Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Challenge for Charters

It's obvious that with the second round of RttT awards looming, New York is going to try to burnish its application a bit. The initial response from Klein was predictable: the unions cost us the money. Today, we got the news that at least some of the blame needs to go to the state itself, because they filled their application with a bunch of outlandish suggestions on how they would spend the money, such as buying desks for bureacrats that cost $3000 each, or exactly what 20 teachers currently receive in Teacher's Choice money. Nevertheless, the media will forget about that faux pas quickly and refocus on unions.

It's being said that we hindered the application on two main counts: The charter school cap and using test scores to evaluate teachers for tenure. Considering what a fiasco the recent Teacher Data Reports were, I think that should be off the table. But perhaps the union should reconsider its opposition to lifting the charter school cap--on one condition.

As things now stand, charters generally cream the top students from a neighborhood which automatically gives them a leg up. In addition, parents who apply to charters tend to be the most engaged parents in some of the worst schools--that's why they try to get their kids into one of the Cadillac charters run by Eva Moskowitz rather than leave them in a public school that will be robbed of many of its top students. And even with all these advantages, charters haven't performed as well as traditional public schools overall.

Still, I'm willing to compromise. Moskowitz and her ilk claim that charters are the way to go. If that's so, here's my challenge: Instead of creaming the top students from neighborhoods, charters should agree to take on a different population. I mean the lowest performing students, the special ed students, the ESL kids, and the most disruptive behavior problems. After all, if charters are so great, they should be able to turn around the very same kids they say the public schools are failing. Without that pesky union, they can hire whomever they please, choose their own curriculum, lengthen the school day and year, etc.

So let's issue them that challenge. Let them take on the most difficult kids--you know, the ones they currently reject--and prove that they can do a better job than public schools. If they can, the UFT should remove their objections to lifting the charter school cap. If, as I suspect, they fall flat on their faces, perhaps we can all go back to the business of making the NYC public schools the best they can be.

What do you say, Eva? Are you up to the challenge?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Accountabilty Mayor Plays the Blame Game

Mayor4Life Bloomberg has written a nasty letter to the Obama administration, all but blaming the president for the proliferation of illegal guns. Of course, the Mayor-Eternal has always been for gun control, but he has generally reserved his criticisms for states that allow gun shows, not the federal government. Which is odd when you consider that GWB's presidency lifted not a finger to help. So why is the mayor all atwitter right at this moment?

The answer is pretty simple, in my opinion. Now that the murder rate in NYC has spiked, Bloomy is looking for someone to blame. You see, there is no way this mayor is going to take the rap for the 22% increase in killings so far this year. He only takes the credit when crime drops, not the blame when it increases. He has already claimed that the reduction in police might be to blame, and the economy, and now the president is in the crosshairs.

Is it fair to blame the mayor for the spike in murders? It could be the fault of the economy, but Bloomberg has been in charge of NYC's economy for the last 8 years. He can blame the reduction in the police force, but he is in charge of the police force as well. If one wanted to be ultra fair, one could say that despite nearly a decade in office, Bloomberg wasn't directly in charge of the economy, and that the reduction in police is due to the dive in the economy. Some of these factors may be beyond the mayor's control. He's not the only responsible party, so why should he take full responsibility?

Of course, teachers aren't the only ones in charge of students. If a teacher's passing rate for the ELA or math tests plunged 22% the way the mayor's murder rate has risen 22%, would Bloomberg be as fair in his determination of who gets the lion's share of the blame? No, he'd issue a Teacher Data Report that excoriated the teacher in question. If he has his way, such a teacher would be fired on the spot. It wouldn't matter whether there were factors outside the teacher's control. I mean, someone has to be held accountable, right?

Unless you're a billionaire mayor, of course.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Randi on Real Time With Bill Maher

If you have HBO, you can watch it right now.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

No Hoyt, No Gain

In what passes for an Op-ed in the Post, Sam Hoyt, an alleged Democrat from Buffalo, has proposed that teachers help close the budget gap by giving up their step and base pay increases. He cites various reasons, such as none of us want larger class sizes, and that state education budget cuts would hurt kids. Oddly, nowhere in his piece does he offer to give up a single penny of his own salary or that of any of his staff. I'm sure this was merely an oversight.
Traditional logic has been that when education cuts are threatened, we ask teachers to sacrifice. This is similar to how police are asked to give up raises when crime spikes, or how doctors are asked to re-use needles. Oh, wait--those things don't happen. Forget I brought it up.

Mr. Hoyt never says why teachers, who already buy most of their own supplies and who, in NYC, are working with an expired contract, should sacrifice more than, let's say, the Wall Street bankers who raked in outrageous bonuses from our tax dollars despite having almost run the economy into the ground. If we tax the filthy rich more, what will happen to all the caviar manufacturers out there? You see, teachers are the obvious choice.

