Sunday, August 29, 2010

The C Word

There are some words you just don't say in polite company, and tops among them is the C word. For some reason, that word, above all others, has achieved taboo status. I really don't know why. The word may sound a little gruff because it starts with a hard C and ends with a T, but hey...we're all adults here so let's lay it on the line. There's no good reason why the C word shouldn't be discussed. I mean, a lot of people have one, and those that don't have one want one, so we should just stop beating about the bush and start using it again. I'll start the ball rolling by saying that I haven't had any in a long, long time. Almost a year.

I'm talking, of course, about a Contract. Get your mind out of the gutter.

We have been without this particular C word since October 2009 when our last contract expired. Somewhat eerily, you just don't hear the word from Unity minions anymore. I rarely read NY Teacher because it's like Pravda, except everyone in the Soviet Union knows that Pravda is full of S word, while most teachers still believe in NY Teacher. Still, I perused the online version of the paper the other day and the C word was curiously absent, as if it had been kidnapped.

Pardon me, but I thought the primary purpose of the union was to define and defend the rights of teachers and to codify them in a contract. You'd never know that by looking at the UFT website. Reading that, you'd have to conclude that the union's mission was to boost Race to the Top, or announce the annual reduction of Teacher's Choice funds. But nothing on the site would lead you to conclude that forcing the city to sit down and negotiate a contract for teachers was anywhere near the top of the union's to-do list.

Let's not assume that the union has been doing nothing for the last year. Far from it. They have supported Race to the Top, which expands charters and promotes school closings. They have embraced a lift to the charter school cap. They have tied teacher evaluations to test scores even as those scores were shown to be largely illusory. They have agreed to an expedited firing process based on those scores.

But Mulgrew didn't give these things away for nothing. No-sir-ee. In return, we went from the pattern raise of 4%, to a reduction to 2%, all the way down to a raise of 0%. Now that is some fancy negotiating.

So maybe we should be happy that there's been no talk of the C word. Who knows what Mulgrew will agree to when C word talks really heat up. Waterboarding teachers based on value added? Teachers being forced to donate $110 per student to fund "Student's Choice"? A new 37.5/37.5 plan, where we give up 37.5 days of our summer to teach test prep in addition the the 37.5 minutes we spend at the end of each school day?

Or maybe Muglrew will surprise us and pull a great contract out of his A word. That's what my chapter leader believes; he thinks that the Mayor owes that to the union and that Mulgrew's largesse to the city was a tit for tat agreement that will lead to a fair contract. To which I can only say, he is out of his F word-ing mind.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Don't Miss....

...tonight's special blogcast from South Bronx School. AJ Duffy, the president of United Teachers of LA will be the special guest. The show starts at 10PM.

I listened to the last blogcast, and it was great stuff. This show promises to be a blockbuster.

Click here to get to the show.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kucinich for President

I've been struggling with the idea of voting Republican for some time now. I will not vote for Obama under any circumstances other than a complete about-face on education and Race to the Top. Since that seems unlikely, the only alternatives seemed to be to sit out the election (which seems counterproductive) or to vote for Sarah Palin (which seems suicidal).

I think I've found the solution. I'm planning on voting for Dennis Kucinich, Democrat from Ohio, in the next presidential election. I don't care if I have to write him in.

To be honest, Kucinich was my first choice in the last presidential election, but I knew he had zero chance of winning. I was perfectly willing to vote for Hillary Clinton, but that didn't happen, either. So I cast my vote, with my fingers crossed, for Barack Obama in the hope that he'd be the liberal intellectual that this country desperately needed. Of course, time has shown that hope to be a pipe dream. Obama is, at best, a centrist, and on issues like education, somewhat to the right of George W. Bush.

I know--Kucinich has zero chance of winning the 2012 election as well. He has even stated publicly that he will not run in the next election. Nevertheless, in what promises to be a close election between an increasingly unpopular Obama and whatever opponent the Republicans put forth, a primary challenge from Kucinich might force Obama back to what were (I think) his liberal roots.

That Kucinich was right about just about everything should be obvious to progressives at this point. He opposed the war in Iraq, called for the repeal of the Patriot Act, introduced articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney and W., planned to put restraints on the Fed, favored investment in alternative energy, and supported a workers bill of rights--including the right to unionize.

On education, Kucinich also seems right on. He supports universal Pre-K and funding to improve the education infrastructure. He vehemently opposes vouchers and the emphasis on standardized testing. His website states that:

These days, American students are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in American history and unparalleled anywhere in the world.

