April 30, 2009

Rubber rooms, in the eyes of the TAG beholders

The Teacher Advocacy Group NYC has put together a flyer about the rubber rooms.

I'm posting it here because you're not going to find it either on the UFT website or Edwize, which claims to be a union blog but is really just a Unity blog.


Quoting from TAG's email:
The Temporary Reassignment Centers have been relegated to the back of the bus in the struggle to preserve public education and the careers of the NYC public school teacher. But we are critical to the plan to dismantle and discredit public education. The TRCs are in the front line "representing" as we do the repository of arbitrary power of principals as memorialized in the 2005 UFT contract; "representing" as we do tangible evidence of the incompetence and moral turpitude of the NYC teacher;"representing" as we do the best PR tool Bloomberg-Klein have to overthrow tenure' 'representing' as we do the face of a union too cowardly to defend its members while they are in the school; representing as we do the means by which Bloomberg-Klein chill all opposition within the schools- chapter chair leaders included. And lastly, providing the back door to the creation of more ATRs — and we know what is going to happen to the ATRs.

Here's the text of the flyer they're getting out to press and public. Kudos to whoever put this together, because they're doing what union management is not doing: defining the stinking mess and getting the word out.

THE RUBBER ROOM: DOE’s DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

What is the ‘rubber room’?

Approximately 800 Department of Education teachers are warehoused in Temporary Reassignment Centers, known as rubber rooms. The DOE considers these individuals too dangerous to be around children, yet most will return to schools after languishing for months or years in off-campus sites.

Teachers receive full pay while waiting for the resolution of their cases. The financial costs are estimated as high as $65 million dollars; the human costs are seldom considered.

Reassignment Centers are called rubber rooms because doing nothing is maddening. Outwardly, teachers play cards, watch DVDs, knit, read books, and sleep. Inwardly, teachers lament the loss of successful careers and worry about uncertain futures. Feelings of fear, doubt and shame never subside.

Why are teachers removed?

Allegations of sexual misconduct, corporal punishment and other misconduct are so disturbing that the DOE banishes teachers to rubber rooms on just the word of a principal, teacher or student.

Certainly some teachers should not be in classrooms, but many charges against teachers are exaggerated or simply not true. For example, reporting unsafe conditions is insubordination; failing to immediately admit a late student to class is corporal punishment.

Principals frequently use false charges to retaliate against whistleblowers and to remove competent teachers who question the policies of the administration.

Reassigned teachers may also be charged with incompetence or be accused of crimes by outside agencies.

Incompetent teachers should be terminated, but many principals and assistant principals are not qualified to judge competence. Principals and assistant principals are required to have only three years of teaching experience. Possession of an administrative license does not guarantee knowledge of pedagogy.

The decision to remove a teacher is often based on personalities; a teacher who caters to the whims of the administration is rarely reassigned and never accused of incompetence.


Why do disciplinary proceedings take so long?

Education Law states that disciplinary proceedings against charged teachers must be completed within five months. The DOE and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) modified the proceedings. These modifications do not provide teachers with increased protection; instead they infringe on the rights of teachers and lengthen the process.

The DOE and the UFT agreed that teachers can be removed before charges are preferred. Teachers are supposed to be charged within 6 months of their removal, yet some teachers remain in the rubber room for years without charges.

The DOE and the UFT also denied teachers the right to choose arbitrators. A fixed number of arbitrators are assigned on a rotating basis, supposedly to accelerate the disciplinary proceedings. However, more arbitrators are needed, timeframes are ignored, and cases can last for years.

The accused teachers are not responsible for the delays and they can expedite cases only by admitting guilt and settling.

Teachers who are charged with crimes by an outside agency face similar obstacles. Prosecuting attorneys continually ask for postponements, claim they are ready to proceed, and then ask for additional postponements. The teachers are again powerless to hasten the process except by admitting guilt.


Is justice served?

Arbitrators are paid approximately $1,700 per day and must be approved by both the DOE and the UFT. Arbitrators have a huge incentive to please both sides.

The UFT is happy if teachers do not lose their jobs; the DOE is happy if the arbitrator renders any finding of guilt. Teachers are rarely terminated or exonerated. The decision of an arbitrator is very predictable: a finding against the teacher, a fine, and reassignment as an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).

