Thursday, September 30, 2010

Your Crazy Aunt and Charters

If you watched Education Nation at all, you heard the term "public school" bandied around quite a bit. Charter schools went to great lengths to say that they were, by golly, public schools after all. That they wanted the mantle of the word "public" but not the responsibility was implicit in their clear separation of charters and "traditional" public schools. They used the word "traditional" in the same way your family uses the word "special" to describe your crazy aunt who lives in the attic and thinks she's a goat.

Let's get it right. Charter schools are NOT public in any real sense. About the only way in which they could be considered public is the fact that they drain public money with their construction and lavish salaries for the likes of Eva Moskowitz.

Libraries are true public institutions. They are paid for by public monies, like charters, but that's where the similarities end. To get into a public library, you don't have to be selected in a lottery. Your mother doesn't have to apply. You don't even have to know how to read. Compare that to the Harlem Children's Zone, where you not only have to apply, but if you can't read well enough, they can kick out an entire grade.

Public buildings, like the stadiums Mayor4Life spent billions on (except not his billions) are more like charters. Take Citifield. It was paid for largely with public money. And while you have to win a lottery to get into a charter, you may need to win the lottery to afford a ticket to see the Mets. Yet, despite charging exorbitant rates, it is true that when you buy a ticket to see a ballgame, you are entitled to get in. It matters not whether you speak English, or whether you are considered disabled. That ticket guarantees you a spot.

Now for charters. They are paid for by public money, true, but most students can't get in. You can't buy a ticket to gain entrance. If you can't speak English or you have some learning disability, they rarely will take you. Imagine the lawsuit if the New York Public Library or Citifield refused entrance to non-English speakers or the learning disabled. People would be outraged if such a thing happened in a taxpayer supported institution. Nevertheless, charters manage to get away with such blatant discrimination.

I teach in a real public school. Students from everywhere are welcome regardless of what language they speak or what obstacles they face. No ticket needed. Not even a lottery ticket.

Perhaps it's time we started looking at charters as the "special" aunt of public education. But let's not tell them that they're not goats. We could use the milk.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Ex-Hooker Makes the Case for Tenure

By now you've probably read about Melissa Petro, the teacher who used to be a hooker. Mayor Bloomberg is trying to use this case as another opportunity to attack tenure by trying to yank it from this teacher. Oddly, he actually makes the case for tenure in doing so.

Most of us find prostitution morally wrong, and it certainly is illegal in New York. Still, here we have the case of a woman who climbed out of that sordid life and earned her way into the teaching profession. Nevertheless, Mayor4Life would seemingly prefer to fire her and perhaps cause her to return to that profession rather than starve. I'm sure the mayor feels she deserves it; after all, he himself has never done anything wrong. For example, when he was accused of sexual remarks toward a co-worker, he settled the suit without having to admit guilt, so we know his hands were clean even if his mouth may have needed washing out with soap. And of course, Bloomberg's company was accused of discriminating against 80 women as well, but none of that is his fault, either. Accountability is for the little folk.

What we have here is the case of a woman who had a sketchy past, but who managed to get her life together and turn in at least three satisfactory years for the DOE. As such, she earned tenure. Now Bloomberg wants to take it away. Let's imagine what will happen if he succeeds.

Have you ever smoked pot in the past? Had a beer while underage? Those things are just as illegal as prostitution, and if Bloomberg somehow gets the right to pull tenure from teachers who may have engaged in some illegal activity in the past, then the floodgates are open.

Where does it stop? Can you lose tenure because you once got a speeding ticket? How about if you got arrested at a peaceful protest of the Iraq war? Failed to curb your dog? Smoked a cigarette in a public place? Worn too short a skirt? Cheated on your third grade spelling test?

Without tenure, the mayor, chancellor, or your principal would be able to fire you for any of those reasons, or for no reason at all. That is why tenure is needed.

Ms. Petro was certainly unwise for letting her past become public. But if her tenure is taken away for her past behavior--if she is denied due process--then everyone becomes a target. Except the mayor, of course. He has the money to bury his past.

