Sunday, June 27, 2010

Waiting for Kryptonite

A lot of ed deformers are eagerly anticipating the release of Waiting for Superman, which appears, from what I can gather, to be a celluloid piece of anti-teacher propaganda dressed up as a documentary. It's about the "failing" public school system in this country and its wait for a superhero-like savior, such as Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan. Reality Based Educator blogged about how the movie--not even released yet--is being positioned as proof positive that teachers stink on ice.

Rather than some lame press release like we usually get from the UFT stating how unfair the flick is, I propose that we take some of the beaucoup bucks the union collects and invest them in an anti-reform film ourselves. To get the attention we need, I propose that we hire some of Hollywood's hottest names to portray the film's main characters.

The film, called Waiting for Kryptonite as a counter to the deformers, would be a typical Hollywood portrayal of a hard-working teacher who manages to triumph every day and teach incorrigible students against tremendous odds. Just for argument's sake, we'll say the main character is one Mr. Talk, a devastatingly handsome and dedicated teacher with brooding good looks, played by Taylor Lautner.

Here are some of the other characters (any similarity between these fictional characters and real life humans is highly unlikely, as the people they are based on aren't human):

Miss Shelley Rhee, Champion Ed Deformer and arch nemesis of Mr. Talk. Her evil powers include the ability to convince people she is expert in areas she knows nothing about. She will be played by Khloe Kardashian, who, like her character, is mostly known for marrying an NBA star. When Khloe/Rhee doesn't get her way, she threatens to fire everyone or to crush them with her enormous ass.

Joe K. Lion
, a once proud laywer who turned into the Chancellor of Darkness once he lost his full mane of gray hair in a tragic bikini waxing accident. Determined to ruin the careers of teachers everywhere who retain any gray hair whatsoever, Chancellor Lion attempts to strip away Mr. Talk's tenure, but instead strips away his shirt to reveal a set of rock hard abs developed through years of bending over backwards to help his students. The part of the Chancellor will be played by Howie Mandell after we roll him down a jagged mountain.

Arnie Doorknob, a former basketball player who also loves Miss Rhee. He mistakes her enormous ass for a couple of basketballs and attempts to slam dunk her from the free throw line. Miss Rhee then spurns him and marries her NBA star. Arnie decides to win her back by becoming the Secretary of Education and implementing all her policies. At first, the affable Doorknob has difficulty being so nasty, but decides to complete his evil turn when at least 11 teachers at an education conference ask him "Why the long face?". The role of Arnie Doorknob will be played by Lurch from the Addams Family.

This triumvirate of evil--Chancellor Joe, Shelley, and Arnie--sometimes called the Lion, the Bitch, and the Doorknob--join forces with the diabolical billionaire Mayor TurdBloom of Metropolis (who was to have been played by Gary Coleman) to bring down Mr. Talk and his dream of educating children. They hit him with a slew of fiendish initiatives, including such hellish measures as unrelenting testing, running records, conference binders. student portfolios, and PD on Brooklyn/Queens Day. Mr. Talk and his abs are almost defeated when he remembers his ally, Randy Winebottle (portrayed by the Gollum). Mr. Talk believes that Randy can help, and she offers him a magic scroll. Imagine Mr. Talk's horror as he takes the paper and sees the words "2005 Contract" scrawled across the top in blood.

Will Mr. Talk triumph in his quest to give students a decent education? Or will they become educational zombies, staggering to school each day brandishing a fistful of sharpened #2 pencils to do the bidding of the evil deformers? And is there enough liposuction in the world for Miss Rhee be able to fit her ass through the door?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Too Important to Fail

When the banks and brokerage houses almost imploded the economy through their chicanery, selling clueless investors mortgage-backed securities which the banks subsequently bet would be worthless, a rallying cry went up. "The banks are too big to fail!" And they were. So instead of the government breaking them up and regulating them as they should have done, the feds instead bailed them out to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. Taxpayer dollars. OUR dollars.

Of course, the banks and hedge funds have recovered now. They're back to minting money by doing the same old things they have always done. Mayor Bloomberg thinks this is a good thing, because as far as he's concerned, we should be thanking the bankers for having the grace to pay taxes like the rest of us. Many of us ungrateful citizens have neglected our civic duty to genuflect before the bilionaire class, mostly because many of us are unemployed, underemployed, or facing the threat of layoffs. It's hard get down on our knees when we're down on our luck. The attitude of gratitude takes a back seat when our homes are being repossessed and our furniture is being put out on the street.

I will admit that Obama did what he had to do to keep the country's economy afloat. The banks were too big to fail. But now we face a calamity of a different sort, much of which was precipitated by the bankers and their crushing effect on the economy.