Well, Mr. Hoyt, I can tell you that next year I will get a step increase-my 20 year longevity step. Let's repeat that--I have worked for TWENTY YEARS in order to earn this increase. Do you really think I should give that up so some Goldman Sachs employee can afford to keep both his chauffeurs on full time?
Over at NYC Educator's blog, Miss Eyre wonders why the DOE is actually looking to hire teachers despite the threat of 8500 layoffs. Actually, I think the answer is rather simple. The DOE can offer jobs to thousands of new people, and then, in Septemeber, create a phony crisis by ordering massive layoffs. Then, in a huge PR blitz, they'll pressure the UFT to agree to layoff some of those pesky "highly" paid teachers so that we can hang on to all those newbies for half the price. They'll ask the UFT why we insist on keeping low performing teachers around when they have all these fresh faced 22 year olds ready to take their place. (Nevermind that they've never been in front of a classroom--fresh faced trumps experienced in the DOE.) Given the history of the Unity-run UFT, the DOE may just win this battle.

But hey, look at the bright side. If you're a senior teacher who gets laid off, you won't have to worry about whether the state will pay you your step increases. Maybe you can get a job as a chauffeur for one of those Goldman Sachs guys.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fidgety Teach is Back!

A big welcome back to blogging for Fidgety! I really missed her insightful blog posts. She's a huge asset to the education blogosphere and if you're not sure what all the fuss is about Rubber Rooms, you need to add this to your blog list.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Leadership (?) Academy

Here's an interesting post by South Bronx School on Leadership (?) Academy principal Kristine Mustillo and a veteran teacher who ended up in the rubber room due to her leadership (?).

All I can say is that this story sounds like many other RR cases these days. A veteran teacher gets it in the neck after a principal who's just recently out of Pampers takes over. Look at Ms. Mustillo's pictures at her school site and you'll wonder how someone so young could possibly be given the reins of a public school.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Not To Negotiate, Part Two

In case you didn't read How To Negotiate, Part One, here is it. I didn't call it that because I had no idea the UFT would stoop to even lower levels of stupidity, but they've outstupided me again. According to GothamSchools, the UFT is trying to work out a deal with the city regarding the rubber rooms outside of contract negotiations.

Excuse me? The rubber rooms are a huge black eye to the city in times of fiscal crisis. They'd love to announce some kind of victory in advance of a contract settlement. So my question is, why is the UFT seemingly willing to hand the DOE a victory with a ribbon wrapped around it while we are fighting to get ourselves a contract? Why not tie any changes to the Rubber Room system to a 4% contract with no givebacks?
Trust me, I fully understand that many of our colleagues are languishing in those hell holes, and some movement towards getting them out would be a boon. But the UFT has done nothing for the past 7 years while the RRs continued to get bigger and bigger, so why the sudden need to negotiate when the city has not budged an inch in our contract talks?

It would be different if I thought that the UFT had any chance of coming out on top in these negotiations, but their history is--shall we say--somewhat spotty? Let's not forget that it's already in the contract that RR cases are supposed to be settled in 6 months--the city has steadfastly refused to follow that rule.

Gotham suggests that the UFT may give in on suspensions without pay, with the caveat that anyone found not guilty would get backpay of 150%. That sounds good, except that given how long the DOE drags these cases out, a person could lose their house or starve before getting that back pay. They've dragged their feet on cases for years, so what's to make us think the DOE will expedite them now? It would benefit the DOE not to resolve such cases in the hopes that the accused teacher would go bankrupt and have to resign in order to find a new job. And it seems to me it would be pretty easy to recoup that 150% with fines.

Let's face it--the DOE is looking for a way to empty the rubber rooms by firing people. They have no intention of expediting cases or holding fair hearings. If they wanted that, they could do it right now, without any kind of negotiations. The UFT has an abysmal track record on these issues, and there's no reason to trust them now.

Especially as they're not even using this as a bargaining chip. Don't forget that we are headed into our 6th month without a contract. If the DOE wants the rubber rooms on the table, they should sit down at the negotiating table. Now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

But the Data Says I Suck!

This is sort of in response to Miss Eyre's post on the NYC Educator blog. I admire Miss Eyre for many reasons, and most recently because she took a dim view of the new teacher data reports despite a score that put her at the head of the class, if you will. Me, I take a dim view because the score I got earned me a dunce cap. That is, if you believe that data, which I don't.

When I first opened that email, my heart sank. I thought maybe they had emailed me the square root of my actual number by mistake.

Now, I've been teaching a long time, and I have a long track record of excellent results, so this number was a real shocker. I know how hard I work, and I know that my administration holds me in pretty high regard, so it just didn't make any sense. But there it was.

I went to work the next day hoping that no one would ask my results. As I slunk past friends' classrooms, I felt as if a large neon sign with my pathetic number and the words "You Suck!" was blinking above my head. But an odd thing happened. No one asked me my number, and no one told me theirs. I thought maybe word of my diminutive digits had leaked somehow and my colleagues were just being tactful. I mustered the courage to tell a good friend what I'd gotten, and I was shocked when he told me his. It was even worse.

Now, this guy is a good teacher. I sure didn't believe his number could be real. As the day passed, I spoke with a few other colleagues, and it turned out that I was far from the bottom performer in my school. By the time the day ended, I felt like Mr. Chips.

