Saturday, September 19, 2009

On hold for good reasons

I continue to blog less than I used to —

NOT because I've become bored with the subject . . .

NOT because I don't have things to say about the coup in NYC education we've witnessed, come to understand, suffered through, and written about for seven or eight years . . .

NOT because I've given up on unionism . . .

and NOT because I have become any less of an activist . . .


It's because I don't have the time, and that's because
HIGH SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHERS
get 50 kids per class 5 times a day.
Total: 250 students to be
accounted for on a daily basis,
whether they show up or not.
The picture up above is what 50 kids looks likes (plus the teacher in the back row). Who cares if it's in India, it's a good visual.

My registers this past week have been fluctuating between 50 and 53 kids as things are getting worked out. When I mentioned this to one of the highest officials in our "pro-active" union (I say that with tongue in cheek), his response was something like: "The principal doesn't have to give you that many kids," as if it were my fault my classes are this large.

Do I have to remind him that the likelihood of any principal in this city putting fewer than 50 kids in a high school music class to improve the quality of education is about zero?

The UFT fails to accept responsibility for this. It's somehow the DoE's fault, or in this case, the principal's, that the numbers are so high. But, who do these union execs think they're kidding? It's they who negotiated this contract, unless they all went to the bathroom when it came time to rethink Article VII.M.2.g. At any rate, no one's ever explained the purpose of putting 50 in a music class, and my gut feeling is that their bottom line is: Shut up. You're lucky you have a position.

So, the glorious summer vacation is Over with a capital O, and I've been bubbling duplicate attendance rosters and marking reams of classwork straight through the morning commute and all my preps, lunch hours, and cafeteria duty, on the subway going home, during happy hour, and halfway through Keith Olbermann. That's when I usually just fall asleep.

I won't bother anyone with the detailed letter I sent the union about these numbers. I've complained about them before, and though Weingarten said she'd look into some "non-contractual relief" for music teachers, nothing was ever done. The official I recently wrote to says he is looking into it, but "nothing" is what will continue to happen as the execs fall in line with pattern bargaining and give away some other hard-fought stuff in our current contract.

So, I was thinking that as long as I'm not posting much these days, I should at least have something here that relates to another issue that's not going away any time soon. ATRs.

You can read the full post on the handbook I wrote for ATR subs over at "Surviving limbo," but here's the manual itself, with a few current changes.

I wish I could say it was no longer needed.



THE ATR HANDBOOK

[Note: This manual was written mostly for per diem subs.
Even if you've been given full or partial programs, a lot of this still applies.]


Part I: THE MINDSET

1. You are an inconvenience to your administrators and are essentially being tolerated. Do not try to be a goody-goody or get them to like your work, because bottom line, they don't actually want you on their budget.
[NEW COMMENT: Of course, if you're being paid out of central, they probably DO want you, but not enough to take you in properly.]

2. Do what is educationally sound at all times. That's the only way you'll be able to sleep at night.

3. You are a place holder, not a place filler. You are in someone else's room doing what you can with someone else's lesson for someone else's students, a situation which lasts for the duration of that person's absence.

4. Know that you the only person in the building being asked to "wing it," and no ed school ever taught you how. In the wonderworld of BloomKlein, your job specification has just shifted, and whether you like it or not, you're now a Jack-of-All-Trades, particularly in the HSS with all those specialized classes. Either enjoy, or . . .

5. Detach. Students might be cold-hearted, either unwittingly ("Hey, Miss, did you get downgraded or somethin'?") or purposefully ("F— you. You not a real teacher.") They can also be delightful, like the girl at the bus stop who shouted enthusiastically to her friend: "Hey, there's my substitute!" You are neither a sub-order of teacher or fabulous. You are doing your job to the best of your ability under volatile circumstances.


Part II: WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO CARRY WITH YOU

1. Class registers. Oh, how the intruder types love subs, and what a run-around they can give you.

2. Pens, pencils: but get collateral if you lend them, because they'll walk out with them and when they remember to return them, you've moved to another room.

3. Wordfinds, math puzzles, crossword puzzles, scrap paper. There'll be days when the teacher has left you nothing, and when kids are bored enough, some will take whatever you're handing out.

4. Chalk, eraser, dry erase pens. Don't rely on the teacher's supply.

5. List of school phone numbers, like for security, guidance counselors, the program office.


PART III: PROCEDURES

1. Have kids sign in on a separate sheet. Bubbling comes later, at your convenience and when you've had a chance to reflect over the legitimacy of the signatures.

2. Assign work immediately. Better still: write the assignment on the board before they get there and don't even open your mouth. Teens respond better when they're not being told by you to do anything.