We are facing a new crisis in education. As many as 300,000 teachers may be laid off nationwide. If that happens, class sizes will explode. Programs will be cut. Neighborhoods will be harmed. Teachers will leave the profession for good. The public education system as we know it will begin a prolonged downhill spiral from which it may never recover. An entire generation of young people will be cheated of a proper education because of a lack of funding.

All except the children of the wealthiest people, of course. Their kids are privately educated.

This could largely be avoided if President Obama and the congress got their acts together and pushed for the education stimulus bill that is currently languishing in the senate. The total cost of this bill would be about 23 billion dollars, or about thirty times less than the bank rescue cost us. It would prevent 300,000 teachers from joining the ranks of the unemployed.

Passing the education stimulus bill seems a no-brainer. It saves jobs, preserves schools, and costs a fraction of what it cost to save the banks. So what's holding it up? My guess it that education just doesn't seem too big to fail--at least not to the bureaucrats. What does it matter if a bunch of teachers lose their jobs? A lot of folks have lost theirs. And bigger class sizes? Well, those teachers who get to keep their jobs should just be happy that they're employed. If kids fail because their schools can't support them, well, that's just too bad. To the congress and the Obama administration, no school is too big to fail.

I'd argue, however, that each school, and the education system as a whole, is too important to fail. What good will financially sound banks be to a generation that can't compete in the global economy? It seems to me that supporting already wealthy bankers while allowing our children to go begging is precisely the wrong approach.

While it's fair to blame the politicians, we must also take some of the blame upon ourselves. We've allowed Washington and Wall Street to frame the debate. We argue whether senior teachers or newbies should be laid off, when we should be arguing that teachers are a resource every bit as important--in fact more important--than hedge funds to the future of our economy. Not one teacher should be laid off while bankers feast at the public trough.

Education is too important to fail. What shall it profit a nation to preserve the banks while losing its future?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday Rants

OK...A few quickie rants. Here we go:

Mayor4Life said that teachers, firemen, and policemen should all be "out there defending the bankers" because they pay our salaries. Funny, but the last pay stub I looked at it seemed that I also pay for those things, and not one banker has defended me. But rather than appear an ingrate, I'll make the gesture. I'd like to thank the bankers for almost wrecking the economy so that they could get a huge government bailout with my tax dollars so they could continue to get 9 digit bonuses, the taxes on which help pay my salary. I'm more than happy to sacrifice my 4% raise so that I can rest easy in the knowedge that no bankers are going to bed hungry tonight. I'd also like to thank them for starting all those nice charter schools and for apparently trying to buy off politicians to get support for even more nice charter schools. "No Banker Left Behind" and "Race to the Public Trough" are alive and well in NYC.

Chapter leaders should act like defense lawyers. Your job is to defend the people in your chapter--period. Whether YOU think they are guilty or not doesn't matter. Murderers and child molesters are entitled to a decent defense--that is what keeps democracy running. Shouldn't teachers get the same benefit of the doubt? So to the CL who basicially sided with the admins the other day and claimed that the teachers in question were at fault, shame on you. Do your goddamned job.

There was a huge upswing in year-end U ratings in my school. I mean well above the 10% range, which must make Jack Welch smile, assuming he has any emotions besides greed. I'm wondering if this is part of a larger pattern citywide. It seems to me that if a principal wants to get someone on incompetence charges, they may feel rushed to do so now because the new evaluation system will require teachers to have two consecutive years in which they are rated "ineffective" before they can be terminated. It may be that principals are in a rush to terminate now because they don't know how the new system will shake out. If you have any info about the total number of U ratings in your school, please post that info in the comments section.

Is there anyway to stop the runaway train of the ed deformers? I want to get Obama out of the Oval Office, but what are the alternatives? Voting republican? Should we support Sarah Palin, whose only experience with education is that she went to more schools than the swine flu? How about Rand Paul, who'd likely repeal that pesky Civil Rights Act and remove all funding from education?

Or maybe we could vote for Bloomberg, who would doubtless make sure that the bankers had MUCH more money so that the little people like us could be even more grateful?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sin Sitty

When is it a sin to sit? When you're a NYC public school teacher.

I recently heard of a teacher who was reamed out by the principal for having the audacity to sit at her desk for five minutes. Five minutes. It didn't matter that this is a good teacher, or that all of her children were working, or that standing on your feet all day in June is not part of our contract.

More disturbing than the reaming out itself may be the fact that the principal of a school took the time to stand outside a teacher's classroom, apparently with a stopwatch in hand, and timed all this. My first thought when I heard this story was why did the principal have enough time on her hands to do this? Did the principal notice all the work going on in the classroom or only the sitting teacher? Aren't there more important principal-type things to get done in June? Or is harassing teachers always first on the priority list?