Teachers who become ATRs are substitute teachers permanently assigned to schools. They do not have programs and have little hope of returning to the classroom in a meaningful capacity. There are approximately 1,400 ATRs in the DOE. Most ATRs are tenured teachers with excellent records who lost jobs after schools were closed


Why does the process continue?

Principals who abuse the disciplinary process are not punished and they achieve their desired results: a troublesome teacher is removed and the remaining teachers are intimidated.

The DOE hopes that public opinion inflamed by the newspapers will result in the termination of ATRs. Mostly tenured teachers will be dismissed, and teachers without tenure are cheaper and easier to control.

The UFT is reluctant to protest the abuse of the disciplinary process. The UFT receives dues from over 2,000 ATRs and rubber room teachers, approximately $2.4 million annually. Positions for these teachers have been given to new hires and changing the system will cost the UFT money.

Teachers and students are hurt by the system, but neither group has a voice.

Parents and the public are kept in the dark and trust that policymakers will make the right decisions. So far they have not.

Here's a UFT link on rubber rooms posted last July, but be prepared. It's as rosy and upbeat as it is ludicrous, and if you need proof, try this sentence in the first paragraph:
In an important victory for members languishing unfairly in Department of Education temporary reassignment centers, the UFT and DOE have reached an agreement that will erase the backlog of teachers sent to a “rubber room” for alleged misconduct.
I especially choked on the words "victory" and "erase the backlog."

Here's an assignment for TAG, or for whoever knows anything about the rubber rooms: Is there anything in that post that's really doing some good for teachers assigned? Or is the whole thing one great big ill-conceived, poorly negotiated, and horrifically monitored screwup.




April 23, 2009

Reading between her lines

It's getting harder and harder to listen to Weingarten plod through her President's Report at the Delegates Assembly each month just to eat up time.

Because that's what it's all about: eating up time — so she doesn't have to deal with any tiresome member complaints and horror stories coming from the chapters.

Weingarten could say everything she has to say and still have loads of time left if she'd just write it all down for us let us read it. 5 minutes, 10 at most. Not the hour we have to sit listening to her, and listening to all the puppets she puts up to convince us she's doing a great job fighting the fight. Ho very hum.

The only way to get through her reports is to keep track of some of the crazy things she says, which is what I did at yesterday's meeting.


According to Weingarten, the UFT is the "voice for the voiceless." Yes, she says, she's "out to protect our money," but the UFT is also the "safety net for the most vulnerable."
Silly me, I didn't know I was paying dues so that she or the union could be a "voice for the voiceless" or a "safety net" for the most vulnerable. I thought my dues were for some job protections.

[ALERT: There's a new Norm's comment in the comments. He's right, of course.]

Come to think of it, though, if anyone is the most vulnerable at this point, it's the veteran teachers and the probationers
, and I can't see how the UFT is being a voice or a safety net for any of these people.

Weingarten also said it's the main job (or most important job) of the union to protect children. If someone wrote down those exact words, I'd love to have them verbatim. It's hard for me to believe she hasn't yet figured out what her main job is as president of a teachers' union.

Weingarten then tried to say that her goal is to be the person whom BloomKlein and the rest of the politicians "can focus their ire on," instead of the members.
Cracky. Ask any ATR, any maligned chapter leader, or any of the many members in the rubber room for no cause if they feel BloomKlein is focusing its ire on Randi Weingarten. Most of us think she's making deals with them all the time. And if you need proof of that, look how many times we hear about something way down the line when it's no turning back and the delegates so-called voice is just a rubber stamp.

Someone can correct me if I'm wrong here, but Weingarten seemed never to have heard of TAGNYC — the Teachers Advocacy Group NYC — since she referred to it as an "organization called TAGNY," and pronouncing it Tag-nee.
TAGNYC is one of the most articulate teacher activist groups in the union, and for starters, you can read the testimony they put into the record at the recent Mayoral Control hearings. If she meant the TAGNYC I think she meant and mispronounced its name, it speaks volumes about her callousness towards the members.

In response to a complaint that older teachers are being really hurt and marginalized, Weingarten responded professorially: Well, this kind of thing is going on across all professions nationwide.
Trouble is we're not looking for a sociology lesson here. Compassion would be far more appropriate. Steaming mad would be the best — angry enough to really go to the mat for us.