3. Announce that you'll help anyone who needs it.

4. Then help a few of them, or at least look at what they're doing over their shoulder. Send a message that you're not just a disinterested bystander. It will convince some of undecided characters to crack a book.

5. Standard behavior for immature classes is to test the sub, and they can be merciless. So, it's now time to annotate that sign-in sheet. Look really serious when you do this, as if the mark you're giving them really means something. Tell one person he gets a check because he's working, another a half-check for not working so hard, or NW for No Work at all. Give your own marks for anything you can think of: being disruptive, intruding (contact Security to remove these kids), breaking school rules (don't contact Security for these because you'll annoy them, but you can write the student up later and let other people handle it).

6. A malicious child can really hurt you, but remember this. There are Chancellor's Regs on abuse to protect the student, but you won't find any regulations for the kind of abuse substitutes are frequently subjected to. In BloomKlein, teachers are abusers, students are . . . well, just kids.

7. Put the room in good order when you leave and the work in a neat pile. It's like wampum: you're trading a bit of effort for a bit of good feeling, and you'll be needing as much of that as you can get.


Part IV: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING, for example:

1. When no assignment has been left for you
2. The kids who enter late
3. When kids sign the attendance sheet, then cut out
4. Dangerous items left around the room (broken glass, formaldehyde, etc.)
5. Ripped books
6. Security not arriving if you've called them
7. An AP or principal walking into the room, for whatever reason
8. A kid's tirade of vulgar, aggressive words. It might get worse before it stops, but it will stop, especially when the rest of the class sees the humor (i.e., the stupidity) of it.


Part V: HONE YOUR TECHNIQUES, and SHARE THEM!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Greg Palast's new war

Someone suggested at a meeting a couple of years to sic Greg Palast on BloomKlein and let him do what he does best: connect the dots.

I'm glad to have been alerted now to his Sept. 6th post on "No Child's Behind Left," where he turns his attention to educational malpractice American-style.

Palast's remarks on Title I caught my attention, because when they told us at a faculty meeting last June that all NYC schools were now going to be classified as Title I schools, I couldn't see why. I thought Title I meant low-income, and some schools in the city don't fall into that category.

In fact, the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) that set up Title I funding in 1965, and re-authorized it every five years up until NCLB (the 2001 re-enacted version), was designed to get some extra money out to schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

Federal guidelines allow school boards to set that limit between 35% and 75%. NYC had been setting it at 40%, but it's now been lowered, and now the
whole system gets to be Title I.

As I say, I didn't understand why the whole city was going Title I, but here's the dots Palast connects for me:
In this flat, tilted new world, we have to adopt the methods used by emperors of Confucian China: Test for the best, cull the rest.

Of course, not everyone takes the same test. Only "Title 1" schools must test students: working class and poor schools. The wealthiest suburban districts are exempt and all schools where students wear designer blazers. It's true that our President took a test to get into Yale. It had one question: "Was your grandfather, Prescott Bush, a Yale Trustee?" His answer, "Yes," gave him a perfect score. No Child Left offers no "options" for those with the test score Mark of Cain — no opportunities, no hope, no plan, no funding. Rather, it is the new social Darwinism, the marketplace jungle brought into the classroom. This is educational eugenics: Identify the nation's loser class early on. Trap them, then train them cheap. Someone has to care for the privileged. No society can have winners without lots and lots of losers.

And so we have No Child Left Behind — to provide the new worker drones that will clean the toilets at the Yale Alumni Club, punch the cash registers color-coded for illiterates, and pamper the winner class on the higher floors of the new economic order.
To clarify a bit (though the people who read this post probably wouldn't need any clarification at all), NCLB requires annual standardized testing to all students, but those who get Title I funding must make Adequate Yearly Progress. And here's a very clear definition of AYP (underlining mine):
Every state education agency is required to determine which schools do not meet AYP every year. However, a specific designation by the U.S. Department of Education called "Federal school improvement status" applies only to schools that receive Title I funds. State education agencies are required to determine what larger goals are required of every school as they fail to perform annually.

Title I schools that do not meet AYP for two consecutive years are placed in "School Improvement Status" and must offer alternative school attendance opportunities to students within their schools. If these same schools do not make AYP for three consecutive years, they must offer both alternative school attendance opportunities and opportunities for students to increase their learning outside of school time. If those schools miss AYP for a fourth consecutive year, they are designated as being in "Corrective Action" and must choose among strategies outlined by NCLB. A fifth year of missing AYP results in restructuring planning year when the school is shut down, and then a sixth year of missing AYP requires that the restructuring plan be implemented.