I could even understand this being an issue if something bad were happening in the class and the teacher just sat back, drinking it all in. But that wasn't the case.

No letter went in the teacher's file, most likely because it's an absurd thing to attack a teacher for in the first place. I don't know a single teacher who doesn't sit for a few minutes during the day. I do it. I bet you do, too.

If I were a principal, I'd go out of my way to hire teachers who could sit down for extended periods of time and still keep their classes working and under control. It's not an easy skill to master. Keeping your students in their seats is a far more important thing than staying out of yours.

I'd suggest that the UFT organize a huge sit-in, 60's style, but the UFT seems more determined to send us back to the 1860's than the 1960's.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rhee-Ductio Ad Absurdum

Michelle Rhee was nice enough to write an opinion piece for the Daily News urging NYC teachers to agree to an idiotic contract like the one she shoved down the throats of DC teachers. It was about as poorly written an article as you'll ever see from a so-called educator. As one of those teachers she'd like to fire, I thought I'd help proofread the thing, which clearly never occurred to Rhee herself. Paragraphs in italics are hers.

For two-and-a-half years, the District of Columbia Public Schools were locked in a difficult negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement with the Washington Teachers' Union.

Since the bargaining agreement is a specific thing, it should be referred to by the definite article the, not the indefinite article a.

New York continues to operate under a contract that is much more focused on arcane rules, seniority and job protections than about how to promote better learning outcomes for kids.

Commas should be used to separate three or more words in a series: arcane rules, seniority, and job protections...

The D.C. contract includes many provisions that were once considered "sacred cows," but as it turns out, were wholly embraced by our teachers.

It's hard to tell why Rhee used quotation marks around "sacred cows". Perhaps she used them to indicate irony, as in Michelle Rhee is a wonderful "person". It remains unclear why teachers are embracing cows, however, sacred or otherwise.

Our agreement gives the district the ability to implement a pay for performance system - paid for with private money, and voluntary for teachers...

If you implement something, it isn't voluntary, as in "The state decided to implement the death penalty, but the prisoner chose freedom instead."

If a teacher is rated as "ineffective," she is immediately terminated from the system. If rated "minimally effective," he has a freeze on his pay raise and after two years is terminated. Further, teachers cannot grieve their ratings, they can only grieve procedural errors.

Well, this is just a mess. It seems that she will be terminated, he will have a wage freeze, and they can not grieve procedural matters. Seems pretty sexist to me. Either that or Rhee doesn't know how to use pronouns. Also, the last sentence is a comma splice. Tsk, tsk.

In exchange for these reforms, teachers are receiving unprecedented levels of support, resources, professional development, voice in decision-making and pay - an increase of 20% over previous salary levels (with additional bonuses making it possible to make twice as much).

Again, Rhee has trouble with words in a series, so she puts in a hyphen and hopes we don't notice. It should have read "...decision-making and pay, and an increase...".

...the school district and city have to direct every available resource toward the classroom to student achievement.

This sentence construction made me cringe. I think she means "every available classroom resource toward student achievement." I think.

The city today wastes $100 million a year...

Today we do it in a year?

As any effective organization would, the Department of Education has to have to right to conduct layoffs by performance...

I believe she means "the right".

...she is very much able to see the direction the nation is heading in...

The "in"? Take it out. And "very much able"???

Joel Klein can't say this but I can: We have too ineffective teachers in New York City classrooms...

Actually, my dear Rhee, you apparently can't say it, either. Did you mean:

We have two ineffective teachers?
We, too, have ineffective teachers?
We have too many ineffective teachers?

I think the correct way to say it is "We have two ineffective chancellors."

I've been called "anti-union" for my stance. I refer to it as "pro-kid."

Once again, I assume Rhee is mistakenly using quotation marks to indicate irony; however, only the second usage has any ironic meaning whatsoever.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Spilling the Beans

And Mayor4Life sticks up for the people being mocked in this video:

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Sun Also Rises

New York Times said the other day that due to greater pressure on teachers to increase scores on standardized tests, there has been a rise in cheating. Really? Who could have anticipated that if you tie a person's livelihood to a single score on a test taken by an 8 year old that it would increase cheating?

Frankly, I think BloomKlein and the state of NY would be happy if more teachers helped their students cheat on standardized tests. They can hardly dumb down the tests any further or fetuses will be able to pass them by banging out the correct answers on uterine walls. No, clearly the only way to keep scores on the upswing in the future is to allow, or even encourage, cheating.

