Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Of Double Standards, Billionaires, and Pencil Boxes

An incredibly smart and sweet girl I've had the pleasure of teaching for two of her three years at my school just recently graduated as valedictorian. She is headed to Stuyvesant. Just yesterday, she handed me a card in which she thanked me profusely for helping her become a better writer and for being a good English teacher. These are the kinds of things teachers live for.

Along with the card came a present--a nice pencil box inscribed with a quote by Hemingway. It will look great on my desk, assuming I decide to keep it.

You see, there are rules in this city for employees. I'm not supposed to accept any gift over a certain amount, but the actual amount for teachers is vague. Under Klein, the amount was $5 per student. Here's what I found when I searched it:

A gift can only be accepted from an individual if the gift is of primarily sentimental value. This means that it should not be very expensive. Cheap scarves, homemade crafts, cards, baked goods, and the like are probably OK.

This gift was clearly primarily of sentimental value. But I don't know its dollar value, and it could well be over $5, although it certainly can't be much more than that. So which rule prevails--sentimentality or dollar value? Am I supposed to return it? Ask for a receipt verifying the price? Ask the girl if she was feeling sentimental when she handed it to me?

I wouldn't even bring this up if not for two articles that caught my eye today. The first involved two sanitation workers who were fined $2,000 each for accepting a $5 tip for hauling away a lot of trash.  This is in violation of the rules of the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which handed down the fines. If they got fined 2 grand for five dollar tip, what might happen to me if the COIB discovers I accepted a $10 pencil box? Fine me $4000? Have me keel hauled? What if it's worth more? Will they have my eyes pecked out by birds?

Of course, these rules only apply if you are a city worker. If you are the mayor, you are exempt. For example, if you're Bloomberg, and you have a pet project such as changing gun control laws, it is perfectly OK for you to take the tax money of NYC residents and lobby for changes to gun laws in Nevada. Yes, this is the same mayor who has an estimated worth of $27 billion but feels its much better to spend YOUR hard earned money on his pet projects than to use his own massive wealth. This is also the same mayor who has claimed time and again that there is no money for raises for teachers, apparently because the money is earmarked for political plunder.

The mayor's goon spokesperson claimed that this was all fair and aboveboard, because "seeking sane gun laws in other states . . . help(s) reduce the flow of illegal guns to New York", thus keeping everyone safe. As you are doubtless aware, many mobsters routinely go to Nevada for guns, because it is much closer than, let's say, the south.

On the other hand, if I accept this pencil box and its value exceeds $5 or the equivalent sentimental units, it will mean the end of civilization as we know it. Violence will rule the streets and anarchy will prevail. If teachers start accepting $10 Dunkin' Donuts gift cards, the next thing you know they'll be headed off to Nevada to purchase illegal guns. We have to have rules.

Unless you're the mayor. Or a billionaire. Or especially if you're both.

But it's nearly the end of school, and I refuse to insult this nice young lady by returning her gift. If you want my pencil box, Mr. Mayor, all I can do is borrow a quote from all those really dangerous Nevada to NY gun runners:

"You can have my pencil box when you pry it from my cold dead fingers."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Chancellor Walcott Should Fire Himself

If you want to judge schools by data, as this administration so desperately wants to do, you can only conclude that Chancellor Walcott has failed our children and should be fired immediately. Since he's the boss, I want him to publicly fire himself. Yes, I know he can just resign, but self-immolation would be so much sweeter.

I'm here today to accuse Walcott of extremely poor performance based on his own measures. I'm talking specifically about quality reviews, which are designed to measure how individual schools are performing. If individual schools are performing more poorly overall, then the system itself is failing, and its leader has failed to add value.

My school just recently got its QR score, and it wasn't great. Me, I'd tell you that it IS a great school--with excellent teachers, a solid administration, and high test scores. But Walcott would tell you that data doesn't lie. And what's good for the goose is good for the chancellor.

You don't need to be a great statistician (because I'm certainly not) to prove that Walcott stinks. Just do what I did and download the QR scores for the entire city since 2005. Yes, I know it sounds boring, but I'm not going to ask you to read any actual data. All you need to do is scroll the spreadsheet and you'll see what I mean.

Start at the top, and scroll down the first two years, which are the 2005/06 and 2006/07 school years. Notice anything? Almost all the schools are considered either Well Developed (WD) or Proficient (P). Then a strange thing happens as you scroll to 2007/08. The number of WD schools mushrooms to mythical proportions. I'd venture a guess (because I am too lazy to do the math) that at least 65% of schools were Well Developed that year. It was such a great year that they developed a whole new level--Outstanding (O)--which was only in effect that year. There was a big drop-off the next year--in fact, you can tell when the 08/09 school year begins because all those WDs suddenly disappear as you scroll.

So, if you believe that data, it is possible for about 2/3rds of schools to be well developed. Walcott has had two years at the helm to return us to those halcyon days, but he has failed miserably. If you keep scrolling to the end of that spreadsheet, you can see that in the two years of Walcott's tenure, we have fewer WDs than ever. In fact, you start seeing a LOT of D's for Developing and a smattering of U's.

So let's do to Walcott what he'd like to do to us with the new evaluation system he touts so highly. In this system, teachers get two years to show they are competent, and if are deemed ineffective based on the data, can be summarily fired.

In Walcott's two years, the data clearly show that our schools have gone downhill. FAR downhill. Where we once had 65% of schools considered well developed, we now have roughly 10% (again, this is based on my lazy visual inspection of the spreadsheet). The data conclusively prove that Walcott has been ineffective for two years and should be summarily fired.

