Monday, December 31, 2012

Obama Seizes Raises for Teachers (and everyone else...)

Neither Republicans nor Democrats seem willing to do a damn thing about the payroll tax increase. Even as the "fiscal cliff" is avoided, your taxes will go up because the payroll tax (called FICA on your paystub) will rise from 4.2% of your gross income to 6.2%, effective tomorrow.

That is an IMMEDIATE 2% increase in taxes that will come out of your very next paycheck. That means that even if we somehow sign a new contract for a 4% increase tonight, you'd lose virtually all of it due to federal, state, and local taxes, plus the 2% you'd lose due to the payroll tax increase.

Of course, we are not going to sign a new contract tonight, so you will start losing money immediately. A NYC teacher making $75,000 a year will have to pay an additional $1500 in payroll taxes, effective tomorrow. In real dollars, you'd take home $62.50 less in every single paycheck, starting with the January 15th check. That's $125 a month. For families that have been struggling to make ends meet after years of stagnant wages, that increase is a personal fiscal cliff.

Why is the press not discussing this? I have no idea, other than it doesn't really care about the middle and working class. There is still a slight chance that some principled Democrats will object on these grounds, but don't bet on it.

The 2% tax cut was put in place as economic stimulus several years ago because it was deemed the most effective way to get more money into the economy. Giving a tax break to working people generally means that we will spend it, basically because we have to. Economists pretty much agree that it works--and should be left alone. Here's a take on it from Forbes:

By raising payroll taxes, Washington is pushing ahead with an austerity measure likely to inflict the most economic damage while producing minimal savings for the Treasury. The payroll tax cut would have cost $86 billion in 2013, roughly 3% of expected federal revenue. It elimination threatens to diminish economic growth by roughly one-third.

Obama made two big promises to help himself get elected. He promised to let the Bush tax cuts expire for anyone making more than $250,000 a year, and he promised that taxes would not go up on the middle class.

He gave in (I'd say lied) on both. Tax rates will only go up on people making $450,000 a year, and the expiring payroll tax cut will guarantee that 125 million middle and working class families will see their taxes go up immediately. The vast majority of us make far less than $450,000 a year.

Rich people made out pretty well. Capital gains will rise only slightly, meaning hedge fund billionaires will continue to pay a smaller percentage of taxes than many wage earners.

So, teachers, it's time to write Mr. Mulgrew to insist that he get us that 4% raise that every other city union got. That way, Obama can snatch it from you and you'll break even.



Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mr. Talk Predicts: Your Guide To 2013

As many of you are aware, I have an uncanny knack of predicting the future of the NYC public schools. I don't wear this fortune teller's hat because it's a babe magnet, you know.

We have an interesting year ahead of us, with a contract to be negotiated, evaluation talks, an outgoing mayor, a union election, and more. Here are some of my prognostications for the new year:

Despite the fact that "Waiting for Superman" failed to influence anyone and "Won't Back Down" earned less money than I currently have in my couch cushions, the reformers will once again try to use entertainment to sway public opinion. Reformers will pick a new genre, as documentaries and fictional movies have failed to click. To that end, StudentsFirst will present "Rhee-formers on Ice", an entertainment extravaganza starring Michelle Rhee as the Ice Queen, who will skate a bloody figure 8 into a senior teacher's chest in the finale. Kevin Johnson will co-star as the uncle no one will let near their children.

The UFT will continue breaking off large chunks of our contract and handing them over, gratis, to the city. Mulgrew will call each of these events a victory, and talk about how glad he is to have a seat at the table, even as he pulls the chair out from under teachers.

Teacher's Choice will survive, but in a new format. Rather than giving each teacher the current whopping $45 a year for classroom supplies, the city will finally increase that amount to $1000 per teacher. Unfortunately, that money will come directly from teacher salaries. Michael Mulgrew will promote this idea because "teachers already spend more than $1000 dollar a year each, on average. Making it official gives us leverage with companies like Staples, who want our business." The UFT will declare this a victory for teachers.


Despite no contract, a sellout evaluation agreement, and a loss of vacation days due to Sandy, Mulgrew will win re-election as UFT president. Only 25% of UFT members will vote. The other 75% will express surprise that there was even an election. This will be the only victory that the UFT will declare in 2013 that will actually be a victory, albeit not for the teachers themselves.

In a surprise move, Anthony Weiner will throw his hat into the mayoral race. He will immediately grab his hat back when he realizes it was the only thing covering his genitals. His campaign slogan, "Go Big with Weiner!" will be a huge hit with bloggers everywhere. The UFT, in keeping with their history of supporting wieners in elections, grants him an endorsement. Weiner will win the election and Mulgrew will declare that his endorsement gave Weiner the momentum he needed to thrust himself to victory, causing the city to come together.

To no one's surprise, this blog will continue making Weiner jokes in 2013.

Mayor Weiner will choose erstwhile Gotham Schools blogger and celebrated E4E asshat Ruben Brosbe as Chancellor. He will cite Ruben's extensive experience at not achieving tenure as a major plus. "None of our three previous chancellors had any real experience in the classroom," Weiner will say. "Brosbe actually taught and failed to achieve tenure, which will inspire future teachers not to expect tenure, either."

Although there will be no new teacher's contract in 2013, it will be a year of innovative deals, such as giving in on teacher evaluations in exchange for a promise of 'economic credit" in the event a contract is ever signed. This will lead to a pinky swear on the Danielson Framework, a cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die ATR agreement, a hand-to-God paperwork reduction agreement, and a swear-on-my-mom's-life no charter school pledge. Mulgrew will hail all these innovations as a victory for the union. In a shocking turn of events, Mayor Bloomberg will reveal that he had his fingers crossed the whole time. Anthony Weiner's "No Take Backs" pledge will turn the tide in his favor and sweep him into the mayor's office.



Some quick predictions to round things out:
  • At least one of your admins will be a dick.
  • Cathie Black's emails to Bloomberg will finally be released.  The most damaging revelation will be that she referred to the mayor as "Poopsie".
  • Reformers will claim that everything they do is for the kids, even if they propose tying students in potato sacks and beating them with ball peen hammers.
  • Eva Moskowitz will begin planting flags in the public schools she wants to take over and claiming them for "The Country of Moskovia".
  • Evan Stone and Sydney Morris will marry, but only so they can spawn more members for E$E.
  • Diane Ravitch will continue to defend public schools and sound educational policy by typing more on her blog and Twitter feed than seems humanly possible. It will be revealed that she also types with her feet.
  • Arne Duncan will bring phonics back to schools, but only after he gets tired of everyone pronouncing his name "Arn" instead of "Arnie".
  • Mayor Bloomberg will continue to increase class sizes while pushing a law to reduce the size of a "large fries" to whatever can fit in a urine sample cup. 
  • The mayor's push to eliminate guns will take up a larger and larger amount of his time. This will result in dramatic improvement in the schools.
  • Michael Mulgrew will declare all of the above a victory for teachers.
Add your own predictions to the comments, and happy new year!



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mulgrew Demanding Wage Increase in Return for Evaluation Sign-off

In a stunning development, Michael Mulgrew appears to have developed a backbone. According to the New York Post and DOE officials, Mulgrew has refused to sign off any new evaluation system without a guarantee of a wage increase in a new contract:

The teachers’ union has refused to sign a long-awaited agreement with the city on a new teacher evaluation system unless it gets a guarantee of wage increases in the next contract, Department of Education officials charged today.

Lending credence to the usually suspect Post, Chancellor Walcott responded saying, "Mr. Mulgrew’s failure to bargain in good faith and insistence on including issues unrelated to teacher evaluation is unacceptable and illegal." Leave it to Bloomberg's toadie to claim that negotiating a contract is illegal.

Mulgrew declined to comment, saying "“I’m not negotiating in public."

Of course, the Post is possibly the most unreliable paper in the country, but I think this story must be true. Why would the city claim that the UFT is stalling for more money if it isn't? Wouldn't that basically force Mulgrew to do just that?

