December 23, 2007

HR Connect – or does it?

The BoE’s relatively new $30,000,000 info-system, announced with great pomp and circumlocution at Klein’s September PEP meeting and touted on their website as a “single point of access for all human resources-related information,” actually offers a remarkable range of other phenomena: incorrect and tangential answers, rudeness, and a deep ignorance of the Chancellor’s Regulations.

I’ve already written about the first encounter I had with this functionally challenged service when I called them to ask how the position I was excessed from was listed on Galaxy. As important as that piece of information was to my own status, ongoing grievance, and job prospects, it was too much for HR Connect to handle, as I knew very well it would be. The super-trained operator did not have an answer for me.

This week I had occasion to use the system again when a question came up about whether teachers could tutor students privately after school. I had remembered seeing a conflict-of-issue statement about tutoring at some point, but couldn't find it through a quick search on the BoE website. HR Connect could surely answer this one, I thought, so I called them again and asked:

The first person I spoke to pretty swiftly re-shaped my question into something of her own invention and proceeded to answer that new version by telling me how I could apply to be a BoE tutor. When I cut her off to remind her that that wasn't my question at all and that I had no desire whatsoever to become a BoE tutor, she said something about that's the information she had. This prompted me to ask where I could find such a regulation on the BoE website so I could read the language for myself.

“You can't access it. It’s on our system,” said she, in so many words.

Granted I started to raise my voice at this point.

She put me rather abruptly on hold to fetch a
supervisor, who was rather inclined to answer from the identical script. This time, though, there was that “special tone” in the voice that reeked of condescension and annoyance.

After a bit of a tussle, she too got frustrated with my persistence in wanting my original question answered and hit me with: “Go ask your principal,” to which I responded that my principal’s opinion on this issue would be entirely irrelevant. Either a conflict of interest is stipulated somewhere or it is not.

Weakened but still on the ready, she parried with: “Then go ask the UFT," whom everyone and his mother knows does not make the rules.

Being that Accountability and Grades are so much the rage over there at Tweed, I’m taking the opportunity to grade HR Connect on my two experiences with them. In fact, I’ll break it down this way:

By way of an epilogue, I still needed to have an answer to my original question, so I asked a colleague later in the day if they had ever come across any ruling on the issue of private tutoring.

“I do remember something on this,” the person said, full of easy energy and comprehension, and proceeded to find it online in the Chancellor’s Regs in under one minute and at no cost whatsoever. (It's C-110, by the way.)

So much for HR Connect, which as far as I’m concerned, is not only down for the count, but as hodge-podge as anything else ordered up by the BoE in recent memory.

December 19, 2007

The Zen of being an ATR

Sayeth the Fool in Shakespeare's King Lear, man
"Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day."
and similar words speaketh the fool Feste in Twelfth Night.

And so it goes with us who have been excessed, that the rain hath raineth, and doth raineth every day, and yet it behooves us to make peace with this situation because it ain’t going to get better any time soon.

To describe to the uninitiated what it is like to be an ATR, a day-to-day sub, at the very prime of one’s career is something I never imagined I’d be in a position to do. I had assumed in my salad days that the natural course of a teaching career would involve a good deal of preparation at first, then a long stretch, perhaps a couple of decades, of becoming really good at the job, then mentoring in the latter years and retiring gracefully at a time of one’s own choosing.

Alas, such was not the case for me or for the more than 700 other ATRs whose careers got truncated when the UFT leadership dropped the ball and unceremoniously “Fool-ed” us when they signed onto the last contract. In the words of Enid Welsford, Lear’s Fool — just like us ATRs — became “a vagabond caught in a storm, outside gates which men have most effectually shut against him.”

As I make my way through one incomprehensible classroom moment after another, experiencing not only the challenges of dealing with hordes of unknown and inscrutable pubescents for mere moments of time but also the diabolical stupidity of it all, I take comfort that Shakespeare and his Fools knew all about the vicissitudes of life 400 years ago. Feste had the ability, says one commentator, "to stay detached from the emotional and self-motivated acts of others," which is more or less the way I've been feeling these days.