A person behind me rightly remarked at this point that if such a trend for youth existed and that's all Weingarten had to say about it, maybe the president of this union should be replaced by a 25-year-old.


In response to a complaint about not being able to remove Letters in the File by grievance, Weingarten said she couldn't think of a single substantive thing that couldn't be changed with the Todd Friedman arbitration.
Darn it. And I thought she actually knew about the lies being allowed to fester in teachers' files. Surely she knows there's no vehicle to get these malicious letters removed, and surely she knows that once upon a time when we did have the right to grieve these things, principals tended to use their power of the pen a bit more judiciously.

No one's saying the Todd Friedman arbitration hasn't done some good, but it only works when you can attack a contractual violation. Then part of the remedy is to remove the offending LIF. But I'd venture to say most LIFs these days contain a potpourri of misstatements, distortions and downright lies. There's no way we'll be getting these out any time soon.


If anyone has any more of these RW "messages" from yesterday's DA, I'd love to keep a record of what we're dealing with here.

And I'm starting to get why she doesn't ever put her President's Reports in writing. Who'd want this doublespeak out in the public domain.


[For a full report on yesterday's DA, read James Eterno's detailed account on the ICE blog.]



April 14, 2009

Arne's ball . . . I mean gall

Ednotes, thanks for the Ed Quote of the Year.
"I didn't want to try to save the country's children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children's education."

That's from Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education and Obama's Basketball-Buddy-in-Chief.


I tell you, my disgust with these jocks is starting to run really deep. In most of the wider senses of the word as well, like "jockey" from the online dictionary:

* cheat: defeat someone through trickery or deceit

* compete (for an advantage or a position)
 
[NOTE: as in gaming the system, in this case, public education]
* someone employed to ride horses in horse races

* ride a racehorse as a professional jockey
[NOTE: not the groom and not the trainer (that's us), but the RIDER.]
* an operator of some vehicle or machine or apparatus; "he's a truck jockey"; "a computer jockey"; "a disc jockey"
[NOTE: the word "operator," a facile user of the apparatus]


What's good for the goose, and all that sort of thing.


April 7, 2009

Postman calling!

The Teacher Advocacy Group (TAGNYC) has informed us of some letters they've sent Randi Weingarten and other UFT officers from the Assignment Center.

Too bad nobody's answered them.

TAG says:
To date, Randi/the UFT has not acknowledged receipt of the letters. That the Union does not respond signifies the total abandonment of its duty to ensure that its members receive justice, due process, and job protection until proven guilty. The UFT is becoming irrelevant within the schools. The competent teachers sitting in the TRCs would not be there/have been there if the Union had done its job within the schools. The UFT gives no job protection. State law 3020-a, not the UFT contract,is what protects tenured employees from the scourge of 'employment at will'.

The attached letters are deserving of a response, if for no other reason than to keep hope alive that non-unionized teachers will one day join a union.
I'd love to have some answers — in writing — to all of the questions TAG poses. Am I appalled that these issues are NOT being addressed by UFT management? Yes. Am I surprised. No.

I'm going to put them up here now without comment, but I don't think there's a thing I disagree with in any of them.



The first one — January 29th:
Dear Ms. Weingarten,

We, the undersigned, are teachers at the 181st Street Temporary Reassignment Center who are alarmed by the number of teachers who have been removed for incompetence. Many of these teachers have been tenured for years and have excellent records.

We request that you answer the following questions:

• What options do teachers have if an observation is inaccurate and unfair? Unsatisfactory observations frequently result in unsatisfactory ratings and the subsequent removal of teachers from classrooms. Teachers must then endure months in teacher reassignment centers before they have an opportunity to defend themselves.

• How will the UFT ensure that all teachers understand the performance review system and know their rights? Teachers in need of assistance may not be aware of the Peer Intervention Program or the Peer Intervention Plus Program. Tenured teachers with satisfactory ratings may not be aware of the performance option model for performance reviews. Chapter leaders do not always provide complete and accurate information.

• How will the UFT ensure that the integrity of the performance review system is not compromised? Principals and assistant principals frequently have less experience and knowledge of pedagogy than the teachers they are observing. Meaningful performance reviews are essential for the development of good teachers and these reviews must not be used as punitive measures by principals.