Also, the terms seem to be somewhat Mulgrewian, in that it appears that the union is asking for a "guarantee" of a raise in the next contract, rather than an immediate signing of a new contract with the 4+4% raises given to the rest of the city's unions. Even if the city agreed, would that contract ever get signed? Does anyone remember when the city guaranteed that Teacher Data Reports would never be made public and then supported them being published in the papers? Moreover, if a new contract isn't signed and we're only given a vague guarantee, would the next mayor have to honor it? Would a downturn in the economy, real or manufactured, nullify it?

So this appears to be real. Perhaps Mulgrew really does feel the heat of MORE and his re-election bearing down on him, especially after he bungled Sandy. We can hope. The signs are good.

Now let's see the UFT execute.


UPDATE: The city has filed with PERB, claiming that the UFT is not bargaining in good fair by demanding an "economic credit" to be applied to any increase in a future contract. See the filing here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Enough

You want to yell "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater? You can't, because your freedom of speech rights are limited.

You want to make others pray to your particular god in a public school? You can't, because your freedom of religion is limited.

You want to buy enough automatic rifles and handguns to stroll into an elementary school and murder 27 people, including 20 children? You sure can. This is America. You have a virtually unlimited right to bear arms.

You can't yell fire in a movie theater, but if you want to open fire in a crowded movie theater dressed as the Joker and massacre people, there's nothing to prevent you from buying as much ammo as you want.

Now we have this unimaginable tragedy of dead children in Connecticut, and you just know the gun lobby will be out in force telling us that their right to have enough firepower to wipe out a small community is more important that your right to feel secure when you send your children to school.

It's happened in theaters, in colleges, in high schools, in shopping malls, and now in an elementary school. As of yet, nothing has been done. Not a single law limiting the right to own automatic weapons has passed.

If this tragedy in Newtown doesn't do it, what will? Will it take a massacre at a pre-school? A mass killing at a nursery in a hospital? Is there any tragedy heinous enough that politicians will finally stand up to the gun lobby?

President Obama set the right tone when he wept at a press conference about this latest shooting. Not the president's tears, nor anyone else's, can bring those children back. But Obama can act now to make sure we don't have to suffer through any more of these mass killings. You want a rifle to protect your family? Fine. You want a gun that can fire 60 rounds of ammunition in a minute? No. NO. Enough.

My thoughts and prayers go out to these families whose suffering is unbearable. I only hope we can find the will to make sure that this kind of event never happens again.


UPDATE: Here's a screencap of the Facebook page of Wisconsin Republicans, subsequently removed, discussing the fact that just yesterday, they won the "right" to carry concealed weapons in schools. God help us.

UPDATE II: I am temporarily limiting comments to registered users, because I don't want to hear from any more idiot gun lovers who are more interested in talking about how we should arm kindergarten teachers that doing something sensible about guns.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Delegate Assembly Denies Teachers A Say In Our Own Futures

It was just a short while ago that many of us believed that the new evaluation system would necessarily be part of a new contract agreement on which members would have the final say.

Fat chance.

Not only has Unity decided that they can make a side agreement with the DOE to push evaluations through, but last night at the delegate assembly they shot down a resolution by MORE that asked that members be allowed to vote on any plan absent a contract agreement.

Basically, Unity argued that the delegates know what the members want better than the members themselves. In the end, they prevailed because they own the DA. You can read the ugly details over at the MORE blog. There's also an excellent account over at the DOENuts blog, and a fine analysis of the carnage by Reality Based Educator.

RBE is right on when he says that Unity is afraid to let the members vote for fear that whatever deal they cut with the city will be voted down.

Ask your chapter leader and delegate how they voted. If they voted down MORE's resolution, demand to know why. A new evaluation system is a fundamental change to our rights and dramatically alters our contract. It should be subject to a vote.

This union should be a democratic body. If they won't let you vote on evaluations, then exercise the one vote they can't take away from you, and vote them the hell out of office in the upcoming elections.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Can Unity Be Dethroned?

There's an interesting post and conversation going on over at EdNotes as to whether the MORE Caucus can defeat the Unity Caucus machine run by Michael Mulgrew which has reigned supreme for half a century. There's a question, in fact, whether MORE should even be running at this point or spending more time developing the kind of infrastructure and support that just might dethrone Unity in the 2016 election.

I have to admit, I don't know whether MORE can win, but I do think they need to be in the fight. While their chances may not be great against the well-oiled Unity machine, their chances drop to zero if they're not in the ring. Surely no one thought that CORE in Chicago could win, but they did, and then held a successful strike and began taking back much of what the reformers had stolen away.

So, the real question may be, are teachers in New York City as fed up as their colleagues in Chicago? Has the weakening of tenure, the lack of a contract, the endless concessions, the ATR fiasco, the shaming of teachers in the tabloids, and the failure to oppose Bloomberg or mayoral control in the last election got you thinking that a change is needed? How about the collaboration on teacher evaluations using VAM, the cooperation on Race to the Top which will result in unending testing and teaching to the test, and the impending implementation of the 57 page Danielson framework rubric to evaluate teachers? If that's not enough to rile you, think about school closings, rising class sizes, and support of charters through creating two of our own?

If none of this bothers you, then by all means vote for Unity. You will doubtless get more of the same.

I do sense an opening for MORE in this election. There is a looming trifecta of bonehead moves by Unity leading right up to the union elections. First, there was the Sandy fiasco, in which Unity surrendered three work days without a fight or even waiting to see whether the state would take action to excuse the mandatory 180 days that Unity claims are necessary. Next comes the seemingly inevitable sellout on new teacher evaluations. Finally, right before the election, we will actually have to work those three days in February thanks to Mulgrew's surrender. Those three days are key. People will be tired and angry. Can MORE capitalize on that anger?

They can if you help. Let the other teachers in your school know that MORE exists by passing out their petition on evaluations, or telling people to sign online. If you can't do that, just talk to people at your school. You'll be surprised at how many teachers don't even know that there are other caucuses.

While a win might be a long shot, it may not be necessary to effect change. Remember that Mulgrew got an astounding 91% of the vote last time around. Suppose we could cut that to 70% or less this time around. Unity would have to take notice of the fact that the UFT membership is getting educated and is ready to act. As long as they get 91% of the vote, they have no motivation to do anything but sit on their hands and not make waves when the city makes demands.

I want some waves, dammit. I don't send the UFT my dues so they can have gala lunches and plush offices and double pensions, and neither do you. Those dues are supposed to be there to protect us, the members.

Do you feel protected by your union? Do you feel that your job is secure as long as you work hard to educate children?

Neither do I. It's time for something better. Check out MORE.

Friday, December 7, 2012

On the Coming Teacher Evaluation Sellout

I had the opportunity (I wish I could say the pleasure) of speaking to a higher-up at the UFT this week. When I was done, I was firmly convinced that a sell-out on the new evaluation system is virtually a done deal.

Before meeting with this official, I knew that I had to get one question answered for sure: Will the UFT sign off on an evaluation deal in the absence of a new contract agreement? While this official, hereinafter known as the Hack, would not give me a straight yes or no (big shock), he eventually conceded that the deal could be added to the current contract without a vote of the membership. It's the first time I have heard an actual Hack admit this.

Now, you may say that this admission doesn't necessarily mean that a sell out is in the works. You might reason that just because they can do it doesn't mean they will do it. Silly you.

I asked Hack why on Earth we'd give away the only bargaining chip we have. His answer was we can't afford to lose that $300 million dollars in state aid. And why not? Because if we did, there would be layoffs. Thousands of them, he said.

Really? Not even Mayor4Life Bloomberg, for whom threatening layoffs almost qualifies as a hobby, has made that threat. Dennis Walcott just this week spoke of the cuts that would have to be implemented should a deal fail to materialize, and nowhere did he mention layoffs. So why is Hack saying such a thing?

Simple. The UFT wants to generate fear among its members so that when it cuts a deal without getting a new contract, it can claim a victory because it saved jobs. They did the same thing when selling the horrific 2005 contract--they sent DRs and other hacks into schools to raise the specter of layoffs so that teachers would ratify that turd of a contract. And ratify it, we did.