Here's the rub. If you believe the data, almost everyone in my school is a bum and a slacker. But the truth is I work at one of this highest rated schools in the city according to the state test results. And it has been one of the best schools for many years. So how did a bunch of rubes like us, the sum of whose teacher data numbers total up to a single decent teacher, manage to produce some of the best results in the city?

The answer is simple. The numbers are worthless.

As it turns out, we have such high scoring students that it was nearly impossible to move them up. How do you add value to students who already have perfect or near perfect scores? You can't. And I'll bet that the same is true of working with students at the bottom--they are at the bottom because they have reading difficulties, and moving them up a year or more when they are already several grade levels behind must be damn near impossible.

The DOE took a test that the state knows is invalid--and that can be passed just by guessing--and then came up with a bunch of complicated formulas to derive a number that tells a lot of good, hardworking teachers that they suck. In the same vein, there are surely some lousy teachers out there who feel like they can coast now because their numbers were better than expected.

The only bad result that came of my lousy number was that it made me feel awful for a day or so. I felt bad because I care about my students and I take my teaching seriously--that's what makes me (and most of you) a good teacher. I am over it now, because I know it is horse shit and I know it can't be used to evaluate me. Yet. I do wonder how this mess will affect those teachers who are up for tenure this year, and who can be evaluated by that score. How many dedicated and hard working teachers will be refused tenure because their number isn't high enough for the DOE?

And where is the UFT on this one?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mad Scientists at Tweed

Let's say you're a scientist. You've got a great hypothesis on how to end world hunger and global warming at the same time by using carbon emissions to fetilize crops. You go to the chalkboard and work out all the calculations. The data are flawless! It will work! You'll go on to win the Nobel prize! And then, when you show your data to the other scientists to gain their support, they point out to you that every time you were supposed to divide by three, you divided by eight instead, and all that your calculations prove is that it's bad to inhale too much chalk dust. What should you do? If you're an ethical scientist, you admit your error, and go back to the drawing board.

Which is the exact opposite of what the DOE does.

The DOE collected scads of data on student and teacher performance from the NYS ELA tests. Then they discovered that...oops!...the tests were far too easy. So easy, in fact, that a child could pass them by filling out random bubbles. An ethical DOE would throw out that data, admit that it doesn't really mean anything, and go back to the drawing board to try to find some more meaningful metric.

Instead, the DOE has created Teacher Data Reports. If you haven't seen them, they are meant to tell teachers how they measure up against other teachers. The problem, of course, is that the data are meaningless, which pretty much means that any conclusions drawn from that data are horse puckey.

So how it works is this: The DOE gives a test to kids in one grade. The test is fatally flawed. Then, the DOE gives another fatally flawed test the following year. They create something called "value added", which shows how much a teacher helped a child progress had the tests been valid, which they were not. These reports will be used to determine tenure, and, coming soon to a school near you, they will be used to evaluate all teachers.

On the positive side, these reports are great for fertilizing crops. I don't think they'll end world hunger, though.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

No Pain, All Gain

For politicians, taking a stand has always been painful. If you're a pro-life politician, you can count on the democrats to endorse your opponent. If you want to raise taxes to pay for just about anything, the republicans will roast you. Every decision will alienate someone, so politicians have to really think about what positions they take, lest they pay a price at the polls.

Except when it comes to education.

Taking a stand on education is pain free, no matter how stupid that stand may be. Take NY, for example. Mayor Bloomberg spent 8 years villifying teachers and trying to take down public education, and not only did the UFT fail to oppose mayoral control of schools, we stayed neutral in the mayoral election. The city was ripe for a change; Bill Thompson was, at least, a friend of teachers and far less likely to try to dismantle public education in favor of charters and the education reform idea du jour. Nevertheless, Unity failed to act, afraid of alienating the rich and powerful mayor. As a result, we have four more years of BloomKlein to look forward to with dread.

Now we have Barack Obama, ostensibly a friend of teachers. His first boneheaded act was the Race to the Top fiasco, which pits state against state to see who is most willing to bring public education to its knees for the sake of some eduation dollars. In this particular race, it matters not whether you throw teachers or students down the stairs in order to make it to the top--the money is too tempting to pass up.

In recent days, Obama has endorsed the mass firing of 93 teachers and school workers in Central Falls, RI. This is not only a slap in the face to the teacher unions who endorsed Obama, but it sets the stage for more such actions now that scapegoating teachers has the official imprimatur of the presidential seal. And the price that Obama will pay for this flagrant backstabbing? Zero.

What should happen is that Randi Weingarten (who appeared only slightly miffed at Obama), NEA president Dennis Van Roekel, Michael Mulgrew, and every other teacher union leader should band together and officially withdraw their support from the Obama administration. They should then demand that every senator and house member up for re-election publicly declare their position on Central Falls and RttT. Then, the NEA and the AFT should publicly and loudly support the ouster of any politician who takes an anti-teacher stance, regardless of their political affiliation.

We have to make politicians like Bloomberg and Obama pay a severe political price for supporting the education deform movement. The only thing they fear is losing the next election. Right now, supporting deform is no pain and all gain. We need to put the fear of 4 million union members into their hearts. Only then do we stand a chance of preserving public education as we know it.