But, detachment can take many forms, and I find myself returning to all these miracles of human thought, in Shakespeare and even further back, to the teachings of the Zen masters. And somehow the burden is lifted.

Detachment means being passionate about your work but dispassionate about its rewards.

Detachment is the perspective that allows us to enjoy the journey of life.

Be alert in the present moment, where all fulfillment occurs.

When our energy is in the present, we are in the presence of life energy.

We are the quality of our attention.

Success and fulfillment come from inside, and it is only inside that matters.

We achieve peace of mind only when we accept the wisdom of uncertainty.

Enjoy the journey.

December 15, 2007

Accountability — a mantra for spinmeisters

I’ve pretty much been staying out of the school scores discussion, because as an arts teacher I don’t have hands-on experience in the subjects that do get a lot of test prep (and a lot of tests!) and because there are others, like Eduwonkette, who are really good at peeling back the layers of KleinLieb with precision.

But, I have joined in on a couple of occasions, because this whole “progress" issue has such a stink to it that even an electives teacher like myself is under a moral obligation to look where it’s coming from.

What I can do, and have done already, is ask some questions, and I can also be grateful for the responses and happy that I have a site where I can post them.

The first question I asked was on a couple of listservs was this:
I've been hearing a lot of parents and teachers saying their school got an A or a B or a D, and I'm not sure they've understood that these letter grades are assigned to percentiles, not scores in the way we use them every day to grade papers.

In the DOE school grading system, an "A" does not mean 90 or above, but rather that a school is in the top 15%, and so on thus:
85 or above = A
85 - 45 = B
45 - 15 = C
5 - 5 = D
Below 5 = F
This table is from a printed report called "Educator Guide: the NYC Progress Report", and it was given to me by a teacher trainer who takes administrative classes with superintendents. She got it there. When we checked the online version today, this table does not appear. Another table is used, on p.29. It gives rather:
67.6 - 100 = A
48.8 - 67.5 = B
35.1 - 48.8 = C
28.9 - 35.1 = D
0 - 28.9 = F
Apart from the fact that neither of us [editorial comment: nor a reporter who subsequently contacted me about this] can understand why one table appears in the printed version and another online (maybe one version is for HS and another for another level, I'm not sure), I am very troubled by the ambiguity the DOE has created by using LETTER grades in the first place. The general public looking at a letter grade does not think of statistics and percentiles. They see what they are used to, that A is usually in the 90s, B in the 80s, C in the 70s, D in the upper 60s, and F below 65, or failing. I am sure a less ambiguous system could have been used so that no one could possibly confuse the percentile groups they've labeled A - F with the normal and widespread meaning of letter grades.

More obfuscation and confusion on top of the contortions of the computations themselves.

The teacher trainer also told me this also: "The progress report is an attempt by the DOE to show NYS that NYC is meeting the mandates of NCLB. Thus the huge number of grades that seem above average (A's and B's) but are actually pretty darn low."

I do admit to not knowing a whole lot about this whole grading project/fiasco, but my reaction is visceral, that I believe there is a purposeful effort on the part of the DOE to misinform the general public. Can someone tell me if I am at least getting the facts right, or is there something I am not understanding?

One response came from Gary, who not only linked to a parody he had just written, but drew my attention to Leonie Haimson’s 2004 testimony that included a section on “Creative Confusion.” Very helpful in understanding the general ideology, but not specifically dealing with the weird use of letter grades that represent sets of percentages far different from what the hoi polloi are used to, like A=90s, B=80s, etc.