Another interesting--and shocking--thing that Hack told me is that we have to agree to this evaluation system because no other organization he can think of has just 1% of its members rated unsatisfactory, and that has to change.

Really???

Is it really possible that a UFT higher up believes that its the union's job to ensure that a greater number of teachers are fired? That's essentially what he said. It's a PR nightmare, he said, that so few teachers are U rated, and the papers will vilify us if we don't change that. It made me wonder if Hack even reads the papers, because we are vilified on a daily basis.

Rather than throw its members to the wolves, why doesn't the UFT publicize the fact that fully half of all teachers either leave voluntarily or are "guided out" of the profession before they reach year five? Is there any other profession in which half of those who start end up gone? Why doesn't the UFT mention that long term teachers have already put in many years of satisfactory service to get where they are? Why is the UFT talking up the talking points of the city? Why don't they tell the simple truth that the vast majority of teachers who make it past the first 5 years are genuinely great at what they do?

So, you heard it here first. The UFT will agree to an evaluation plan that uses the discredited VAM scores to get rid of teachers. More teachers than ever will be fired. And in exchange for all of that, we will most certainly not get the 8% we are due (although Hack was careful to claim that PERB may save the day, and some future mayor may come to the rescue).

I hope I am wrong, but when Unity sends the big-gun hacks out to schools to try to scare teachers into passively accepting a crappy deal, you know said deal is in the works. When it comes to sellouts. no one does it better than Unity.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Real Questions for our Unity Leaders

Given the union's propensity for writing Q&As whenever something happens that puts them in a bad light, I promised to write some questions for Unity in the wake of the Hurricane Sandy debacle and the surrender of our vacation days without a hint of a fight or any consultation with the union membership. Given that Unity also doesn't answer questions such as these, I supplied their standard answers along with the truth.

Why didn't you fight for us to keep our mid-winter recess when you knew the state legislature was going to waive the 180 day requirement for state funding?
  • What Unity says: The state law is the law. We needed to act quickly to make sure we protected our members who have already paid for vacations.
  • The Truth: This was an easy sell-out. They didn't want the bad press that might result if they pushed the state to do the right thing.

Why are you content to "wait out" Mayor Bloomberg's term before making any serious attempts to get your members a fair contract?
  • What Unity says: The mayor has no interest in signing a contract with us. We are better off waiting for a "teacher friendly" mayor.
  • The Truth: Unity has no interest in a fight. Teachers have already been without contract for three years, and likely five by the time a new mayor signs with us. What are the odds that we will get the 8% we are due for the past two years that all other unions got, plus any other kind of increase over those additional three years of wait time? Besides that, does anyone else recall when Unity told us they were waiting out Giuliani and we ended up with Bloomberg? Or when we backed mayoral control and refused to endorse Bill Thompson when we had a chance to end Bloomberg's immoral third term purchase?
Why did you agree to help get the Race to the Top funds when you knew it would lead to evaluations based on test scores and the use of the Common Core, which has not been tested or shown to work anywhere?
  • What Unity says: We wanted a seat at the table. If we didn't negotiate with the state, they would have implemented their own evaluation system without us and it would have been worse. Besides, we gained 700 million dollars in RttT funds.
  • The Truth: It was a public relations stunt. Unity wanted to look like collaborators, not fighters. We could easily have resisted any attempts to impose an evaluation system on us, because we have a contract that could not be invalidated by state law. None of the money that we "gained" in RttT funds is going to the classrooms as far as anyone can tell, but it will be used to put evaluations in place and testing in every grade and subject area. This will cost FAR more over time than the $700 million the state received. Many districts are reporting that RttT will cost them more than ten times what they are receiving in funding.
Considering the incredible inaccuracy of Value Added Measurements such as the TDRs (Teacher Data Reports) that can vary as much as 85% from year to year, why did you agree that teachers could be rated ineffective entirely based on test scores?

  • What Unity says: We actually did better than the rest of the state. Many teachers in NYS will have 40% of their evaluation based on test scores, while NYC teachers will have 20% based on test scores and 20% on "local measures" that we must sign off on.
  • The Truth: 20% of crap is still crap. In addition, if you are rated ineffective according to VAM, you will be rated ineffective no matter how high you score on other measures, effectively making test scores the sole determinant of whether a teacher can be rated ineffective and subject to firing.
What steps are you taking to make sure that teachers will not be rated ineffective because of a vindictive principal or admin?

  • What Unity says: We have a mechanism in place that allows us to challenge up to 13% of ineffective ratings. That will ensure that we can look, case by case, and determine who has been unfairly targeted and make sure they get a fair hearing.
  • The Truth: Before the union "won" the right to challenge 13% of teacher ratings, 100% of unsatisfactory ratings could be challenged. Any teacher charged with incompetence and brought to a 3020A hearing had the right to due process--this meant that the burden of proving incompetence rested with the city. When the new system is in place, 87% of teachers who are labeled "ineffective" will now have the burden of proof placed on them--in other words, teachers will have to prove they are competent, which is a virtual impossibility given that the DOE controls the data.

What has Unity done for its members lately?

  • What Unity says: We have preserved tenure. We have ended the rubber rooms. We have made sure that ATRs have kept their jobs. We have averted layoffs. 
  • The Truth: On Tenure--when the new evaluation system is in place, tenure will still exist but no longer matter because teachers who are rated ineffective will have to prove their competence (see previous question). On the rubber rooms--they were always punitive in nature and contained a high percentage of older and minority teachers, which was discriminatory and should have been the subject of a massive discrimination lawsuit against the city. On ATRs--while ATRs have jobs, they aren't real teaching jobs. They are working as very temporary subs and abused as they are sent from school to school without hope of landing a steady position. Prior to Unity selling off seniority rights, there was no such thing as an ATR. On layoffs--while there have been no layoffs per se, we have lost more than 5000 positions to attrition in the last several years, which certainly can be viewed as de facto layoffs. These losses have led to greater class sizes citywide at a time when teachers are being held more and more accountable for test scores.
Given the success of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in protecting its members through direct action in the great tradition of American unionism, can you explain why teachers should vote for Mulgrew and the rest of his Unity crew, who appear content to lead through passivity rather than strength?
  • What Unity says: Our situation is different than the CTU. Because of the Taylor law, we can't strike. Instead, we will continue some of our usual campaigns, such as asking members to wear red when they are angry.
  • The Truth: Unity is more interested in retaining power than taking any positive action on behalf of its members. If Unity actually educated its members on the issues, and got them to take action, they might wake up and realize that they can also take control of their own union and vote out any caucus that doesn't have the members' best interests at heart. They just might vote for the MORE caucus, whose mission statement seems to be just common sense, but it is completely opposite of the way the Unity caucus operates.
If any Unity official wants to comment, I'd be more than happy to hear what they have to say. I have a feeling I won't be hearing from them any time soon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Q and A on Losing Vacation Days to Hurricane Sandy

If you are confused about why we must give up three vacation days in February, never fear. Our dear Unity leaders published a handy dandy Q&A chock full of reasons why this move was necessary. Unfortunately, they are all lies. On the bright side, Mr. Talk is here to translate Unity's gobbledegook into plain English for you. You can read the entire Q&A here, but for the sake of brevity and my sanity, I have chosen to translate only the most relevant and least repetitive parts. My translations are in red.

Why did we have to give up part of our midwinter break? There had to be better alternatives.
First of all, we didn’t have the power to negotiate over whether or not to give up days. (We only have 120,000 members and 125 million of your dollars, which means we'd have to do something and cut back on our croissant expenditures to fight this) State law requires that we make up those days. The discussions we had with the DOE were only about which days to use. (We forgot to bring the subject up) The state requires a minimum number of 180 instructional days and this school year, we were close to that minimum given how the holidays fell.(The number of days this year was an act of God. The hurricane was not. Oh, wait...)  If this were last year, when we had 186 days in the school calendar, we would have been able to absorb the lost time. (It would have been a LOT harder to give those days away last year, so we're glad it happened this year) We are dealing with this issue because we have the maximum vacation time in this year’s calendar. (We couldn't even make you work extra PD this June like we did last year!) The union explored every possible option (rolling on our backs with our feet in the air, hoping to get our bellies scratched) for making up the time, but state law and regulations would not allow us to convert PD days, get a state waiver, extend the day, come in Saturdays, work on federal holidays or use days at the end of the school year. The time had to come out of the Christmas break, the midwinter break, the spring break and one clerical half-day. There was no other choice. (We never looked for any other solutions. What do you want for your lousy $125 million?)