The UFT must advise teachers that they have the following rights under Article 8J of the UFT/DOE contract:

• Formal observations must include a pre-observation meeting. If a teacher requests a one-to-one pre-observation conference in writing, the request must be granted (Chief Executive Memorandum # 80, 1997-98).

• The grievance/arbitration procedure can be used to determine if there was a failure on the administration’s part to comply with the performance review procedures.

• A rating can be challenged by the teacher using the rating appeal process. (Teachers must be told what this process is.)These rights and the performance review system must be clearly explained in writing and distributed to all teachers at the beginning of the school year.

We believe that the rating system is being abused by principals in order to selectively remove competent teachers. The UFT must ensure that the following tenets of performance reviews are upheld:

• Performance reviews promote the characteristics of good teaching. Performance reviews help the teacher improve and are not to be used as punitive measures.

• Performance reviews are based on agreed upon characteristics of good teaching. The range of abilities and experiences of teachers are identified and recognized, and teachers are informed of the requirements for a satisfactory lesson.

Principals who use performance reviews to remove competent teachers must be disciplined. Their actions destroy professional careers and drain needed resources from the educational system. Superintendents could be requested to initiate charges against these principals for professional misconduct. If a superintendent does not act or supports the principal without cause, the decision of the superintendent could be appealed to the Commissioner of Education.

Thank you in advance for your prompt response to our concerns and questions.

Sincerely,

Teachers from the 181st Street Temporary Reassignment Center




The second one — February 13th:
Dear Ms. Weingarten,

We, the undersigned, are teachers assigned to the 181st Street Temporary Reassignment Center who are frustrated that the timeframes for 3020-a procedures are not followed by the Department of Education (DOE) as mandated by Education Law and as specified in the UFT – DOE Letter on the TRC Agreement dated June 27, 2008. We also believe that the sole purpose of the TRC Agreement was to appease reassigned teachers; the agreement cannot be enforced. (The UFT – DOE Letter on the TRC Agreement is attached.)

We request that you answer the following questions.

What is the UFT doing to ensure that the timeframes for 3020-a procedures are followed?

Article 21G4 of the DOE/UFT contract states that the DOE must prefer charges against a reassigned teacher within six months. Once charges have been preferred, Education Law states the following time frames for 3020-a procedures:

• 5 days for the DOE to draft a written statement specifying the charges and to forward the statement to the accused teacher
• 10 days for the accused teacher to request a hearing
• 3 days for the DOE to inform the Commissioner of Education of the need for a hearing
• 10 days for the selection of a hearing officer
• 15 days for the hearing officer to hold a pre-hearing conference
• 1 day for the pre-hearing conference
• 60 days to complete the hearing after the pre-hearing conference
• 30 days for the hearing officer to render a written decision
• 15 days for the DOE to implement the decision

The process should take at most 13 months assuming that no actions occur during the summer months. An article in the Daily News on May 4, 2008 stated a recent Education Department analysis found that the average accused teacher spends 19 months in a reassignment center. Many teachers have been in reassignment centers for years waiting for the resolution of their cases.

The TRC Agreement states that a labor-management committee composed of UFT and DOE representatives will meet each year to determine if further actions are necessary with respect to the time frames. What actions will the UFT suggest at this meeting?

What is the UFT doing to expedite the release of hearing transcripts?

The hearing officer is required to render a written decision within 30 days of the last day of the final hearing, yet teachers frequently wait months for decisions. Decisions cannot be rendered without the transcripts of the hearings. Transcripts are not being released because the State is not paying the court reporters’ fees.

The TRC Agreement stated that the UFT and DOE would explore the feasibility of jointly paying court reporters’ fees and then seeking reimbursement from the State. The agreement was signed in June 2008; this is February 2009.

How will the UFT assist teachers when the DOE violates the terms of the TRC Agreement?

The TRC Agreement states that the DOE will “diligently” attempt to prefer charges within 160 days. However, the TRC Agreement also states that the timeframes are not enforceable by the grievance process or any other legal mechanism. What can teachers do if charges are not received in a timely manner?

Before the TRC Agreement was signed, the DOE supposedly conducted a central review of all investigations conducted by principals of currently reassigned teachers. What can teachers do if they were reassigned unjustly by principals and do not believe their cases were reviewed by the DOE?