Education must emphasize creative and critical thinking, not just test taking. I believe we can take our children and society in a new direction by challenging this notion that education should be so limited. We ought to be encouraging art, music, and creative writing in our schools. In doing so, we recognize and fuel the wide range of talents our children possess.

Sounds good to me. Even if he can't win, a credible challenge on education issues just might force Obama to retrace his steps. I have no idea how to start a "Draft Kucinich" movement, but if one starts, I'll be there.

Save the Date!

For some entertaining listening about education from a real educator, don't forget to listen to South Bronx Teacher's blogcast tomorrow night at 9pm. You can listen by clicking here, or, better yet, read the blog yourself.

Tomorrow night's guest is a social worker who will discuss the issues students must deal with, such as poverty, single family homes, etc. These are the real issues that affect you in your day to day teaching.

South Bronx is hard hitting, funny, and no nonsense when it comes to education and the deform movement. Check him out.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Test Data Switcheroo

You know the old saying, "Everyone's entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts"? Well, that may be changing. It appears that Mayor4Life Bloomberg and his stooge Joel Klein have not only created their own set of facts regarding the bogus ELA and math exam scores they have touted for years, but the New York press seems all too willing to push their set of facts as truth. Witness the op-ed piece in the Post by Joel Klein.

In it, Klein claims the achievement gap between minorities and white students is narrowing when, in fact, this year's scores prove that the current regime has done virtually nothing to narrow that gap over their entire tenure. According to the Times:

"...the latest state math and English tests show that the proficiency gap between minority and white students has returned to about the same level as when the mayor arrived. In 2002, 31 percent of black students were considered proficient in math, for example, while 65 percent of white students met that standard."

Klein goes on to tout more of his own facts, saying that the reason for the achievement gap stagnating is not his own monumental incompetence, but 'the state's decision to alter the definition of "proficiency"'.

Then, in an act of hubris that boggles the mind, Klein completely ignores the state results and begins to talk about the city's "progress" in the NAEP--the very national test that he steadfastly ignored in order to focus on the bogus NYS scores. Says Klein: "First, on the rigorous and respected National Assessment of Educational Performance exams, the city's African-American and Hispanic students have been closing the gap with white students across the nation. Using students' actual "scale") scores, the black-white gap in fourth grade has closed by 9 points in reading since 2002 and 4 points in math since 2003. In those same years, the Hispanic-white gap has closed by 5 points in reading and 6 points in math."

Did you notice the switcheroo here? Klein is using scale scores from the NAEP when he uses percentage points in discussing the state tests. The average scale score for NY students was 264 last year. A gain of four points in eight years is statistically insignificant. It's not even a 2% gain, which is hardly what Mayor4Life claimed when he said “In some cases, we’ve reduced (the achievement gap) by half.”

The Times helped put the lie to that statement in an recent article: "...there was no statistically significant improvement in the scores of Asian, white or Hispanic students from 2002 to 2009, the NAEP reported. And achievement gaps between white and minority students persist... Among eighth graders, 41 percent of white students were proficient, compared with 13 percent of Hispanic students and 12 percent of black students. "

Now if I, a random teacher (and not even a math teacher at that) can poke holes in Klein's claims, why didn't the Post even bother to verify what he was saying?

When Klein fails, he switches from the NAEP to the NYS test and back to the NAEP. Then he switches from using percentages to "scale" score to try to prove far greater gains than actually exist. It's the old switcheroo, and not even a subtle one.

Unfortunately, when teachers receive their ratings after next year, we will be stuck with whatever numbers Klein sees fit to dump on us. There will be no appeal and no op-eds in the Post supporting you. That is the state of the education profession as it exists in NYC in 2010.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Comparing Apples and Rutabagas

If you haven't heard, the 2010 ELA and math scores were released today. You can look your up on ARIS. I looked mine up, and predicably, most students went down. It wasn't as disastrous as I'd feared, but it was pretty upsetting nonetheless.

It shouldn't be upsetting, though. The state toughened standards, so the number of students rated proficient nosedived citywide. The percentage that my own students fell was less than the citywide average, so I figure I must have done OK by some measure.

The problem is that ARIS, that wonderfully expensive boondoggle of a computer system into which the city poured untold millions, only lists three numbers: the 2009 score, the 2010 score, and the '09-'10 progress. That last progress column is what looks so awful, as most students went down. A student who scored a 3.25 in 2009 and a 2.75 in 2010 has a progress score of -.50, so it appears that child lost half a year's progress. But did they?