Why didn’t you consult with the members before agreeing to give up those three vacation days?
Time was of the essence in this situation so members and parents could make plans. (If we'd discussed this with those of you who had already made plans, you'd have been pissed and you might have asked us to do something) Under state law, the days had to come from one of the three breaks. (Trust us. It's a state law. Or we heard it might be, or something) The midwinter break was chosen because it was the only break that did not contain religious observance days.

The state has the power to grant a waiver in the event of a natural disaster. Why didn’t the state issue one in this instance?
By state law, we would have to use up EVERY vacation day in this year’s school calendar before the state Education Department or the State Education Commissioner can grant a waiver allowing New York City to have fewer than 180 days in the school calendar. (We are hoping that you won't notice that the state legislature MAKES the laws, and could have changed that one, too. We had to act before someone realized that that's what lawmakers do--make laws)

How have other school districts around the state dealt with this dilemma?
As of Nov. 20, 13 school districts on Long Island have already agreed to make up the time by taking away all or part of the February break and/or the spring break. (We are hoping your forgot about what we said earlier about it being impossible to take days from the spring break.) Others will be following suit in the days ahead. (We wanted to be the first to give up without a fight.) There weren’t better choices available for any school district. (Or if there were, there sure aren't now!)

I already booked a trip to visit my family in California. Do I have to cancel my plane tickets?
(What a stupid question. Everyone has to cancel their plane tickets, not just those of your going to California.) We realize that a number of you have already bought airline tickets or cruises for the midwinter break and risk losing a lot of money if you canceled those trips now. At our insistence, (no, we are NOT going to explain how we were able to insist on this, but nothing else) the DOE agreed to allow any UFT member who has purchased a vacation before Nov. 20 to go on the purchased vacation and instead deduct those days from his or her CAR bank. They will have to submit proof of purchase. If they have no days in their leave bank, they can either borrow days or take the days as days without pay. (You would have lost money either way. Win/win!) These absences won’t be used against those members in any disciplinary hearing or in their end-of-year rating (if they are pissed that you took those days, they will just have to find some other way to U rate you.)

Why didn’t the union insist on making up the lost instructional time by using Election Day and Brooklyn-Queens Day for instruction instead of professional development?
Under New York State law, school districts have the right to use up to four days without instruction in the calculation of the number of days to meet the state’s 180-day minimum requirement. The DOE already used four non-instructional days — including Election Day and Brooklyn-Queens Day — in its calculation so converting those days to instruction would not have helped solve the problem. (See above where we talked about how the state both can, and can not, change the law).

Why didn’t we make up the time by converting the last few days in June into instructional days or by extending the school year?
State law (which can never change, except sometimes) does not allow you to make up days to meet the 180-day minimum by adding instructional days after the completion of the high school Regents. That means we could not make up the lost time by making changes to the school calendar at the end of June. (And since the tests would already be over, the mayor wasn't interested, so we caved)

Why didn’t we convert Martin Luther King Day or Memorial Day into work days instead?
State law does not permit turning a federal holiday into a school day. (We like our Mondays off!)

Why didn’t we make up the time by extending the school day?
According to state law (which is more immutable than the Ten Commandments), you can’t add to the minimum number of required instructional days by extending the length of the school day.

Why is it that we frequently work more than 180 days per year without getting any days back?
Our contract states that we come back to work the day after Labor Day and up to the last Wednesday in June. (Let's ignore the fact that it also says that we get a week off in February) The length of the school year depends on where the holidays fall in a given year. This year, every holiday fell on a school day (see Act of God, above) so we were already at nearly the minimum number of required days.

The mayor ordered non-school-based members to report to their work site for the whole week after the hurricane. I walked miles to get to my school. Why do I have to make up that time?
If non-school-based members such as teachers assigned made it to work on any of those four days starting on Oct. 29, they will not have to make up those days that they reported. (No one gave a crap about you then, and we sure don't now)


Well, I hope that clears things up. Tune in next time when I explore the questions Unity SHOULD have asked, and the answers they should have gotten.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No More. Yes, MORE!

I can't take any more. And that's why we need MORE.

The latest sellout by Unity and Mulgrew has taken away our mid-winter recess. This means that on top of being the only union NOT to get a pay raise in the last round of bargaining, and in spite of agreeing to a completely unproven evaluation system that essentially erodes tenure, we will now have the privilege of paying back four days for Hurricane Sandy.

If you already paid for your vacation, as many teachers have, well, tough luck on you. You can eat that money. And if you dragged your ass in on the Friday after the storm, well, this is your thank you. Or your "screw you".

Let's not forget that many students will also be on vacation that week because families plan to go away then. And one of the make-up days is a half day in June, long after testing is done. How will it benefit students when many of them and their teachers won't be showing up anyway?

Does ANYONE at this point have ANY faith that Unity is going to do anything but sell us out yet again on our next contract? I sure as hell don't.

If you vote for Mulgrew and Unity this March, you have no one to blame but yourself when they sell us out yet again. It's time for a change. I urge everyone to vote for the MORE caucus http://morecaucusnyc.org/.

Can you imagine Julie Cavanagh, who is running for UFT President on the MORE slate, selling us out? I can't.

I sure can imagine Mulgrew doing it--and then sending out his reps to every school to tell us how grateful we should be that we didn't do even worse. The only skill these Unity hacks seem to have is putting lipstick on a pig. They sure as hell can't negotiate.

Get the word out. Vote for MORE. Get rid of Unity.

While you still have a job.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting Your Classroom Ready in the Wake of Sandy

The DOE has released details about what teachers will be expected to do tomorrow. It will be essentially a PD day, and teachers may select from any of the following topics:





The Boy Scout In You--Being Prepared For Monday

It is essential that you 'be prepared' for Monday, when your students will return to school. This workshop will show you what you need to do. Topics will include:
  • Clockwise or Counterclockwise?: A Guide to Turning Your Key in the Classroom Door
  • Switching on Lights 101 (only in schools that have electricity)
  • #2 or Not #2--That is the Question: Using a pencil on your ATS sheet

Getting to Work on Monday
Sure you made it in on Friday, but you may run into more obstacles Monday when everyone else will be returning at work. Here's what you need to know about getting in on Monday, assuming you make it home on Friday:
  • Cross That Bridge When You Come To It: You'll need two passengers to get on most bridges. We'll show you how to pick up hitchhikers. Topics include: 'How to tell honest strangers from mass murderers (most of the time)', 'Using your Iphone as a weapon', and 'Is that hitchhiker using his thumb to get a ride or is he just happy to see you?'
  • Using Mass Transit: With many more people trying to use a crippled system, we will investigate how long it will take you to get to work on Monday. Guest speaker Mayor Bloomberg will host a special webcast instructing you on how to get your limo driver to drop you at the appropriate station.
  • Running on Empty: Had just enough gas to get in on Friday, but the gas shortage leaves you high and dry on Monday? No problem! Big wigs from the DOE will show you how to siphon gas from strangers' cars. Learn from the experts--no one sucks harder than they do.

Integrating Hurricane Sandy into the Curriculum

Don't forget that every disaster is a learning opportunity! We'll examine some possible teaching ideas across the curriculum, such as:
  • Math: Determine the volume of water necessary to shut down a system, and the amount of hot air generated by politicians in their self-congratulatory post-disaster press conferences.
  • ELA: Examine the use of language before, during, and after Sandy. For example, when Mayor Bloomberg said last week that the schools would be open Monday despite the impending storm, was he using understatement, sarcasm, or just shit for brains? Would you classify his post-Sandy comments that only his team's swift action prevented further damage as irony or a messiah complex?
  • Social Studies: Many are calling Sandy the worst disaster in NYC since 9/11. Evaluate that statement in light of Bloomberg's failed mayoralty.
  • Science: Do some research into hurricanes. How do they form? How do they track the jet stream? Why do we keep calling them sissy names like Irene and Sandy, instead of really butch names, like Bruno, Atilla, or for that matter, Butch?
  • Foreign Language:  Evaluate--when Mayor Bloomberg concludes every press conference with a few words for our Hispanic citizens, is he doing it for the yuks? When he says "Sandy ess mooooo-eyyy peli-GROSS-a!" has soda ever shot your nose? Explain.