Of course, we can give him the same consideration he gives us, and let him prove that he is competent despite the numbers. I'd love to hear how he'd explain these numbers away.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Congratulations on my Retirement!!!

Yes, it's true. I've been receiving tons of congratulations from my colleagues lately on my coming retirement. Which is normal, I suppose, except for one thing.

I'm not retiring. I'm not old enough and I don't
have enough years in.

So you may be wondering why people have been congratulating me. I'll give you a hint--it all started when I returned to school Monday.

Yep. I've been getting pats on the back all week because of the new evaluation system, because while I am not retiring, I will be eligible to retire well before the end of the 2015 school year, which is when the new system will start lopping the heads off any teachers rated ineffective two years in a row. So even if they hoist me into the tumbril and cart me off the the guillotine, I can narrowly escape and head off into the sunset at Boca Raton.

To be clear, I have no intention of retiring for quite a few years, because I love teaching and I still think my best work is yet to come. And besides, where would I get material for this blog?

My point is that it just goes to show you the extent to which people are afraid of this new evaluation system, and I think justifiably so. The fact that people are congratulating me on retirement years in advance shows me how much those people believe they will not make it, as I have.

They may well be right. A teacher with 10 years in will have to go at least another 17 without getting two consecutive ineffective ratings. If you're brand new, you'll have to survive a full 27 years of junk science VAM evaluations, and you'll have to survive a number of principals (I have survived six, so far) and admins who may not think you're the cat's pajamas (jeez, I am old).

Unless things change, you can expect that this evaluation plan will mean that before long, no one will reach retirement (and after all, isn't that what Bloomberg wants, anyway?). Once geezers like me are gone, we'll have to think of new things to celebrate, such as one consecutive year without an ineffective rating. Teacher who get vested should receive a gold watch.

A lot of the folks who congratulated me also told me that they are working on their resumes, or looking for other careers. That, of course, is the other thing Bloomberg wanted--a transient, temporary work force that will be young enough not to need many benefits and too inexperienced to climb up the pay scale.

Me, I'm just basking in the glow of all the congratulations. I may go out this weekend to buy a straw hat, some Bermuda shorts, and some sandals to go with my knee length black socks as I contemplate getting out of this system and heading to Florida. I hope to see you there one day. But I'm not banking on it. It'll probably be just me and Mulgrew.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Email From Mulgrew Regarding APPR Decision

My fellow UFTers,

I'm delighted to tell you of the total victory we emerged with today by wisely allowing John King, whose cup of coffee as a teacher gives him wide ranging knowledge of education, to decide the fate of the 75,000 teachers we threw under the bus represent.

There will, of course, be plenty of time for you to get to know the details of this plan as you stand on the unemployment line, but here are some highlights:

  • You will be judged on all 22 elements of the Danielson Framework. The city tried to cheat us and evaluate us on only 21 of them, but we insisted. Win!
  • You will be observed from 4-6 times per year, as opposed to the previous two. Obviously, we wanted more observations because teachers asked for them. In a recent poll of teacher preferences conducted by New York Teacher, 52% of teachers said "I want to be observed three times as often." None of the other choices, such as "I want my scrotum stapled to a moving roller coaster" garnered even half as much support.
  • If you teach ELA or math, only 20% of your score will be based on value-added measurements (VAM, aka junk science). Or 25% if the Regents changes its mind. Oh, and if your kids don't do well, it will count for 100%. But it'll only be 20% as long as you don't have to teach any kids with learning disabilities, limited English, or behavior problems, which, as we know, is reflective of the majority of classes in NYC.
  • If you teach science or social studies, we have even better news! We know that many of you have been bemoaning the fact that you don't get to teach to high stakes state tests like other core subjects, but those days are over! 20% (or 25%, or 100%) of your evaluation will come from a new set of tests designed just for the city! No siree, we didn't forget you in this system!
  • As a bonus, you will also have the unheard of opportunity to be evaluated by your students. Yes, student surveys will now contribute to your overall score. If you thought being evaluated by an admin with only 3 years of teaching experience was fun, imagine how you'll love being graded by children who've only been in school for three years! Many of them still eat library paste!
  • Mayor Bloomberg wanted an evaluation system that would never sunset, or run for a million bajillion years, whichever comes first. We, of course, wouldn't stand for that. In a stunning victory, we made sure that the law would sunset in FOUR years! True, the rest of the state will sunset in two, and we got four, but you have to admit that's not even close to a million bajillion! If that's not a victory, we don't know what is (no, really, we don't).
  • The DOE wanted to ability to fire any teacher rated ineffective two years in a row. To be honest, they did get that, but hey, you'll get up to a full four hours to prove that you are competent before you are fired. What more could you ask for? To make it even sweeter,  13% of teachers will actually get a semblance of a real hearing instead of a kangaroo court. So if you're a chapter leader loyal to Unity, or willing to sleep with a chapter leader loyal to Unity, you may just end up being one of the lucky few.
  • For those of you worried about getting tenure, we have something for you, as well. Now that teachers can be fired for two years of ineffective ratings, tenure no longer matters anyway! All teachers will enjoy exactly the same protections, or lack thereof.
We just wanted to get the word out to you ourselves, before the press and the DOE get their spin on it. Remember, if you have any questions about the new APPR, don't forget to contact your DOE representative. You can be sure that he or she will always be there to answer your questions, because they are not subject to this evaluation plan and therefore can't be fired.

Yours in appeasement,

Michael Mulgrew