Let he who is without sin, or sexual harassment lawsuits, cast the first stone.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Other Shoes Drop

You saw this coming, didn't you? After a week long orgy of teacher bashing, including the Oprah show, Waiting for Superman, and the ridiculous Education Nation hate fest on MSNBC, the other shoes have finally dropped. Having made education a "crisis", politicians are salivating at the opportunity of turning all that ill will to their benefit.

Barack Obama announced his desire to extend the school year by a month. Then Mayor4Life Bloomberg, who doesn't believe in lifetime jobs except for himself, announced that he wants an end to seniority based layoffs and to make getting tenure tougher.

I have a few questions. First, for Obama: Extending the school year immediately adds an extra ten percent to the work year. Does you expect us to work for free, or will you take the money from food stamps like you did when funding Race to the Top?

Now for Bloomberg: You failed miserably last time when trying to change seniority rules, so what makes you think you'll succeed this time? And why all the posturing on tenure when you know damn well that untenured teachers can be fired for any reason as the system now stands?

Obama and Mayor4Life are trotting out the old shock doctrine again. They're trying to manufacture a crisis in education and then propose the "solutions" that they wanted in the first place. Bush used the shock doctrine after 9-11 to invade Iraq despite the fact that they had no WMDs. Now the president and the job-for-life mayor are using a phony educational crisis to implement the "reforms" they wanted all along.

This was predictable. They've used the shock doctrine against us before. See here, here, and here. Fortunately, it has been a failure in the case of seniority, and I think it will fail again.

But that's not enough. It's time to make politicians pay when they try to ruin careers. That includes any politician who would even consider a change to last in first out, as well as Obama himself when 2012 rolls around. We've seen what happens when the union stands on the sidelines as in the last mayoral election. The UFT should urge all teachers to stay home from the polls in 2012 if Obama doesn't change his tune pronto, and to actively oppose state legislators who support a change in either tenure or seniority.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stats on the Oprah Infomercials

If you watched the two Oprah infomercials for Waiting for Superman this week, you might have noticed the following stats. If not, I'll lay them out for you.
  • Total number of teachers on the panel: 0
  • Total number of public school parents on the panel: 0
  • Total number of billionaires on the panel: 3
  • Total number of billions of the panelists: 60
  • Total years of teaching experience of all the "experts": 2
  • Total minutes devoted to defending unions: 1
  • Total minutes devoted to humping charter schools: 119
I think that says it all.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Screw Teacher's Choice! Amazing New Funding Source Discovered!

Already spent your paltry $110 bucks from Teacher's Choice? Never fear! As always, Mr. Talk has the answer.

As you know, this blog and others have been urging you to boycott DonorsChoose for their shameless support of the film Waiting for Superman. They offered a five dollar bribe to anyone who pledged to see that POS movie, which could be donated to a teacher project of your choosing.

Now they've upped the ante. They are offering $15 for a ticket stub to WFS up to a maximum of four per person. Think about that a minute. The movie is donating more per ticket than the tickets themselves cost! Either they should be Waiting for an Accountant, or some big hedge fund people are dropping big bucks in the hopes that people will see this film.

So here's what you can do. Organize your own SuperStub party. Find out when WFS is playing at your local theater, and get all your friends and family members to show up at the theater when the movie lets out. Then ask people to donate their stubs to help support your local school (i.e., you). If you bring 20 people and each collects 4 stubs, you can earn $1200 in one fell swoop by having them donate all that swag to you! And the best part of it is that you don't even have to see the movie!

Of course, all this assumes that 80 people will show up to see this drek film at a single showing, which is unlikely. Still, whatever you may earn from this, you'll have the pleasure of knowing that you picked the pocket of an ed deformer, and you can't get that kind of satisfaction at your local teacher supply store.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

We Interrupt this Blog...

I apologize for letting the blog slide for a week. A lot of good stuff has been happening that merited mention, such as Mayor Fenty of DC getting the boot, with Michelle Rhee presumably to follow. I've seen a good number of ATRs get hired so I think that problem may ebb for a while and be off the table in contract negotiations this time around. I'm even optimistic that we will get a raise and a contract before long, thanks to a great post by Chaz regarding the city's need to follow the pattern.