I asked another question in November, this time on comparisons of test grades from a long time ago to the present. I was basically interested in finding out if there’s been a measurable “dumbing down” of the population over time.
Has anyone ever administered a test, let's say for 8th grade math, written in the 1960s to a current 8th-grade class to see what kids now and what they knew 40 years ago?
This led to some back and forth on how some tests are somewhat comparable over time (e.g., the Long-Term Trend NAEP, explained by Ravitch) while others (like the city and state tests) are not. I looked at the NAEP site as she suggested and found you still cannot get very accurate long-term comparisons, since accommodations were allowed in some years but not in all.

Yesterday I read a post on NYCEducator that brought to mind some other questions about testing and the obfuscation thereof:
Kids taking a certain exam this year, say, will be different from the kids taking the same exam next year, right? So what is the point of comparing this year's scores against next year's scores in the first place? Different set of kids means different set of test-takers. What good does it do comparing one set of test-takers against a later set?

Shouldn't progress be measured by comparing how well the same set of kids do from one year to the next? I know that's not really possible, so what's the point of these comparisons anyway?

And here are some of the answers to those 5 questions, first from xkaydet65:
If you deal with the Elem and Int schools you can follow a kid's progress. Does he go from a 2 to a 3 or vice versa (BTW a change of 2 mult. choice answers can change a high 2 to a 3 and a low 3 to a 2)

For you HS folks there is no way to compare results. The tests are different and the kids are different. Yet some people try to do that and they don't work for Bloomklein. Colleges trumpet increases in the SAT scores of their frosh classes from year to year even though the exams change. This is probably the paradigm that the DoE is working with.
Then from Schoolgal:
Elementary and Jr. HS students can be tracked. And it is true how one wrong answer can be the difference between a 2 and a 3.

However our principal informed us that the report card measurement will no longer look at the grade as much as the raw score. So if a child got a high 3 or high 4 two years in a row, they will see it as zero improvement rather than meeting or exceeding the standards. That is why schools with very high scores are getting Bs or Cs.

What is a teacher or principal supposed to do with this crazy method?

Schools in the high 80s are pressuring their teachers to bring scores up will only be hurting themselves in the future once they hit the ceiling. Yet the most violent schools got As because their low scores showed some improvement. If I knew how to spell in Yiddish, I would say this was one cockamayme plan. (my apologies to the Yiddish-speaking readers)

[editorial note: the alternative spelling is kakameyme, which brings up an unfortunate comparison between cock and kaka.....]
And from 15 more years:
This business of kids not improving from year to year is a big crock of hooey. If they were taking the same exact test every year, then yes, as they go from 5th grade, to 6th, and onward, then you naturally would expect a child to show growth. BUT, plenty of kids top out in 5th or 6th grade. The ELA in 7th grade is much easier than the ELA in 8th grade –– so it is almost expected for a child to remain static, if not drop a bit if he is a struggling student to begin with. And what if a child is sick the day of the test? There are so many variables to consider, the concept is ridiculous and ill-conceived.

The mantra coming out of Tweed these days is “accountability,” and Bloom/Klein have made much of testing and test score comparisons to convince people that they know how to make schools accountable.

But it is clear that from almost every possible angle – different tests, different test-takers and what side of the bed they woke up on, different amounts of accommodation, different degree and quality of prep, different testing conditions, and even different morality in marking – comparisons of test scores do not stand up to scrutiny or further the cause of accountability.

Test score data is useful for one thing only: Spin. And that’s the farthest away from accountability you can get.

What are they really trying to do with our schools and with our kids?

New link!! Thanks to Ednotesonline, here's a Test you can take, put out by Prof. Celia Oyler of Columbia TC, on the KleinLieb school grading system. Find out if you already know all there is to know about this colossal boondoggle and if it will ever in a hundred million years be an accurate, fair, or relevant tool for judging NYC schools.

December 1, 2007

Democracy or demogoguery, that is the question

There’s a disclaimer on one of the local education blogs that recently caught me up short:
[This blog is] a place where members, public education advocates and others can express opinions in an effort to establish an agora of informed commentary on public education and labor issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the UFT .....
If you haven't identified the source, it’s posted on, the official blog of Unity cau—, oops, the United Federation of Teachers.