NCLB restructuring options include:
• Chartering: Closing and reopening as a public charter school.
• Reconstitution: Replacing school staff, including the principal, relevant to the failure in the school.
• Contracting: contracting with an outside entity to operate the school.
• State takeovers: turning the school operations over to the state education agency.
• Any Other: engaging in another form of major restructuring that makes fundamental reforms.
The option of extending NCLB-required sanctions to non-Title I schools does exist; however, there is little current research indicating the implementation of this practice.
In other words — let's not bother with chartering, reconstituting, contracting, and taking over schools in the burbs. The teachers in those schools are just fine, everyone's on task doing great. Not that I wish the heavy hand of the BushBama to come down on them like it's been happening here in NYC. It's more like I wish we had the smaller classes (that they refuse to give us) and the freedom to teach (that they refuse to allow) so we can do our job.

With school districts given the Congressional right to decide how they would set Title I eligibility, there's some question as to why the whole city — which is really a conglomeration of many towns and villages — had to all become Title I.

Part of the answer (maybe all of it) lies in that AYP business. The DoE now has free reign not only to test mercilessly, but to restructure, close schools instead of fix them, charterize, and contract out whatever bits suits them — which is what this game is all about.


NCLB hasn't been the only federal passport to EdDeform. In a press release last May 11th, the government announced that NYS was going to get a couple of billion more dollars under the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In order to receive those funds, though, the state would have to provide
assurances that it will collect, publish, analyze and act on basic information regarding the quality of classroom teachers, annual student improvements, college readiness, the effectiveness of state standards and assessments, progress on removing charter caps, and interventions in turning around underperforming schools.
The jump from getting more ed dollars to help out low-income populations (1965) to creating national standards of so-called achievement and quality
(2001 and later) is complicated and disingenuous.

Patrick McGuinn tries to capture this in his book on ed policy for the past 40 years. As he says in the introduction:
The original ESEA was narrowly targeted (to disadvantaged students), focused on inputs (providing additional resources to schools), and contained few federal mandates. In contrast, NCLB embraces a much broader scope . . . focused on outputs (measuring academic performance) . . .
A review of the book says that McGuinn argues
[NCLB] signaled the clear emergence of a new policy regime that had been building since 1988. No longer do federal policymakers simply focus on ensuring equity for disadvantaged students and monitoring policy inputs . . . Rather, McGuinn sees a fundamentally new regime that now stresses excellence for all students, backed by high-stakes accountability for results. That shift, McGuinn notes, was built by conservatives and liberals who charted a middle path while sidestepping the preferences of key interest groups in their respective coalitions.
I love those middle paths we're charting and have written about them recently (here).

Since it's not possible that all conservatives and liberals in this country are either business people looking for cheap, mildly educated labor or military commanders looking for war fodder, I am wondering what it will take for them to see that ideology without basis doesn't get our disadvantaged kids up and running.



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Electoral hardware: another arm of the privatization monster

With all the talk of privatization of the public school system, it's easy to lose sight of all the other ways corporations are changing the way our government operates.

Naomi Klein spoke a couple of years ago about the "faulty logic of the Bush administration's vision of a hollowed-out government run everywhere possible by private contractors":
According to this radical vision, contractors treat the state as an ATM, withdrawing massive contracts to perform core functions like securing borders and interrogating prisoners, and making deposits in the form of campaign contributions. As President Bush's former budget director, Mitch Daniels, put it: "The general idea — that the business of government is not to provide services but to make sure that they are provided — seems self-evident to me."
It's happening with our electoral system as well.

Some watchdog groups are examining the machines NY and other state governments are being persuaded to purchase. They're scared, and they're calling for people to get involved.

The message I received from one of these groups invites you to learn more about the ramifications of turning over our electoral system to contractors and their optical scanning technology:
Our state expects a deficit this year over $2 billion.
In 3 years our expected deficit is $18 billion.

In spite of this, we are moving ahead to privatize our elections with expensive paper ballots and optical scanners (vote-counting computers).

New York counties have already objected to proper security for the paper ballots and scanners because security is too expensive.
There are two sessions being offered:
Sat., Sept. 12, 12:30-4 PM, 28 E. 35th St. between Park and Madison Aves in Manhattan
Saturday, Sept. 26, 1:30-4:30, 40 E. 35 St. between Park and Madison Aves in Manhattan
Anyone can attend, just RSVP via email or phone (Teresa Hommel, 212 228-3803) and include your phone number.

More info at these links:
Legislative Memo , 186 Failures of optical scanners, and WheresThePaper.org