In related obvious news, Mayor Bloomberg stuck up for not one, but two, of his billionaire buddies. First, Mayor4Life defended BP CEO Tony Hayward in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster, because he "...didn't exactly go down there and blow up the well." Of course, teachers didn't exactly raise the students whose scores we are responsible for, but that's beside the point. M4L also defended the ultra rich Malkin family, the owners of the Empire State Building, for refusing to use the landmark's lights to honor the 100th birthday of Mother Theresa.

So, to recap, in Bloomberg's world, it's wrong to villify a villain, and equally wrong to honor a saint.

Isn't it obvious?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It's ALL Your Fault!

I'm sure the rap was pretty much the same citywide as we spent the day in staff development hell for Brooklyn/Queens Day. For the newbies among you, teachers in B/Q used to have this day off, but the Unity crew wisely traded this day off so that we could return to school after Labor Day. Of course, they were the ones who caused us to return to school before Labor Day in the first place. Nevertheless, this was hailed as a major victory for Unity, as teachers were not required to sacrifice any major organs in exchange for losing the day off.

Anyway, the theme of today's professional development can be summed up in a few words: It's Your Fault. That's right teachers--prepare yourselves for a new era in which it doesn't matter whether a student of yours is forced to sleep in dustbins because their family was evicted. It no longer matters whether a student of yours misses 120 days of school because her mom needs company while watching the Springer show. Nor does it make a whit of difference if the students in your charge go to bed hungry at night. No, if you can't convince your hungry, sleep deprived, truant students to understand that math and ELA are the most important things in their worlds, then you are not a good teacher.

One hardy soul ventured to ask the presenter why anyone in their right mind would want to teach special ed, ELL, or CTT students when we will now be fully accountable for their progress. It was explained to us that the Chancellor has generously decided that if a child is in the 8th grade but reading on a 4th grade level, you will NOT be responsible for moving that child up four grades in one year. Isn't that terrific? You will, however, be responsible for making sure that child makes a year's worth of progress while under your tutelage. So instead of 4 years of progress, you'll only have to make 1. So who wouldn't want to teach those types of students when the bar is set so low?

Well, me, for one. I don't want to teach them anymore. Even though I'm not a math guy, I can do basic computations. If one of my eighth graders is on a 4th grade level, that means he has made an average of 1/2 a year's progress for every year in school (not counting kindergarten). Yet I'll be responsible for that student making TWICE as much progress in his year with me as he has made, on average, in all eight years of school.

I'd much rather teach an eight grader who reads on an 8th grade level. That student has averaged a year's growth per year in school, so it's quite likely I'll be able to move that student along another year.

Even if they skipped breakfast.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Union Leadership for Dummies

If someone were to ask me for a job description for a teacher, the answer would be obvious. "A teacher's job," I'd say, "is to educate students to the best of his or her ability." I would never answer that my job was to make the principal happy, or to make the mayor look good. Of course, if teachers work to the best of their ability, principals should be happy and the mayor will look good as a byproduct of that work.

Yet when Michael Mulgrew discussed his job for City Hall News, he said the following:

“My job is to represent the people of the union and all of the people in our communities to make sure they have good lives,” he said. (emphasis mine)

This is the same kind of crap we used to hear from Randi Weingarten. Listening to her rhetoric, you'd have to conclude that she collected dues from NYC public school children and their parents. It's disheartening to hear Mulgrew toe the same line.

Mulgrew, if you or your cronies are reading this, take note. Your job is to represent and act in the best interests of the dues paying members of the UFT. You are not here to represent all the people in all the communities of NYC and to try to make their lives better; your job is to make the lives of the people you represent better. PERIOD.

In my view, acting in the best interests of UFT members does directly benefit children in almost every case. The UFT has put a cap on class size that would have been obliterated long ago if the city had its way. Getting higher wages and better benefits for members helps attract and retain the best teachers for our kids. Protecting seniority, LIFO, and tenure keeps the profession stable and makes the teaching more attractive for future generations of teachers. In fact, I can hardly think of a way in which acting in the interests of teachers hurts students.

The general public, however, thinks that a four percent increase for teachers is an outrage, despite the pattern bargaining the city has insisted on for decades. They think teachers are being unreasonable in trying to retain tenure. They think we should give up seniority. And when Mulgrew makes moronic comments like the above, the people of this city expect him to act on their behalf rather than on the behalf of UFT members.

Let me write a new job description for you, Mr. Mulgrew, so that next time you're asked what your job is, you'll know what to say. "My job is to represent all the members of my union to the best of my ability."