Let's not forget that the state raised the cut score this year. So in everyone's ARIS report, it compares last year's results obtained with a bullshit cut score to this year's results with a more realistic (but possibly still bullshit) cut score.

My eighth graders, for example, may have gotten 23 of 45 questions right and scored a 2. But last year they may have gotten 19 of 45 questions right and scored a 3. ARIS will show such students as making negative progress even though they got more questions right this year than last. It's insane.

At the very least, ARIS could have added another column comparing the number of questions a student got right last year to the number they got right this year. That might be an apples to oranges comparison, but it's not the apples to rutabagas comparison we're getting now. But what do you want for an 80 million dollar computer system? Meaningful data? Pshaw.

What it boils down to is that all of us will get teacher data reports this year that rate us on data that everyone involved, from the state education commissioner on down, admits is bullshit.

And starting next year, thanks to the idiocy of Michael Mulgrew, our annual performance will hinge on data like this. Just like in Washington, DC, where Michelle Rhee fired 6% of her staff.

God help us all.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Joel Klein reversed course today, deciding not to use his magical "emergency powers" to throw a group of autistic children out of their school in favor of a charter.

"The chancellor has rethought his position," said Natalie Ravitz, a Klein spokesperson whose main qualification for the job is that her name sounds vaguely like Diane Ravitch. "Mr. Klein has decided to explore other options."

When asked what those options were, Ravitz responded, "Frankly, the chancellor just didn't think throwing autistic children into the streets was evil enough, so we've expanded our search and discovered some really intriguing options. We're exploring relocating a bunch of wheelchair bound students to the top of a five story walk-up. There's also the chance that we can move some of the kids from the Manhattan School for the Blind into a trailer parked on the divider of the FDR Drive. And there's the possibility of a grant from the Gates Foundation to issue a one way ticket to Zimbabwe for all the homeless children at PS 723."

Asked whether these options might meet with similar opposition to the plan Klein was abandoning, Ravitz replied, "Well, you know, some people are just complainers. If parents don't like what's happening in New York, maybe they should send their kids off to London like my daddy did with me. Hey, did anyone see my Gucci bag?"

Meanwhile, Klein attempted used his emergency powers to jump the line at the Hair Club for Men, but was chased into the street by Sy Sperling.

Thanks to Chaz, for pointing out the amazing resemblance between Joel Klein and Kukla.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The End is Near...

...for ATRs. I sure hope I am wrong, but I don't think I am.

A recent announcement from the DOE Office of Teacher Recruitment informed principals in the Bronx that they are no longer subject to the hiring freeze. As most of you no doubt recall, the freeze was put into place as a way to help drain the ATR pool by forcing principals to hire ATRs rather than the newbies they'd prefer to hire.

A report on Gotham Schools outlines one principal who obviously skirted the rules in order to avoid hiring ATRs. Ramon Gonzalez of MS 223 interviewed 40 ATRs, he claims, and found not one of them suitable to his "exacting standards". So the minute Klein unleashed him, he hired four newbies, two of whom had already worked at the schools--one as a sub and one as an intern.

If you think this is an isolated incident, think again. Principals all over the city are squirreling away candidates they want and putting subs in vacancies while hoping for an end to the hiring freeze. Special ed teachers, who are not subject to the freeze, have been hired and put in regular ed positions as "place holders" for when the freeze is lifted.

Now that the Bronx is no longer subject to the freeze, watch for other boroughs to follow. They will also claim that they have been unable to find candidates to meet their exacting standards and ask that the freeze be lifted. And Klein will oblige.

At that point, Klein can claim that the remaining ATRs have had a year and a half to find positions during the freeze but failed to do so. He will, of course, neglect to mention how many principals hid positions in order to avoid hiring ATRs. Klein will then demand that ATRs be fired, and he'll use the local papers to pressure the union into agreeing to jettison ATRs in return for a 2% pittance in the next contract (assuming that Mulgrew can even get that much in exchange for screwing his members).

That's the difference between our past and current union leaders. Randi was more like a prostitute while Mulgrew is more like a slut. Randi wouldn't give our rights away unless she got money, while Mulgrew is putting out all over for free.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A New Type of Merit Pay

A teachers' union in Milwaukee is fighting to have the city pay for Viagra for male teachers. However, at a time when Wisconsin's budget is hardly bulging, they simply can not afford a bulge for male teachers.

"It was a hard decision, but we'll have to say no," said a spokesperson for the city. "Those pills go for around $25 each, and that's pretty stiff," he added limply.