So why the lack of posts? I started this blog almost two years ago as a way to stick it to Klein and the ed deformers who pretty much ran me out of my former school and damn near got me fired despite an exemplary record as a teacher. I made a very soft landing at a great school, unlike many of my now unemployed colleagues who went through the same hell I'd been through. After a few years at my school (I no longer refer to it as my "new" school), I finally feel like I belong. The administration likes and respects me and the feeling is mutual. I get a decent amount of leeway in creating the curriculum and in how I run my own classroom. My experience is valued and I am called upon to help new teachers get up to speed.

In short, I'm happy. I love my school and my job.

This is a great position for me personally as a teacher. However, for me as a blogger, the pickins are slim. I do my best writing here when I am pissed off about something, and I have nothing to be pissed off about at the moment.

Despite all my joy, I have not lost hope. This is, after all, the BloomKlein regime, and Mulgarten is still in firm control of the UFT. Surely something they do will set me off before long and I'll be back to my cranky, acerbic self.

So if you came here looking for a rant, I apologize, but I promise I will be with you shortly. After all, Waiting for Superman is about to be released.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tonight's Radio Cast

Be sure to catch South Bronx School's radio cast tonight at 9. The guest will be an ed-deformer! Call in or just listen in. It promises to be interesting. Click this link to get there.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tom Friedman Gets it (Almost) Right

If you haven't read Tom Friedman's Op-Ed piece in today's Times, do yourself a favor and read it. He takes a piece about ed reform written by Robert Samuelson and extrapolates it to explain the general decline in America. Other than the fact that Friedman seems to imply we may need a longer school day or year, he's pretty much on target.

Then do yourself a favor and read Samuelson's original piece in the Washington Post. Although he is an economist, Samuelson take on school reform and the reasons it has failed. Here's a quote from the article that may pique your interest:

The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren't motivated, even capable teachers may fail.

Definitely worth a read.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

5 Tips for a Great School Year!

The coming school year is almost at our throats, so instead of being one of those Gloomy Gus teachers who bemoan the start of a brand new year, I thought I'd impart some wisdom to help you look forward to this wondrous adventure. Here are some tips guaranteed to make your school year a smashing success!

Tip #1: Make sure you work at a great school.
I can't tell you how many "newbies" overlook this one. I made the mistake of working at a crappy school for most of my teaching career, and boy, was it the wrong thing to do! The students were disrespectful and rarely worked hard. Then, after a couple of decades of teaching the toughest kids, I decided to "shift gears" and work at a great school! I can't tell you the difference it made in my professional career! Not only do the students learn more, but I no longer have to carry my wallet in my shoes!

Tip #2: Make sure you have a great principal. Now you might think this goes along with the first tip, but it doesn't always. There are a few great schools where the principals are horror shows, but not many. So how do you know whether the great school you've chosen to work at has a great leader? Simple! On the first day of school, walk right into the teachers' cafeteria and say in your cheeriest voice, "Hey, our principal is the greatest guy ever!" (If the principal is female, you may want to adapt the above). If you walk out of the cafeteria unscathed, you'll know your principal is a winner. If you walk out festooned in rancid cole slaw, you'll know a change is needed.

Tip #3: Made sure you have the best students. This is crucial. Just because you're in a great school with great leadership doesn't mean you have the best kids. You're going to be evaluated on the performance of your students, so you need to make sure you have only the best. Hop on over to ARIS and check to see how your prospective students did on the ELA and math exams last year. If their scores don't meet your expectations, be sure to speak up! March into your principal's office and say in a calm but assertive voice, "Hey, Mr. Principal! (Again, adjust for female principals). (Don't say what's in the parentheses). Did you even look at the drek rosters you gave me? How's about some smart kids? I mean, this is my career we're talking about here!" Your principal is sure to admire your initiative and reward you with the best program the school has to offer.

Tip #4: Use your preps wisely. You only have so much prep time per day, so you need to maximize its value. Lesson planning is a bore and will rarely help you advance, so make up your mind to spend those precious periods acting as a liaison for your principal. To do this, spend as much time as you can with your peers and listen to what they say. You'll be amazed at the things you'll hear. Then bring those tidbits to your principal. He (or she) will surely appreciate it, and reward you next year with the best classes (see Tip #3).