The teacher in me wants to make him write it 1000 times on the chalkboard until he gets it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

LIFO the Party

I want to give credit where credit is due, so let me start by saying this post is inspired by a commenter named Vote NO on GothamSchools. This person made the brilliant yet obvious-once-you-think-about-it comment that teachers, and especially newbies, should be down on their knees thanking the "Last In, First Out" (LIFO) layoff rule for saving their jobs.

As Vote NO correctly pointed out, the mayor decided to cancel layoffs once it became clear that we would not allow a change to LIFO. That meant that his newest teachers--the ones Mayor4Life salivates over because they are cheap and will likely never qualify for a pension--would be the first to go if layoffs occurred. That would destroy the BloomKlein new school juggernaut that relies so heavily on newbie teachers. Rather than destroy his beloved initiatives, His Wealthy Mayorness decided to cancel all layoffs.

That move saved the jobs of people like Evan Stone and Sydney Morris, the two lunk-headed backstabbers who tried to change LIFO so they could save their own hides. What a delicious irony that, but for the very thing they were trying to eliminate, Evan and Sydney would shortly be standing on the unemployment line. BTW--check out South Bronx School's blog for an interesting expose on the E4E people. Seems like they've incorporated and gotten some very high powered backing. Not surprising--when was the last time Joel Klein thanked you in an email to all 80,000 teachers for taking your students to the Grand Canyon? (How was that funded again, Evan?)

Of course, considering their high-powered and moneyed backing, it's likely Klein would have spared Evan and Sydney somehow. But all 857 of you (mostly new teachers) who joined E4E's Facebook page should let them know how they almost cost you your job. Naturally, though, comments aren't allowed on their Facebook page or their blog.

Had E4E and M4L gotten their way, we would have had massive layoffs of newbie and senior teachers, increased class sizes, and a destabilized system for years to come. So when all of you whose jobs were spared celebrate your good fortune this weekend, don't forget to hoist one for your old pal LIFO, who made the party possible.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Nailed It

Just call me Kreskin. I predicted over a week ago that there would be no layoffs, and today we have Mayor4Life's pronouncement that he plans to avert layoffs through a two year wage freeze.

I knew M4L would find a way to stop layoffs because, as was pointed out in the NY Times today, many of the first teachers to go would be those who staff new schools, a pet project of the mayor and chancellor. They'd also have to find jobs for all the rubber room and ATR people because they do, after all, have seniority. This whole layoff thing was a scheme by BloomKlein to try to finagle a way to fire senior teachers.

The only problem is that the mayor has absolutely no authority to freeze wages. So he sent Klein out to make the incredible announcement that since the teacher and principal contracts have expired, the mayor does indeed have that authority. They're forgetting one little thing. The Taylor Law requires that public employers negotiate agreements.

Of course, a little thing like the law doesn't prevent a billionaire like Bloomberg from doing whatever the hell he likes. It didn't stop him from running for a third term that was twice voted down by the citizens of New York, so why should it stop him now?

Another little detail that the press seems not to know is that we have never agreed to the two per cent raise that the mayor now wants to 'eliminate'. The other unions got the pattern of FOUR per cent, and there is no reason we shouldn't get it. The mayor offered us two per cent at one point, but we didn't accept it, choosing instead to go to PERB. Still, M4L has managed to cut that figure in half with creative manipulation of the press.

So what should Mulgrew do? It's a scary thought. Mulgrew and his cronies are the ones who refused to oppose Bloomberg, agreed to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, changed the rubber room agreement, and worked with the mayor to lift the charter cap, all in return for a WAGE FREEZE. Yes, that's the kind of high falutin' negotiations we can expect from the Unity crew.

Frankly, I doubt we'll get any money. Bloomberg has already outmaneuvered Mulgrew, and the public will support him. So if M4L gets his way, what should we ask for in return for another two years of big fat zeroes? I have some ideas:

  • We should demand an end to the awful and pointless 37.5 minutes in exchange for those zeroes. We got a six percent increase (not raise) in exhange for that time in 2005, so now that we are NOT getting the 8% we're due, we should reclaim that time.
  • We should demand a no-layoff clause for the entire duration of the freeze. It would be just like M4L to get us to take zeroes and then stick us with layoffs anyway a year down the road.
  • We should demand an end to the ATR pool, insisting instead that displaced teachers have an absolute right to any openings they qualify for. If no such openings exist, ATRs should be guaranteed that they will be allowed to serve as reserves until such an opening develops.
  • We should demand that upon the end of the freeze, teachers will receive at least 4% per contract year above and beyond whatever pattern the city establishes with its other unions.
Those things would at least be a start. However, the Kreskin in me predicts that none of those things will ever happen.

This time, I hope I'm wrong.