Richard Sagg, a veteran teacher, claimed that Viagra would be good for morale. "I'm walking around without any snap in my chalk, if you get my drift. Both my wife and my principal rated me highly ineffective this year. I think this is the least the city can do, as they've been promising to give us a raise for years."

Milwaukee officials pointed out that there are several non-prescription solutions that teachers can try, such as Horny Goat Weed. "We suggest teachers try to get it over the counter."

"If I could get it over the counter," replied Sagg, "I wouldn't need Viagra."

The impasse may soon be coming to a head. Randi Weingarten stepped in with a proposal to tie payments for Viagra to test scores. "It's not really merit pay because there's no money involved," said the AFT president. "But if a teacher's kids score big, so can he. If your students get threes and fours, why shouldn't teachers be rewarded with sixes or sevens?"

Some teachers were opposed to the idea, saying that it mostly benefited male teachers. "Just because I'm a woman, I shouldn't get penalized," said one outraged educator. Even some male teachers objected to the scheme, claiming that the state could simply make the test more difficult to avoid paying off. "If the test gets harder, we don't," said Sagg.

Arne Duncan, however, immediately embraced the idea. "It gives Race to the Top a whole new meaning," he said.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Natalie Ravitz Needs SAT Test Prep

I'm not a big fan of test prep, but the new Mistress of Propaganda at the DOE, Natalie Ravitz, may have changed my mind. In her diatribe against Diane Ravitch, Natalie makes the following analogy:

Have our students made enough progress? No. But under our critics' logic, the State's decision to make it harder to achieve a grade of "proficient" means all of the progress City students have made over the years is bogus.
That's like saying Phil Mickelson is a bad golfer if they make the 8th hole at Pebble Beach 50 yards longer, change it from a Par 4 to a Par 3, and he only scores a 4. Oh, and no one told him they were changing it until after he finished his swing, so he's stuck with his Bogey and the label of sub-par.

What actually happened is that the state made their tests easier, not harder as in Ravitz's golf analogy. The state also lowered the number of questions students had to get right to score a 3. So to create an accurate analogy between the state tests and golf, we'd have to say the following:
It's as if they made all the holes at Pebble Beach 50 yards shorter, and added one stoke to par on every hole. That made Phil Mickelsons out of the average duffer.
See, Natalie? It's not so difficult. It's like falling off a sturdy flat surface! No...a log! I meant a log!

Waiting for SuperScam

Even Gotham Schools has fallen prey to the phonied up numbers put up by the ed deformers behind the film Waiting for Superman. In a recent article there, the claim is made that our boycott of DonorsChoose has "fizzled" because a public relations rep there said so. There have been 29,000 "pledges" to see the movie, vs. (now) 45 people who have joined the boycott.

Well, suppose I promised that for every person a teacher could get to pledge to support the boycott I would add five dollars to to their Teacher's Choice allocation. What do you think would happen? Might I have just a few more pledges? You bet I would.

That is exactly what the movie is doing. They are offering anyone who hits the "Pledge" button on their website 5 dollars that they can put towards any project that Donors Choose is hosting.

So, if I'm trying to buy a computer for my classroom and I can get 100 of my facebook friends to hit the button, I get $500 clams. Not a bad inducement. Many of the people making pledges have no clue what the movie is about, and it's a safe bet that most of them won't be running out to see the film just because they pressed a button.

So far, this unreleased movie has managed to get almost 30,000 people to hit that button. That will cost them $150,000 before the movie is even released. More than that, there is a tote board that would allow up to a MILLION people to pledge, at a cost of 5 million dollars. Just where is a documentary film getting that kind of money to throw around? Could it be the very hedge funds that run the charter schools?

Just so you know, the movie was not offering any money before our boycott began. While we may not have a lot of members, this matter did get a lot of coverage. Cause and effect? I honestly don't know. But I hope so.

To join the boycott, click PLEDGE. You won't get any money, but doing the right thing is priceless.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Napoleon of Ed Deform

I have, in the past, compared Joel Klein to Professor Moriarty, both in terms of physical appearance and blackness of heart. While you can judge the physical resemblance yourselves, there can no longer be any doubt as to whose heart is blacker. While Moriarty was rightly described by Sherlock Holmes as the "Napoleon of Crime" for his nefarious activities, we can at least say this much for him: He never threw disabled children out of their schools.