Tip #5: Ignore the latest trends. Trends can kill you! Some recent teacher books give you exactly the wrong advice! For example, the bestseller "Teach Like an Olympic Javelin Thrower" tells you to "stand next to students who are talking inappropriately and they will soon get the message." Yes, they sure will--the message that you're the enemy! Inner city teachers can be shot for breaking up conversations. That's why you should look for your teaching tips from a reliable source, such as yours truly. If you followed Tip #1, for example, your chances of getting shot for any reason are greatly reduced.

That's all you need to get started. Just follow my advice for a happy, productive, and relatively bullet-free school year!

Friday, September 3, 2010

TCHR is a Four Letter Word

I love words. To me, finding the mot juste is a joy. As a result, ed blogging has been a problem.

You see, the ed deform crowd has absconded with all the good words. Take, for example, the word accountability. The deform people use that word to perfection. "Who could be against accountability?"ask Klein and Duncan and Rhee and Obama. The word itself gives their unreasonable demands an air of reason.

Even the word reform works wonders for these people. Who in their right mind is against reform? I mean, don't we only reform things that are in need of repair? Aren't the reform folks just trying to fix education? Our use of the word "deform", while appropriate, just doesn't have the same ring.

All this came to mind as I was reading Leonie Haimson's post about the hypocrisy of the BloomKlein regime. The sentence that struck me most forcibly was the concluding one:

Despite all their claims, this administration could care less about providing proven educational reforms such as smaller classes, in their zeal to waste money devising more damaging experiments on our children.

That's exactly what's wrong with the deformers! They know how to fix education, or at least should know, but they keep coming up with new education experiments to conduct on our children. When I read Leonie's sentence, I was immediately reminded of the powerful word vivisection, which means to experiment on live animals. I tried to come up with a word we could use to describe education "reforms" that would bring to mind images of Klein covering the mouths of kindergarten students with chloroform-soaked rags. I tried "edusection", but that failed to trip off the tongue. "Vivication" sounds more like a place you'd go on mid-winter recess to recharge your batteries. Talking about giving students "reformaldehyde" seemed too much of a stretch.

The other idea I came up with was the portmanteau word "pedagogery"--a perfect blend of pedagogy and demagoguery. That seems to me to encapsulate the entire deform movement. My kick against that word is that it's too long; it lacks the elegance and simplicity needed to catch on with the public (the heads of most Daily News readers would explode upon reading it).

I'm open to suggestions. Does anyone have a word (other than expletives) that can help us define the deform movement in the same way they've made "teacher" a four letter word? If you do, please comment.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

I liked Michael Mulgrew's Op-Ed in the NY Daily News calling for an end to relentless test prep. There were some good things in that piece, and other than a few flaky references to RttT, it sounded like something I or a number of my anti-deform peers might have penned.

Mulgrew touched on the need for instruction instead of test prep. He discussed the ever-expanding achievement gap and the phony graduation rates. He even called the state tests flawed and asked for the state to develop a new, more reliable measure of teacher performance. Anti-deform bloggers have been talking about these things for years. And therein lies the problem.

Mulgrew is TOO LATE.

In order to help win those RttT funds, Mugrew has already agreed to tie teacher evaluations to the horribly flawed test scores. Starting next year, many teachers, myself included, will be largely judged by the results our students achieve on these flawed tests. To make things worse, value added has been thrown into the mix--a system that is so unreliable that even the New York Times roasted it yesterday.

So to recap, you will be judged on flawed data (state test scores) that will be run through an even more flawed and unproven formula (value-added).

Mulgrew's Op-Ed, while mostly correct, is far too late. What he should be saying is these flawed data should NOT be used to evaluate teachers at all. He should be discussing how the data was corrupted by politicians hoping to make themselves look good, and that there is absolutely no guarantee that this won't happen again next year. Or the year after that.

Of course, that will never happen. We will all be judged by these scores starting in 2011, and if you don't get your students up to speed you can be fired in 60 days.

Even as Mulgrew calls for an end to test prep, he has ensured that your job will depend on the results of the state tests. So the answer to the question "How will I keep my job without doing test prep?" is pretty much the same as the old joke about getting to Carnegie Hall.

You'd better practice.