Monday, October 22, 2012

My Apology to ATRs Everywhere

Now that the agreement between the city and the UFT to fill vacancies with ATRs is kicking in, many schools are seeing an influx of ATRs. My school got at least three today that I know of. My school, like many others, had basically refused to use ATRs to this point, preferring to fill vacancies with newbies, so I really haven't had much opportunity to talk to any real live ATRs. Until today.

I went out of my way to talk to the ATR on my floor. I don't know what I was expecting, but I suppose some of the propaganda from the Klein era had seeped into my brain. This person would be sharing some of the kids I teach, and I half feared I would encounter someone who no one else would hire--someone, in short, who might be unsuited to the job.

I could not have been more wrong. The ATR I encountered was a perfectly charming woman who had lost her position due to excessing. She was intelligent, professionally attired (far more than I ever am), and eager to work. In the course of a ten minute conversation I had with her, I decided that if I were an admin at my school, I'd certainly want someone like her on my staff.

She has been in the ATR pool for THREE YEARS. No one will take her on permanently because she has eleven years in the system with her masters plus 30, so she makes significantly more than a newbie. Even if she is not a perfect fit for my school (and I'm not saying she isn't--but a ten minute conversation might not be enough to tell), she would surely be a great fit somewhere. It's absolutely disgraceful that someone who wants to teach can't find a job anywhere. Unfortunately, it appears that her stint at my school may only last for five days before she is again shuffled elsewhere. I thought the renewed agreement meant that ATRs got to stay, but apparently that's not the case.

So I want to apologize to all the ATRs out there for allowing Klein-speak to get into my head. I have had precisely one encounter with an ATR no one will hire, and she seemed to me to be an excellent candidate for any position. And I want everyone to know that there are some awesome teachers out there just waiting to be hired. It's time to get these talented teachers back to work.

Joel Klein and his successors did their best to stigmatize ATRs, and it worked to a large extent. This blog post is an attempt to wipe some of that away. I'm betting there are a lot of gems in the ATR pool, and principal wouldn't have to dive in very far to find them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Won't Break Even

Anti-union and anti-teacher propaganda trash movie "Won't Back Down" should probably have been named "Won't Break Even". It reportedly cost over $19 million to make, and after a suffering though the worst opening week of any widely released movie in history, it hit new lows this weekend.

WBD grossed an anemic and laughable $138,709, for a grand total of just over 5 million. At that rate, the movie would need to run another two years just to break even. My guess is it will disappear completely before very many more weekends pass. Considering that it is playing in 513 theaters, it earned just $270 per theater.

Perhaps, one day, the billionaires who fund this garbage will realize that the public is tired of the scapegoating of teachers.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why Skedula Fails to Make the Grade

My esteemed fellow blogger, NYC Educator, has written a couple of posts about the new online grading system that is being shoved down everyone's throats. If you don't know about it, it's called Skedula and it's supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread. For the reasons why it's not even better than moldy bread, you can read NYC's posts here and here.

For the record, I agree with NYC. Skedula sucks. It is cumbersome and unwieldy. The menus are hard to navigate and it is anything but intuitive. Before Skedula, I had used 3 other online grading systems, and all of them were far superior. Like NYC, I was able to master those systems in short order just by playing around with them. With Skedula, we needed extensive training just to get up and running. Worse still, the trainer from Skedula was a former city teacher who either was bounced from the DOE for incompetence or dropped repeatedly on his head as a baby, because he was about the worst trainer I have ever seen. He let the teachers (his students for the purposes of the training) dominate the discussion, with the result that pretty much no one understood the system any better than before we were trained.

NYC Educator was surprised with the number of comments he received on those posts, and so was I. It appears possible that Skedula has a swarm of PR people who seek out negative comments about their program and flood sites with testimonials about how if Skedula were human, they'd french kiss it. Who is spending all this time and money to push this program on city schools--and why?

One thing I do know is that Skedula is rife with potential for abuse. For example, my principal confirmed to my chapter leader that he has access to ALL incoming emails to teachers. Imagine the problems this might cause. If a parent has a private issue with a teacher, does the principal really need to see it? Does the parent know that these supposedly private communications are being sent to the principal? What if a parent writes to a teacher to complain about a school policy, or worse still, the principal himself?

To the best of my knowledge, emails written by teachers to parents do not automatically get sent to the principal, but a function is already built into the system one way--it's not to much of a stretch that a principal might, at some point, get both incoming AND outgoing emails.

Another problem with Skedula is that it is far too open. Other teachers in your school can see not only your grades, but also your anecdotal records (my understanding is that this is the default and can be changed, but who knows that, or how to do it?) You'd be wise to be careful when writing anecdotals, as its about as private as Facebook, only with more obscure controls.

I'm still pretty new to Skedula, but it already seems quite problematic. I want my emails and anecdotal records private. I don't want everyone in the building to have the ability to see what I am doing. I don't want admins checking to see how often I update my grades, or how often I log in.

How long will it be before someone gets removed from a classroom because of something that was said or done on Skedula? I'm betting we'll see that happen before too long.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Inspired by True Events

The anti-union film Won't Back Down claims to have been "inspired by true events".

Unfortunately for the film's makers, the real events would appear to be Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the film is one of the biggest bombs since the end of WWII.

Despite relentless humping by CBS, who hosted a star-studded special to let people know about the movie, to MSNBC, whose Education Nation put the lip lock on this dud, the film managed a paltry 2.7 million dollars in gross receipts, despite a nationwide release.

By comparison, Hotel Transylvania raked in 43 million. Of course, that may be because it was about blood sucking monsters. Won't Back Down, in contrast, was merely financed by blood sucking monsters.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Another E4E Shill Quits the Classroom for $$$

There's a new shill in town. Jonathan Schleifer, Executive Director of E4E NY, tells us how wonderful it would be if all teachers were evaluated more closely and, of course, fired. He came to this revelation after he left the classroom, so none of his proposals would affect him directly.

This E4E asshat tells us how proud he was to get a certificate from his principal he could hang up on his wall, presumably along with his posters of Justin Beiber (seriously--proud of a certificate? How old is this guy--10?)

I hope some of you can mosey on over there and let Schoolbook know what you think of these astroturf reformers.

Here is my response to him in the comments section:


E4E is nothing but a front for corporate reformers who wish to privatize schools for profit. You are no longer a teacher, Jonathan, you are a paid shill for Bill Gates and his reform agenda. If you really cared about kids, you'd still be in the classroom. Taking money from billionaires to help destroy the last bastion of unionism isn't noble, and it isn't for the students. It's for profit, pure and simple.

As for "rewarding" great teachers, that is reformspeak for merit pay and the ability to fire teachers at will. Merit pay has never worked anywhere it has ever been tried because it is based on the false assumption that teachers aren't trying very hard and can be seduced by money. Of course, teachers aren't in this for the money--teaching isn't a lucrative field. Those who want to make big bucks turn their backs on their fellow teachers and join the ranks of astroturf movements like E4E, where they can cash in on the hedge fund managers who view public education as their personal playground.

You want to reform education? I have an idea. Get back in the classroom and do the hard work that 75,000 of my colleagues and I do every day. Sitting in Bill Gates' lap isn't educating one single child.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Matt Polazzo Responds

Followers of this blog know that I have been having an email conversation with Matt Polazzo, who advocated that the UFT contract be ripped up in an opinion piece in the Daily News. I asked him to write a guest blog, and he consented, on the condition that I drop my usual snark. So I am presenting his email verbatim, minus my norman vitriol.

