit plateau. With the 8% over two years and the two K for the step, Bloomie could claim to have raised the top teacher salary to $110K!! Think of it! Near parity with the suburbs!

Sure, it would be a win for Mulgrew, but other than the above claim, how does it benefit Bloomie to raise teacher salaries in a time of economic stagnation? Simple. Not only does he get to claim that he's creating a pool of highly qualified teachers, but the kicker is he hardly has to pay anything! I'd bet a year's worth of UFT dues that the number of teachers with 45 credits above is probably less than 3%, so few of us would qualify. As for all the teachers who would go back to school for the extra moolah--so what? It'll take most teachers a few years to get those extra 15 credits, so Bloomie won't have to pay for this for years. Politicians love plans that let them take credit now but pay far after the election is over.

Also, it's pretty common knowledge that most teachers leave before putting in 5 years, so they have no chance of getting to 45 above. The majority of teachers take 5 years just to earn their master's, and another 3 to get the 30 above. Tack on two more years for the additional 15, and most teachers are long gone before seeing any money. Of those that make it for those ten years. they can just close your school and fire you. Or send you to the rubber room.

So sharpen those #2 pencils--it's time to go back to school! Those of you who have taken those wonderful 3G courses are no doubt salivating at the idea of taking some more. Personally, I already am well past 45 above, so unfortunately I will have to miss that distinct pleasure.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fair is Foul

If we want to get anywhere in the current contract negotiations, we have to look for what's really wrong and try to address it. While getting us days off for swine flu and requiring counseling memos before LIFs are nice ideas, they will do nothing to address the fundamental problem facing teachers today--the insane "Fair Student Funding" fiasco.

There's nothing fair at all about FSF. Under it, schools get a set amount of money per student and have to pay for everything and everyone out of that pot of money. It's one of those things that sound good in theory--poor schools would get as much money as schools in richer districts. There's nothing inherently wrong in that, and it sounds so democratic, and so...sooo.....so darn fair!

And yet, it's anything but. The reason richer districts often got more money than poorer districts is that teacher salaries used to be paid for by the city, not individual schools. Since senior teachers often wanted to go to those schools, they got more money to pay for those teachers. The amount of money spent on other student needs was essentially the same. So instead of doing things that would make teachers want to stay in poorer neighborhoods, like fixing the schools and reducing crime, the city decided to try doing it on the cheap by putting salaries in the hands of principals. They, in turn, responded by hiring only newbie teachers who they could hire for far less than experienced educators.

Oddly, you would think that principals would be at the forefront to end FSF. After all, if their claim to want to hire the best teachers is true, they would certainly want the option of hiring the best veteran teachers without taking a punch in the pocketbook. Still, I have never heard an admin complain about FSF. They simply go out and hire cheaper teachers.

That leaves the UFT to try to do something. God help us. I'll tell you right now, no matter what the negotiators come up with regarding the ATR, rubber room, and open market issues, nothing will change as long as FSF remains in place.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

And the Survey Says....

...nothing. At least nothing that I can discover. So what ever happened to the survey done at the end of last school year, asking us to evaluate Joel Klein (for the 2nd time)?

I must admit, I didn't take the survey. I don't trust the UFT to keep anything confidential, and besides, the last survey sure didn't do much to dislodge Klein. But you'd at least think that the UFT would publish the results. I'm sure they will be in line with last year's results, and have about the same effect.

Something tells me this is mixed up with the contract talks. Maybe Mulgrew is holding back pending some kind of deal. Or maybe they just forgot. With Unity, it's sometimes hard to tell whether it's stupidity or purposeful neglect of the members.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Our Side Gets a Voice

Finally, a sane and clear voice gets a platform in the mostly pro-Bloomberg press. Check out Arthur Goldstein's Op-Ed piece in the Daily News.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Total Load

An article in Gotham Schools discusses a talk to principals by one William Ouchi, who is afraid what might happen should BloomKlein lose the election. Ouchi believes that a change-over would mean a drop in scores because a more centralized system would lead to an increase in what he calls TSL, or Total Student Load.

Here's the explanation: TSL differs from class size in that it considers the full number of students a teacher must get to know and see over the course of the day, not just in one period. “It’s not class size,” he said. “It’s the opportunity for the student to seek the teacher out during their time in school when they need help.”

I don't know about you, but my TSL has sure increased under BloomKlein. Not only do I teach more students, but I am expected to do a LOT more per student than I ever did in the pre-Klein era. What with TANs, portfolios, constant assessments, quality reviews, ARIS, and God knows what else, I spend at least triple the time on each student's paperwork than I did 8 years ago. So in my view, my TSL has increased--exponentially. I have less time than ever before to talk to kids and to get to know them on a personal basis. When students seek me out, I'm often ensconced in my room, filling out labels to stick in my TAN or filling out a spreadsheet of the strengths and weaknesses of each child. I definitely do not have time to talk to students who are "seeking me out".