The TRC Agreement states that the disciplinary process should never be used to retaliate against whistleblowers. The New York Teacher regularly prints articles about whistleblowers that were reassigned, and the UFT appears powerless to do anything. What can teachers do if they were reassigned because they reported an illegal activity?

The TRC Agreement states that administrators who make a knowingly false allegation will be subject to discipline, but aggrieved parties cannot use the grievance process. What can teachers do if an administrator makes a knowingly false allegation?

Has the UFT received the quarterly and weekly reports from the DOE which were promised in the TRC Agreement? If so, what is being done with the findings?

The TRC Agreement states that a unit within the DOE is responsible for managing and tracking all reassignment cases, and for ensuring that all reassignments are made consistent with applicable policy. The unit supposedly makes quarterly reports that are shared with the UFT.

The agreement also states that “The DOE will provide the UFT with regular listings of the reassigned pedagogues, no less frequently than on a weekly basis, and if the UFT disagrees with any reassignment decisions it can present its objections for consideration to the Office of Labor Relations.”

The UFT cannot protect teachers in reassignment centers without accurate data. The UFT must know when a teacher is reassigned, the reason the teacher was reassigned, who substantiated the allegations against the teacher, when the teacher was charged, and the length of time a teacher is in the reassignment center.

Finally, all interactions between the UFT and the DOE concerning reassignment centers must be made transparent to reassigned teachers.

Thank you in advance for your prompt response to our questions and concerns.

Sincerely,
Teachers from the 181st Street Temporary Reassignment Center



And the third one — April 3rd:
Dear Ms. Weingarten,

We, the undersigned, are teachers assigned to the 181st Street Temporary Reassignment Center who have questions and concerns regarding issues affecting teachers assigned to reassignment centers.

We expressed some of these concerns and questions in letters sent to you on January 29 and February 13. We have not received a response to date.

The enclosed survey was distributed in the reassignment center, and the results are summarized on the survey. We request that you address the strong feelings expressed in this survey.

Approximately 800 teachers are warehoused in reassignment centers. These teachers pay approximately one million dollars in union dues. However, they are denied representation in the delegate assembly; their concerns are ignored; and their questions are unanswered.

We deserve a response.

Sincerely,
Teachers from the 181st Street Temporary Reassignment Center



On the same date, April 3rd, TAG also wrote VP Michael Mulgrew and Exec. VP Loretta Johnson for help in getting a Weingarten response.

Cracky, why should they have to.



April 6, 2009

Ednotes: NYC education's recordkeeper

Taking a moment to publicly thank Ednotes for it's tireless effort to expose the underbelly of BloomKlein.

Scott's putting up several posts a day, which means he's easily become the recordkeeper for NYC education. See for yourself with this one: All that’s missing is a few hookers. Follow all the links and you'll get a powerful sense of all that's wrong in New York schools.

Thanks also to NYC Public School Parents and NYC Educator who write about this swamp comprehensively and tirelessly with profound integrity.

We're lucky to have these people around when the 4th estate is so compromised.

Spread the word.

April 4, 2009

The UFT's new directive: "Amputate!"

Pardon me while I roll over laughing at LeRoy Barr's paragraph in the Chapter Leaders Weekly on the UFT's new campaign to report special ed violations.

There is no excuse”: Urge members to report IEP violations

This week the UFT launched a new campaign to protect services for special education students. Already in the first week members have reported dozens of violations to the union’s new hotline and special Web section, and the campaign’s message is “report, report, report.” Special ed programs exist to ensure that all children, including those with disabilities and challenges get the assistance and services they need and deserve. With yet another reorganization of special ed on the horizon, the UFT has launched this proactive campaign to help ensure that students get the services, support and resources they need, called THERE IS NO EXCUSE. “Accept no excuse. Defend the IEP. It’s the law,” the campaign posters, flyers and Web site remind members . . .

Yeah, right.

While we all stand up to "report, report, report", Tweedites will swat us down with an armory of firepower — letters in the file, pop-in visits, U-observations and U-ratings, allegations from nowhere, 3020-a charges, police action, rubber room, you name it.

The city doesn't care one whit about special ed violations. The fact that the problem is endemic is proof positive they haven't been a high priority for them.