My greatest takeaway from this exchange is that it reminds me why we have Democrats and Republicans in this country. As a Democrat, I can not, for the life of me, understand why middle class and working class people vote Republican, and nothing I can say will change their minds. The same applies here. Even after reading Mr. Polazzo's response, I can not understand why he thinks the way he does, but there's nothing I can do about it. 

I do believe that he is sincere in his beliefs, however, which is why I agree to post this. I do believe it is important to know how the other side thinks. So, without further ado....

Dear Mr. Talk,

Though I did make a foray into public remarks with my article for the Daily News, I generally prefer to keep a low profile--actually part of the reason why I maintain a low profile is because of all the threats and opprobrium I received as a result of the article!

Anyway, you noticed that my daughter had been accepted into the new Success Academy at Cobble Hill and implied that this was due to my anti-union piece in the Daily News.  I wrote back, explaining that she actually was not accepted--we were waitlisted and got in extremely late in the game.  This acceptance was probably due to the fact that that zone has some extremely well-regarded schools like P.S. 29 and P.S. 261.

Anyway, in the course of my communications to you, I questioned your choice to remain anonymous and you sent me a detailed explanation of your reasons for for doing so.  You also challenged some of my beliefs, and so I took you up on your invitation to put a guest post on your blog.

I should note that I don't want this to be an endless back and forth--I'm going to say my piece and then I'll be gone.  I also am not going to read or respond to any comments; with the new school year starting, I don't have time to debate with commenters--no matter how thoughtful they may be. I know that those of you who read my remarks probably disagree with practically all of them, but I'm not afraid to say what I think.

My method will be to respond to your missive line by line.  Your remarks are in italics.  

The irony in my anonymity, if any, lies in the fact that I am a tenured teacher whose views might end up getting him fired if his name became known. I have told the truth about Bloomberg, Klein, Black, Walcott, and other power brokers in the DOE. They do monitor my blog, and it would be foolish for me to disclose my identity. Tenure is supposed to protect me and give me the freedom of speech that an educator should have, but it does not. I have heard of at least one blogger who was U rated after her identity became known. She is now out of the system. You would have it that tenured teachers can not be removed. That is nonsense. I know outstanding teachers who have run afoul of admins and were fired for their troubles. This includes union leaders who were fired for their involvement with the UFT.

I have to say that I don't really buy this defense.  There are many many pro-union bloggers who are teachers and the response that they have gotten does not resemble the harsh crackdown that you implied.  In my own school, Gary Rubenstein is a spirited critic of education reform and is an active updater of his blog. These views have earned him lots of hearty handshakes and as far as I know, no horse head has been delivered to his bed.  He is not an exception.  Here's another blog.  Here's Peter Goodman's blog.  And there are many more.  I have to say that blogging anonymously has its uses.  But if you are using your blog to attack others--especially people who don't have any real power, it strikes me as somewhat unethical.  It's true, I wrote that piece for the Daily News so I guess I asked for it, but I would prefer attacks on my ideas, not on my person.  If you are going to insult my character, then you owe it to yourself to emerge into the daylight.

You took a poke at this blog, alleging that few people read it. While "few" is subjective, you can see that I have 72 followers, and  have received more than a half a million hits. One post of mine reached 150,000 readers. Quite a few of your own students have been here, if you care to read the comments in the posts that feature you as their subject. Perhaps you're just hoping that no one hears how real teachers feel about your blatant betrayal of you colleagues and your union?

I'm sorry if I understated the response to your blog.  These remarks were based on the fact that many of your posts seemed to have no comments, or at least very few.

You asked me quite a few questions about my personal life, which I decline to answer, once again for the sake of anonymity. You seem to think using your name makes you more courageous than me, but followers of Kim Jong-un who praise their dear leader aren't showing courage. You are likewise showing no courage by sticking up for the billionaires who would steal the jobs and pensions of hard working teachers. 
I don't recall asking you specific questions (they were sort if idle inquiries), but I am curious about your own experiences.  I can say that I've taught in NYC schools for 14 years and my father did for over 30.  I currently teach at Stuyvesant HS, but started out teaching middle school at IS 143M.  I have three children, and I expect them all to be educated in the public schools--though you might not consider a charter school to be a legitimate public school. I'm a lifelong NYC resident and I still live in Brooklyn today, in Bed-Stuy. It's hard to say what your experience is.  You say you are a teacher with tenure.  I have no reason to doubt this, but also there is no reason to believe it.  As an anonymous blogger, your audience has to take it all on faith--again I urge you to come forward. 

Your point about Kim Jong-un (who is actually the Great Successor, if you must know) is obviously hyperbole, but really?  An entity that murders millions is comparable to the desire to reform education in America?  I don't think you are doing your cause much good by using this comparison.  And, as I mentioned, bashing the union while in the union is not an easy thing to do.  You may disagree, but try it some time and see what response you get.

In your letter, you claim to be anti-union. Don't you find it in the least hypocritical that you rake in the benefits of union protection while trying to tear it down? As a 14 year teacher, presumably with a master's plus 30, you earn at least $80K a year. Do you think anyone would be paying you that without your union negotiating on your behalf? When you go to the doctor, are you thankful for the health benefits that the contract affords you, or do you wish you could rip up the contract and pay your medical bills yourself?
I do have a masters, but I'm not at +30.  Actually, I came in on the (now defunct) PPT license and was able to string out the process of getting a masters for as long as possible.  In the process, I cost myself a lot of cash, but it was all an effort to avoid taking awful ed. classes.  After much drama, I ended up getting my masters at CUNY Grad Center, which was where I wrote that anti-union piece, which was submitted to the Daily News which started this whole discussion.  But the point is this: I don't believe that I need the union to give me my benefits. 

I'm confident in my abilities as well as that of most of my fellow teachers.  The idea that, without a union, we'd get zero dollars doesn't make sense to me. I know of no employer who can survive without offering their employees health care or competitive salaries.  It might be the case that I would get paid less than a teacher who can teach BC Calculus and I might get paid more than a Phys. Ed teacher.  So be it.  I was (IMHO) an excellent teacher in Washington Heights and I believe I am an excellent teacher at Stuyvesant. If your point is that since I receive union benefits, I can't criticize the union... well, that doesn't sound particularly democratic to me.

Imagine that I made you the head of a business that was struggling.  Then I said, "by the way, you can't fire any employees (or if you do, get ready to run this gauntlet), you can't change any of their pay, and those who have been here the longest get paid the most.  And if these employees keep their noses clean for three years, they get essentially a lifelong sinecure." (It's true that now tenure granting is less automatic, but now most applicants automatically get tenure after four years or five).  Is it any wonder that such an entity would struggle?  

Exactly how much do you think Eva Moskowitz would be paying you? What job protections would you have? Do you think you'd perform as well teaching poor inner city children as you seem to teaching the brightest kids in NY at Stuyvesant? If you are so anti-union, quit it and go work for Eva. You want to talk the talk, then walk the walk. Then I'd have respect for your position, if not agreement.
I don't think I buy your point that I can't criticize the union unless I teach in a tough inner city school.  I did teach in one for two years and my departure was mostly the result of (what I perceived as) a capricious administrator.  Good thing the union was there to protect me!  Or not. I had no tenure yet and they were too busy defending other teachers, like the one who slept at his desk and the one who actually dragged a kid down the stairs by his ankles.  I'd still be there today, but the principal and I had differing educational philosophies and I ended up at Stuy.  

But let's get back to this idea that I can't critique inner city schools unless I teach in one (leaving aside the fact that I did).  I live in a neighborhood that could be characterized as inner city. Because the school there is so bad, I felt I had to leave the zone and apply to a panoply of other programs. The result is an onerous commute every day for drop-off.  A related point: I think that there should be a 2nd Avenue subway in NYC. I totally support it.  But digging that tunnel is a dirty and dangerous job.  According to your logic, I cannot criticize any elements of the project since I am not a sandhog.   By this logic, I can't criticize our military policy because I don't serve in the army.  You see why I find this argument pernicious?