In case you haven't figured it out by now, Mr. Ouchi was an early supporter of Mayor Bloomberg and an adviser to Klein, according to Gotham. That hardly speaks to his impartiality, but it sure does make his spiel seem like the total load it is.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What's In a Title?

I work in a really nice school in a really nice neighborhood. When I drive my clunker to work, property values drop. So I was a bit surprised when my school went Title 1. My old school, where my clunker was in danger of being stolen, had been Title 1. I always thought that meant the school was in a poor neighborhood.

A lot of the 'why' was cleared up for me by this post from Under Assault. It appears that all city schools are Title 1 now, and while that carries some financial benefits (that were immediately canceled out by the budget cuts), the funding also carries some responsibilities along with it.

Apparently, if a school is a Title 1 school and fails to meet AYP in standardized testing for a number of years, it can be closed, and perhaps drawn and quartered. Read the post for all the gory details.

With years and years of dumbing down the tests, most protein based lifeforms can get a 2 or better. But if the tests start asking actual questions, just try meeting your AYP. And now that your school, and mine, are Title 1, they can be closed for declining scores.

Everyone in the ATR pool.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rhee Dick U Louse

Try reading the article in the Washington Post about the soon-to-be-settled DC teachers' contract without gagging. The provisions are similar to what we already have in NYC, and to what we can probably expect to come down the pike to us before long. In a move that stinks of Randi Weingarten, the union seems poised to accept a 20% increase for 5 years in return for massive givebacks. No doubt the Post and other Republican rags will characterize this as a win for teachers, with headline bemoaning the 'huge increase' teachers will be getting in times of economic trouble.

It seems that DC has its own ATR problems that it will try to address in the contract, perhaps setting a precedent that the Mulgrew crew will accept:

Under a proposed "mutual consent" provision, principals would have more power to pick and choose teachers. Teachers who failed to find new assignments would have three options. They could remain on the payroll for a year, accepting at least two spot assignments as substitutes or tutors or in some other support role. If they can't find a permanent job after a year, they would be fired. Teachers could also choose to take a $25,000 buyout or, if they have at least 20 years' service to the city school system, retire with full benefits.

OK, I'll admit the retirement for at least 20 years sounds great. If that passed in NYC, I'd have to find a way to lower the grade on my Teacher Report so I would qualify.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

How I Stopped Hating Jerry Lewis

For many years, I hated Jerry Lewis. The only time I'd ever see his face on TV would be on the Labor Day telethon, which acted as a constant reminder that school would begin the next day and I'd have to return to the hell hole of a school created by my idiot ex-principal. Then two things happened: we had to start reporting before Labor Day, thanks to our idiot ex-union leader Randi Weingarten, and I changed schools and got away from the hell hole.

I have no plans to watch the telethon, but I may tune in for a few minutes just to test my response. Now that we return to school after Labor Day once again, I'm wondering if I'll have that same knee jerk reaction to Lewis' face, where I want to smash the screen with a bowling ball. I doubt it, because now I work in a great school where the admins like me and I like them and the contract is generally followed. (Trust me, I know how rare this is these days.)

I'm not 100% sure how it will go, but I put The Nutty Professor in my Netflix queue. Call me an optimist.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Third Time's the Harm

Now that 97% of city schools have 'earned' As or Bs on their report cards, there's really no place to go but down. The State Ed. department vows to make the tests harder next year, and even the Post, with its masthead firmly up the mayor's ass, called for Klein to fix the broken report card system so that there is a more even distribution of grades.

So what does all the mean on a practical level? Schools that went from F to A this year will most likely fall down the elevator shaft grade-wise, but students will receive basically the same education next year as this. Schools, being living breathing institutions, don't change much from year to year. The only thing that really changes is where the city sets the bar.

Which is why, to no one's surprise, the bar was practically buried underground this year. It's an election year, if you couldn't tell by the pictures of Bloomberg plastered all over the city in an Orwellian fashion. It doesn't matter that the grades are so inflated that some of the city's persistently dangerous schools got As, as I mentioned yesterday and the Post reported today. Mayor for Life Bloomberg has an election to win, dammit, and it they have to use these inflated scores to boost up the 'education mayor', well, that's the cross they have to bear.

What this may mean for teachers is quite another story. If the mayor gets his third term and test scores drop along with report card grades, it creates a golden opportunity for BloomKlein to go on an unprecedented purge of teachers that could make the current ATR situation pale in comparison.