Sadly, we can not say the same for Joel Klein, the "Napoleon of Ed Deform". While the chancellor has done many despicable things in the past, such as (insert your own example here as they are too numerous to mention), he has absolutely out-Moriartied himself this time. In case you haven't read about it, Klein has decided to go ahead with his plans to expand a charter school run by wealthy investors, despite a decision by the state that he was not allowed to do so. The kicker, of course, is that in order to give these wealthy bastards what they want, Klein has agreed to throw a bunch of autistic children out of that school.

To do this, Klein invoked his magical "emergency powers" which are supposed to be used when it is “immediately necessary for the preservation of student health, safety or general welfare.” Klein has yet to say how essentially throwing special needs kids into the streets meets those conditions.

Perhaps comparing Klein to Moriarty is too kind. After all, for all his misdeeds, Moriarty boiled down to little more than a very good criminal. A more apropos comparison may be Klein and Iago from Othello. Iago had Othello's trust, and betrayed it at every turn. Klein has been entrusted with the care of the public school children of New York City, and now he is throwing the most vulnerable of those children out of their school to push the educational agenda of wealthy investors.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Incredible Shrinking Teacher's Choice

I've heard from a few teachers who've argued that the $110 dollars we are getting from Teacher's Choice is better than nothing. I'd just like to say--no it isn't. It's far worse than nothing. Let me explain.

TC has been a political tool used against teachers for 25 years. Its threatened elimination has been used against us as a bargaining tool in contract negotiations. The existence of this program gives the city an out when it comes to purchasing adequate supplies for teachers and students alike.

Even at its highest level of $260, TC was wholly inadequate for supplying a classroom. Now, at $110, it is an insult. For most teachers, it works out to less than a dollar per student. Yet that paltry sum is supposed to supply all our needs for an entire school year.

Due to budget cuts over the last several years, schools have dramatically cut supply purchases. Many schools have little or no copy paper. Getting something approved for photocopying takes longer than handwriting all the worksheets yourself because schools want to discourage use of the copier. Most teachers I know buy a case or two of paper every year, not to mention printer ink. Add on to that all the supplies we often buy for students who do not have the means to buy all the composition books and folders we require, and even $260 is shot before Columbus Day, let alone a measly $110.

Administrators sometimes issue mandates that teachers have to pay for. For instance, we have to keep folders of student work for each child. A quick check of Staples reveals these folders cost $14 per 100. Then, of course, you have to keep conference binders the size of Pittsburgh for each class. Chart paper is $25 per pad. That border paper for your bulletin board may grow on trees but your local teacher store charges for it nonetheless. Books that you need for read-alouds? Your dime.

So what's the solution? I say we take a page out of Sarah Palin's playbook and say "Thanks, but no thanks" to Teacher's Choice. (Sorry to mention Sarah again, but I love how it brings out the crazies.) Mulgrew should take a stand and tell Bloomberg to shove his $110 insult and demand that the city's public schools be adequately supplied. Most citizens have no idea that teachers get less supply money than the cost of the average pair of sneakers worn by students.

As for me, I have vowed not to spend more than the $110 under any circumstances. That means frayed border paper, recycled folders, and going all old-school by writing notes on the chalkboard rather than chart paper. That way, when I have to buy composition books and pens for those students who can't afford them, I can still say yes. That's a hell of a lot more important than making my bulletin boards look nice.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Teacher's Choice Takes a Shave

If you haven't gotten your email from Michael Mulgrew yet telling us how he "saved" the teacher's choice program, I'll save you the trouble. The amount you will get as a teacher has taken a shave, and is now down to $110.

I know a lot of teachers love this program, but I have always hated it. The city has threatened to take it away from us almost every year, and it has gone from a stipend of $260 to $150 to $110 in the last few years. Next year the city plans to give teachers 25 cent off coupons at Walmart.

The program itself is an insult. You can bet that at Bloomberg LP the employees don't have to go begging for paper clips, but that is good enough for NYC teachers. Rather than raise the taxes for the hedge fund managers he loves so much, Mayor4Life is forcing teachers to reach into their own pockets once again while denying us the pattern raise to which we are entitled.

If you were thinking about using Donors Choose to get you those paper clips, don't forget that they are taking money from the film Waiting for Superman, the anti-teacher diatribe that touts the charter schools those hedge fund billionaires love so much. You should join the boycott against Donors Choose, as 33 other highly intelligent and incredibly good looking teachers already have.

BTW--Mulgrew tells us in his email that it is the school's responsibility to supply you with the basics like copy paper and books, and if they don't you should let your chapter leader know. That way, the CL can complain to the principal who will fire you within two years to make sure you don't complain about supplies anymore.