Speaking of which, it's extremely easy for you to ask for the contract to be ripped up when you teach at a school like Stuyvesant. Those kids are self motivated, and even if you sucked as a teacher, they would still do quite well. Why don't you try teaching in a high poverty, gang-riddled neighborhood as I did for 20 years and see how well you do. Perhaps that experience might make you more aware of the issues involved in good teaching. Perhaps then you might appreciate the job protections that your union affords you, especially when your class in NOT a group of Harvard bound seniors, but a bunch of kids who are lucky if they manage to scrape through high school.

I notice you say "did" and not "do," which presumably means you are also no longer in the game, so to speak.  Are you still teaching in that gang-riddled neighborhood? 

Be that as it may, I spent my childhood going into those schools, which is where my father taught (in the South Bronx and East New York in the 1970s and 1980s).  I also was a teacher up in Washington Heights myself.  There were great teachers in all of the those schools, just like there are some mediocre teachers at Stuy.  Obviously evaluating teachers in different environments is an important factor to take into account.  Why not, for example, test kids twice--once at the beginning of the year and once at the end?  I do agree that these are not easy issues to solve, but I don't believe that they are unsolvable. Learning is a pretty complex process and yet we stamp numerical grades on students year in and year out.  I don't see why teaching should be any different.  Even to this day, you could be Socrates himself (or maybe Plato) and the best mark you can get on your ratings sheet is "S" for satisfactory.  

You claim that the article in the News, in which you vilify your union and your fellow teachers, was not submitted by you. So what? You clearly gave your consent once you found out that they wanted to publish the piece. Was your 15 minutes of fame worth selling out your colleagues?
Totally.  I take full responsibility for the piece.  I just wanted to clarify that I wasn't bombarding the Daily News with union bashing pieces.  As to "selling out your fellow teachers," that sounds something like omerta or the thin blue line.  Part of being in a respectable profession is being willing to call your peers to account when they fail to live up to their obligations. My "15 minutes of fame" was more like 15 minutes of being bashed all over the internet and being sent lots of hate mail.  And this was what I expected--I certainly did not imagine I would get any sort of professional advancement and none was forthcoming.  As to selling out your fellow teachers; well, your blogs weren't exactly polite to me--a fellow teacher. But no hard feelings!

Regarding your daughter winning the lottery for Eva's school: You claim it was fortuitous that the reporter for the Daily News just happened to be there when you were and just happened to ask you questions that showed Eva in a good light. Perhaps so, but this is the same newspaper that used you once before to strike out at your colleagues. It's entirely reasonable for anyone to be suspicious when you suddenly appear in the same paper, lauding a charter school while you work for the public schools. 

Fair enough.  That's one of the reasons I wrote to you initially.  I also suggested that you could have reached out to me and asked me directly, but there it is.  Still, most all papers have one guy who writes the editorials and a staff of other people who do reporting, and the Daily News is no different.  I suppose you could suspect that this is not true, but I can't believe that you buy into the conspiracy that this alternate telling would imply.

What concerns me most about your efforts to sabotage the UFT is that you have no skin in the game, and that you offer no solutions. Your skin is safe in Stuyvesant--as I said, whether you are a good teacher or not, your students will perform. More concerning is your lack of solutions. You advocate throwing out the UFT contract but say nothing about what would take its place (if anything). How many teachers might lose their jobs unjustly if the contract disappeared tomorrow? How many excellent teachers would be fired because they could be replaced by two newbies? Maybe if your job was at stake, as well as your ability to provide for your daughter, you might think twice before advocating that others be fired without due process.

Here, I think, is the most valid of your points.  It is true that I have not specified exactly what I think should replace the current system.  I have some inchoate ideas, but they might not work. For what it's worth, I think that lockstep pay and first in last out is a lousy way to run a school.  The way I'd like teachers protected is this: an administrator would be under constant pressure for results.  Good teachers, who deliver those results would be essentially guaranteeing the AP's job.  

But here's the thing: if this plan doesn't work, we should be able to try something else!  Let a thousand flowers bloom!  If school A guarantees teacher jobs and pays $60,000 and school B offers no protections but pays $100,000, let's try them both.  Let's try things that I haven't thought of. The contract prevents experimentation like this in conventional public schools.  To quote FDR: "The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation." Of course he was referring to the Great Depression, but I think is point is apropos to the discussion.

You can attack this scheme and it is vulnerable to attack.  Still, good teachers produce better results. There is no question that home life plays the biggest role, but the city can't go home with the kids.  Here's an excellent Q&A with Stanford Professor Eric Hanushek that deals with these issues.  

I mean, weren't you a student at one point?  Didn't you have amazing and inspirational teachers? Didn't you have some who where totally forgettable? Didn't you have some that were awful? Haven't we all?

An old joke: two men are running away from a bear.  The second guy says to the first guy "how are we gonna outrun this bear?"  The first guys says "I don't need to outrun the bear--I just need to outrun you." The status quo is the equivalent of being eaten by the bear.  This leads into your next point:

Finally, you claim that education is in "crisis" and that we need to do something. I suggest you read Diane Ravitch, who knows more about this than anyone else in America. She would tell you that American students are actually doing better than ever in the PISA tests, and that if we adjust for poverty of our students, we perform as well as any nation in the world. So the "crisis" is a crisis of poverty, and you will never solve it by attacking teachers, any more than Bush solved the problem of terrorism attacking Iraq. You solve a problem by attacking the things that cause it, and not by randomly attacking the easiest target.

Regarding the crisis in education, I have a couple of remarks.  The first is that I agree--poverty is a major problem in America.  So, hey, let's end it!  Easier said than done.  Look at the attempts by Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society--to end poverty as we know it.  

It's still here.

I would suggest to you that lack of access to quality education is the main driver of poverty in the United States.  You (and maybe even St. Diane?) mixed cause and effect.

Things weren't as bad in 1960 when a high school diploma could still get you a fairly decent gig.  But globalization and automation have ended the era of low wage manufacturing jobs. The only reliable path out of impoverishment is education.  I agree that parents are often the main issue here--I used to walk down 182nd Street at 11pm on a weeknight and all my sixth grade kids were hanging out. Their parents were good people who really did value education, but only in the abstract.  Still, at school the kids who had good teachers were still capable of achieving great things.  But the ones in the class with the teacher who called them "a bunch of disgusting animals" failed to thrive.

I'm not saying that creating better schools is the only way to tackle poverty, but it's a powerful tool and should not be discarded lightly.  

As to your PISA post, here is an excerpt from Shanker Blog (no ed reformers, they): "I want to make it very clear that U.S. PISA results are not good enough by any stretch of the imagination, and we can and should do a whole lot better." 

The author then goes on to note that we are not awful--merely mediocre.But here's the thing; poverty is real, and I still submit that it is at least partially a result of bad schools. Look at New York City. Our graduation rate is floating around 65%--and this is trumpeted as good news! This alone is disgraceful. But if that weren't enough, those that do graduate are often lacking even the most basic skills. I'm sure you are familiar with the 2009 study that showed half of all NYC graduates attending CUNY schools needed remediation before they could attend basic college level classes. Here's a piece in the NYTimes about the flood of remediation. This also might be a good time for me to note that I carry no water for Joel Klein, Cathy Black or Dennis Walcott. I disagree with a ton of what comes out of Tweed--the cell phone ban is just one example of many. Just because I criticize the union doesn't mean that I agree with all of its other critics on everything. I don't think you actually accused me of this, but I want to be clear.

Getting back to it, nobody wants to kill and drill or just teach to the test. But look at this 4th grade ELA test.  Are we really saying it's okay for students not to meet this level?  Every year, I grade the US and Global History Regents. These tests are jokes.  There is a multiple choice section that is vaguely challenging and then there are essays in which they actually give students the answers.  And if they look like they are failing, just run their scores through the conversion table (PDF), which will almost always yield passing results. And yet despite all this, students were still failing the Global in droves--so much so that they almost ended the exam. (Apologies for linking to the NYPost...) 

To me, these are major problems that need solving.  I don't think it's right or fair to wait for a white knight to swoop in and end poverty.