If the tests really do get harder, the scores of the vast majority of students will plummet. And that may be spun as a reflection on YOU, dear teacher. So what could the outcome be? With the election safely over, Mayor for Life could decide to start closing even more schools and sending more teachers to ATR hell. In a non-election year, more ATRs aren't a political liability; they're a blessing, because they would give the mayor the ability to push for the firing of ATRs without any political fallout.

Likewise, if your admin doesn't care for you, he or she could use those lowered scores to charge you with educational incompetence, filling up the rubber rooms. The mayor could use those swollen ranks to press for expedited firings of 'incompetent' teachers.

You may be thinking that Bloomberg wouldn't do that, because it would jeopardize his run for a fourth term. Silly you. All he would have to do to get his fourth term is drop those standards again in 2012 and 2013 so that the test scores rise once again. He could attribute the rise in scores to his purge of bad teachers, and Bingo!--term number four.

Yippee ki yay.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Vanishing Bottom

No, this post isn't about the results of the latest episode of Dance Your Ass Off. (Personally, I preferred Pants Off Dance Off, but that's another story.)

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and man on top at the Leadership Academy, famously called for the firing of the bottom 10% of any organization in a given year. Presumably, that would include the principals he helped 'train', and if he could have managed it, 10% of city teachers every year. Klein and Bloomberg embraced that philosophy for quite some time. They've been pushing to close the bottom schools. Quite a few schools actually got closed, resulting in the ATR mess. But now something has happened that has put a crimp in the best laid Machiavellian plans of Welch, Klein, and Bloomberg.

There is no longer a bottom 10%.

Only two schools in all of NYC received an F on their report cards. This isn't ten per cent, or even one percent. It is .1%.

To show how ridiculous all this is, there are 10 schools in NYC that have been labeled persistently dangerous by the state education department. A number of these schools received As on their report cards. Apparently, they're great at reading, rioting, and 'rithmetic.

BloomKlein, who have long worshipped at the altar of Data, have finally succeeded in making it absolutely meaningless.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mr. Chips vs. Buffalo Chips

As I mentioned earlier today, there's a reasonable chance that ARIS can tell you what classes you'll be teaching next week, and in many cases, the students you'll be teaching. I saw mine, and already I know what the future holds.

Like most middle school teachers, I ended up with a top class, a middle class, and what's indelicately known as a "bottom" class. I was able to see the scores of their standardized tests from last year as well as their AYP (annual yearly progress). It used to be that you were judged by how many of your students went from 2s to 3s, or 3s to 4s. These days, it's all about AYP. ALL your students are supposed to make a year's progress this school year. It's probably more true now than ever, as the ELA and math tests are being held much later and you'll be seen as responsible for the entire year.

I'm not worried, because I already know where my students will end up on next year's exams!

How do I know? Am I some kind of genius? Of course, but that's not how. It's just a little bit of data from ARIS mixed with a lot of experience. Here's how it breaks down:

  • In my top class, only two of my future students failed to make their AYP last year. They are readers and achievers, and when I work with them this year, they will continue to be so.
  • In my middle class, it's more a mixed bag. Only ten failed to make AYP, but at least ten others made it by a hair's breadth. These students need to be worked hard and motivated to make real progress. I'll do that, and some will have great years while others have to dragged kicking and screaming to get them to read.
  • In my bottom class, no one made their AYP. That's right--NO ONE. That's not a surprise to me, as that is what makes them a bottom class. They have very limited skills. Most have progressed about half a year for every year they have been in school so far, and it will be a miracle if I can get more than a handful to make a year's progress now.

In what will seem an anomaly to educational researchers (you know, those people who don't teach but write papers about it anyway), my top class will have far more students in it than my bottom class--perhaps as many as ten more. It will make no difference. The real math of teaching is that 34 highly motivated kids > 24 unmotivated kids.

My point here is that this is why test data should not be used to evaluate teachers. If I were one of the Divas who always get all the top classes, I'd look like Mr. Chips. If I got all the bottom classes, I'd look like buffalo chips.

And if a vindictive admin gave you a lot of bottom classes, he could "prove" you were a lousy teacher. It would be Goodbye, Mr. Buffalo Chips and a one way ticket to the rubber room.


Probably no one remembers this anymore, but we are supposed to get our tentative programs BEFORE the end of a school year. I didn't get mine, and I know a lot of other schools didn't bother with that pesky contract either.

I didn't know what classes I'd be teaching until I cruised the blogs this week. A number of folks said that their rosters were listed on ARIS, so I checked, and lo and behold, my classes were there. So if you don't know yours, check ARIS at https://www.arisnyc.org/aris.

This has been a public service announcement. I'll go back to my grouchy self shortly.