I can't believe the union is now asking teachers to do the dirty work. If this were not the BloomKlein era — more than that: the Jack Welch era — maybe we could all afford the luxury of defending the defenseless.

But with politicians so corrupt, and chancellors and many of the people around them so profoundly incapable of educating children, with a UFT that shows no sign of understanding what's bedeviling the whole system, Barr's call for action should fall on deaf ears: OURS. The only career you're about to lose is your own.


A couple of years ago I wrote a long letter to a principal and head of guidance about why on earth my register of 50 kids had 35 kids in it with specific needs: many had IEPs and were doing their major subjects in smaller classes, there were hearing impaired, those barely speaking English, four grades all mixed in with each other. I got no response to that letter, and no help either. They didn't even send me a para.

A year later when the situation remained virtually the same, I made some inquiries at the State level to see what percentage of special ed kids could be placed in a regular ed class. I got this response:
The state does not have any regulation on capping the number of students with disabilities who are mainstreamed. This might be a NYC DOE regulation/policy.
So I wrote to the special ed administrator at the city level to see if NYC had any policy on the numbers you can mainstream at one time. Turns out there weren't any caps at the city level either, but the person asked me if I wanted to pursue the matter further.

Here's my response . . . which I didn't have the guts at the time to send.
Thank you for your answer, and please don't bring the regional administrator in at this point because I am too afraid of retaliation at my school. I believe that if I do what you suggest, I will be perceived as a troublemaker, and I am not yet ready to take on that responsibility at this time.

My own career has taken strange and troublesome turns when at various times I took stances as chapter leader to help teachers and students alike (in class size issues, lack of textbooks, etc.)

I know I have the right — possibly even the obligation, for the students' sake — to check the IEPs of everyone in my classes, but I have not done this yet because I do not want to be hurt.

But I do want to know the DOE's position on this, and it is difficult for me to believe that there is no fixed policy, since UFT personnel did tell a colleague of mine that the ratio should be no more than 40-60%, and they must have gotten the number from somewhere.

I was hoping, therefore, that you could tell me — hypothetically! — whether 50% or more students who get their major subjects in small, self-contained classes 15:1 or 15:1:1 is a tolerable percentage when they are placed INSIDE of a total class register of between 45 and 50 students and no para. If one does the math, it means you can have close to DOUBLE the number of self-contained kids AS WELL AS 20 regular ed all in the same class! And no para. Furthermore, I think it is the case that other students have IEPs as well (resource room kids), but their class codes do not indicate that they are in self-contained classes.

I am concerned for everyone in these classrooms: the teacher, the spec. ed kids, and the regular ed students. The teacher is judged and held to the same standards as every other teacher in the building with smaller and far more homogeneous classes, even though he/she is responsible for educating potentially 50 kids 5 periods a day with no help from a para. This is very unfair and I have brought this up with the union. But it is also unfair to the kids coming from the self-contained classes who walk into these huge rooms with huge registers and know they have limited access to the teacher to help them through the work. Some of these kids just sit blankly, unable to do much else but stare into space; many just don't show up.

And lastly, I am concerned for the regular ed kids, who are not getting taught at the speeds or depths they should when the percentage of poorer learners and/or higher incidence of acting out behavior is so high.

As I say, I am concerned enough to ask you for clarification, but I am very afraid of retaliation and negative consequences if I take any specific action at the school, like requesting a whole bunch of IEPs and possibly getting involved with asking the school to enforce them.

I hope you can understand my fears and be able to give me some statement of DOE policy should the above hypothetical class make-up exist.

With appreciation for your time and kindest regards,

As I say, I did NOT send this letter, but the administrator could have easily found where I was working because she knew my name and subject. Did she make inquiries at my school on her own? Could it have contributed to my eventually being excessed? or my being blacklisted, or never having gotten an interview on the Open Market?

Coming back to Barr's email, here's what the union has to say about the protection they have in mind for us should we go about reporting, reporting, reporting:
You will also find information there on the city’s whistleblower law and how to seek coverage under it.


What chutzpah!

Our stupid, stupid union is now encouraging each of us educators on our very own to stand up to a whole army of hostile administrators, from Mayor Moneybags down through attorney general Klein to the lowest level of drone principals and APs, and start blowing whistles.

I fight the fight for kids and teachers, but I will not cut my legs off at the knees. Not at the behest of this union or any other.