I’m not really sorry for confusing the two, because they want you to confuse the two.

It’s an interesting word they’ve used in the first sentence of this disclaimer: “agora,” which of course means marketplace. So, I guess in one sense the blog is being fairly honest about what it’s setting out to do, which is to “sell” the Unity line. That makes it a lot easier for the leadership to go about selling off pieces of the contract.

While some of those “others” they talk about will indeed be allowed to express their opinions, a whole bunch of other “others” might just as well go out bowling, at least when they try to post a comment about Unity’s role in the demise of the profession.

A couple of us in the cyberworld have already noted that our more critical comments to various Edwize posts have been taken down pretty quickly. In fact, I suspect the whole purpose of the column on the right, the one that gives snippets of the most recent comments, is to make excision even more efficient. It only takes a nanosecond to spot a comment critical of Weingarten, Leo Casey, Zahler, et al., and a few seconds more to remove it, and I mean entirely, because unlike a lot of monitored blogs that actually tell you when something’s been removed, in Edwize it’s just gone. Poof! Didn’t happen. No one disagreed with us. Yeah, democracy!

Maybe I'm wrong. After all, here's Leo Casey in August 05:
Our friends at EDUWONK express some astonishment that the UFT would produce a blog with a comments sections, allowing readers to express disagreement, as well as agreement, with the UFT and its policies. They chuckle that we will regret such a choice. Maybe that’s because they still haven’t figured out that teacher unions are democratic institutions, and that we consider dissent a necessary component of democratic conversation. There are no guarantees, of course, that a particular dissenting voice will be thoughtful or constructive, but space for the expression of dissent is necessary so that those voices which fit this description can be heard. . .

Our advice to EDUWONK: Democracy — Try It. You might like it.

Democracy or demagogery, that is the question.

If the leadership cared enough about BOE discrimination against members belonging to employee organizations to protect them contractually (Article 2, Fair Practices), why should we get something less from the union itself?

I realize there are two different kinds of discrimination here, one relating to an adversarial relationship between boss/employee and the other to treatment at the hands of supposed ally whom we are paying with our dues.

But, that’s just the point. The UFT is not much of an ally anymore. They’ve gone down too many wrong paths with their compounded givebacks, charter schools, merit bonus schemes, etc., and their mistakes actually hurt us and decimate the ranks. When we post harsh criticisms of their positions, they remove them and pretend nobody really feels this way.

One could make a case that Edwize is accessible to the blogosphere and members shouldn't be airing their differences in public. (Keep up a strong front, that sort of thing.) But, one could also take the position that people outside the union don’t have to be given access to the site at all, so that we could confront the leadership on political, tactical, controversial and strategic issues in private. Unity obviously doesn't want that, it’s not really in their interest, to which I’d have to respond: then call it a Unity blog and stop with all this democracy blather.

As for the column of links on the left of Edwize, glaringly missing are the sites and blogs of non-Unity caucuses (like ICE, ICEblog, ICE listserv, TJC), as well as the ones of individuals associated with them (like EdnotesOnline, Norm’s Notes, this one), teacher advocacy groups (like TAG and NYCoRE's listserv), and critical individuals (like Round Deux). That list should be pretty comprehensive, if this were a democratic union. That it is not speaks volumes.

Unity feeds on our willingness to tolerate its unilateral presence, and the censoring of critical remarks on Edwize reinforces that imagery. But no matter how many times Weingarten brandishes the mantra “Because we are a democratic union” (how that woman doesn’t choke on her own words is beyond me), it doesn't make it true. Manipulated, outnumbered, cowed, kept in the dark on a regular basis, and virtually powerless, yes, but not democratic.

N E W ! E X P A N D . Y O U R . K N O W L E D G E
on all things Leo and censorship.

See great posts on same at LeoGate (EdnotesOnline), which includes an analysis of what passes for Unity elections and also refers you over to another Leo story at NYCEducator (where censorship is mentioned in the comments section).