You attack on the union was Bush-like, and bush league. If you really want to help children, you'll advocate for an end to poverty, and not take a sledge hammer to your colleagues.
Bush like and Bush league, eh?  I suppose I could say that you're shanking it like Shanker, or that your logic has been ravaged by Ravitch... but that wouldn't be nice... :)

Let me conclude with a couple of basic points.  I see the need for unions in jobs which are dangerous or deadly.  If you are a coal miner, the more coal you mine, the sicker you get.  If you are a longshoreman, the more boxes you heave, the closer you get to a career ending injury.  But we are not miners or longshoremen (though I certainly have much respect for them).  We are professionals, like doctors or lawyers.  Both have managed fine without union protection and are considered (I would say unjustly) to be more prestigious professions.  I know the UFT motto is "A Union of Professionals," but I find that to by an oxymoron--professionals don't need a union. 

Additionally, unions in the private sector are moderated by the fact that excess demands can lead to the destruction of their industry.  No such danger exists in the public sector.  Let me quote FDR here "The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service." He also wrote "I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place... A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government." 

Again, you might accuse me of bashing my own kind.  But I think that the problem that bedevils America is that too few people are willing to attack their own perks--perks that threaten to turn us into a rentier state in which all are concerned with growing their share of the pie at the expense of others and not with growing the pie overall.  The mortgage interest deduction is a great example--it benefits homeowners like crazy, but it's terrible policy because it basically puts a tax on (generally poorer) renters.  Yet no politician can call for its end. Indeed any politician who calls for any tax raise can kiss his career goodbye (see Mondale, Walter).  

We are teachers and there is a third party involved here--the students who, rich or poor, need us to be the best we can be.  

You might say I am teacher-bashing, but I believe that teaching is the most important profession that there is.  I know full well how many amazing teachers there are, but here is the problem: they do so out of a spirit of altruism.  How can altruism be a problem? The problem is what to do with those who are not altruistic.  A system predicated on people doing the right thing has no way to deal with those who do the wrong thing.  And the system indirectly encourages people to do the wrong thing!  If I give my students a lot of homework and tests and personal responses to their writing as a young teacher, there's a chance I will flame out of the profession.  But if I take it easy and give lots of high grades without giving a lot of work or exams then I can float on through and watch my salary go up and up. This model makes little sense.

I have many problems with the world of business and industry, but in that environment people do their jobs because if they do they are rewarded and if they don't they are fired.  We have created a system with neither the carrot nor the stick--small wonder that our field has suffered and that so many people who choose to major in education are at the bottom of their classes.

In conclusion, Mr. Talk, I want to say a couple of things. First, though my remarks were sometimes pointed, I hope you take them in the context of a reasonable and spirited exchange of ideas.  I feel relatively certain that you and I share many goals. I imagine we both want what's best for the students and teachers of New York and the United States--though we obviously differ in how we think we should proceed.

I also want to thank you for posting this on your blog.  Writing this has been cathartic for me, and I hope its receipt was not too painful/annoying for you.  

Best of luck in your future endeavors,


Matt P.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Response to Anti-Union Teacher, Matt Polazzo

Matt Polazzo, a teacher at Stuyvesant, recently appeared in the Daily News promoting the Success Charter run by Eva Moskowitz. I blogged about it here. Mr. Polazzo is also the person who suggested that we should rip up the union contract in an opinion piece in the same Daily News. He emailed me his side of this issue. I will not post his email here, but I have chosen to post my response to him, which follows below. The first paragraph refers to Mr. Polazzo's dismay that I blog anonymously while calling myself Accountable:


The irony in my anonymity, if any, lies in the fact that I am a tenured teacher whose views might end up getting him fired if his name became known. I have told the truth about Bloomberg, Klein, Black, Walcott, and other power brokers in the DOE. They do monitor my blog, and it would be foolish for me to disclose my identity. Tenure is supposed to protect me and give me the freedom of speech that an educator should have, but it does not. I have heard of at least one blogger who was U rated after her identity became known. She is now out of the system. You would have it that tenured teachers can not be removed. That is nonsense. I know outstanding teachers who have run afoul of admins and were fired for their troubles. This includes union leaders who were fired for their involvement with the UFT.

You took a poke at this blog, alleging that few people read it. While "few" is subjective, you can see that I have 72 followers, and I have received more than a half a million hits. One post of mine reached 150,000 readers. Quite a few of your own students have been here, if you care to read the comments in the posts that feature you as their subject. Perhaps you're just hoping that no one hears how real teachers feel about your blatant betrayal of your colleagues and your union?

You asked me quite a few questions about my personal life, which I decline to answer, once again for the sake of anonymity. You seem to think using your name makes you more courageous than me, but followers of Kim Jong-un who praise their dear leader aren't showing courage. You are likewise showing no courage by sticking up for the billionaires who would steal the jobs and pensions of hard working teachers.

In your letter, you claim to be anti-union. Don't you find it in the least hypocritical that you rake in the benefits of union protection while trying to tear it down? As a 14 year teacher, presumably with a master's plus 30, you earn at least $80K a year. Do you think anyone would be paying you that without your union negotiating on your behalf? When you go to the doctor, are you thankful for the health benefits that the contract affords you, or do you wish you could rip up the contract and pay your medical bills yourself?

Exactly how much do you think Eva Moskowitz would be paying you? What job protections would you have? Do you think you'd perform as well teaching poor inner city children as you seem to teaching the brightest kids in NY at Stuyvesant? If you are so anti-union, quit it and go work for Eva. You want to talk the talk, then walk the walk. Then I'd have respect for your position, if not agreement.

Speaking of which, it's extremely easy for you to ask for the contract to be ripped up when you teach at a school like Stuyvesant. Those kids are self motivated, and even if you sucked as a teacher, they would still do quite well. Why don't you try teaching in a high poverty, gang-riddled neighborhood as I did for 20 years and see how well you do. Perhaps that experience might make you more aware of the issues involved in good teaching. Perhaps then you might appreciate the job protections that your union affords you, especially when your class is NOT a group of Harvard bound seniors, but a bunch of kids who are lucky if they manage to scrape through high school.

You claim that the article in the News, in which you vilify your union and your fellow teachers, was not submitted by you. So what? You clearly gave your consent once you found out that they wanted to publish the piece. Was your 15 minutes of fame worth selling out your colleagues?

Regarding your daughter winning the lottery for Eva's school: You claim it was fortuitous that the reporter for the Daily News just happened to be there when you were and just happened to ask you questions that showed Eva in a good light. Perhaps so, but this is the same newspaper that used you once before to strike out at your colleagues. It's entirely reasonable for anyone to be suspicious when you suddenly appear in the same paper, lauding a charter school while you work for the public schools.

What concerns me most about your efforts to sabotage the UFT is that you have no skin in the game, and that you offer no solutions. Your skin is safe in Stuyvesant--as I said, whether you are a good teacher or not, your students will perform. More concerning is your lack of solutions. You advocate throwing out the UFT contract but say nothing about what would take its place (if anything). How many teachers might lose their jobs unjustly if the contract disappeared tomorrow? How many excellent teachers would be fired because they could be replaced by two newbies? Maybe if your job was at stake, as well as your ability to provide for your daughter, you might think twice before advocating that others be fired without due process.

Finally, you claim that education is in "crisis" and that we need to do something. I suggest you read Diane Ravitch, who knows more about this than anyone else in America. She would tell you that American students are actually doing better than ever in the PISA tests, and that if we adjust for poverty of our students, we perform as well as any nation in the world. So the "crisis" is a crisis of poverty, and you will never solve it by attacking teachers, any more than Bush solved the problem of terrorism attacking Iraq. You solve a problem by attacking the things that cause it, and not by randomly attacking the easiest target.

Your attack on the union was Bush-like, and bush league. If you really want to help children, you'll advocate for an end to poverty, and not take a sledge hammer to your colleagues.

I will be posting this letter (but not your letter to me) on my blog, in the hopes that my tiny audience will read it. I once again extend you an offer to guest blog and attempt to refute anything I have said here.

I do appreciate you writing to me, and I hope you decide that you would like to respond publicly.

Yours,

He who shall remain nameless