May 25, 2008

Setting boundaries, or do we

I have found it secretly pleasurable upon occasion to see that NYC Educator reacts to peripheral issues in the real ed world in the same few days I have found myself musing over similar things. Some people believe in synchronicity.

It happened again this morning when I came across his Necktie vignette, which deals not only with the way teachers dress, but with the insistence it takes to get one's point across. At least that’s what I took from the story.

I had been planning to write a follow-up piece this week relating to something I had written last January, in which I described the “look” of many of the newest teachers in the profession:
For the women these items included flip-flops and bodice-type shirts held up by spaghetti straps, and there was often little attempt to conceal the fasteners, color, or fabric of the underwear worn underneath (if any).

For the men, it was a shirt, frequently unbuttoned, and maybe a tie, however loosely it was knotted below the collar; more likely than not, these were complemented by blue jeans, not always in good repair.

Well, spring has sprung, and so have all those naked little toes, as flip-flops once again seem to have made the acceptable teacher get-up list in New York City classrooms. Acceptable to some, at least, the grad students who got provisional certification from the state to man NYC classrooms and who make up such a large percentage of the teaching force these days.

I am trying to figure out why naked toes have irritated me so much these past few years, because I do have an unconventional past, in which bellydancing and tango have played a significant part.

Only some of my annoyance comes from my conservative take on what constitutes appropriate dress for schoolteachers: that it’s important to conceal all body parts associated with bathrooms, boudoirs, and beach. No one has to know what your feet look like. Toes is too much information. Think of it: three inches higher at the heel and you’d be wearing “F...k-me” shoes, the kind some women keep on hand for a hot night out, but whom few would think of sporting in front of a class.

I think what’s probably irritating me more than the “gear” that’s associated with today’s youth culture — the flimsy shoes and bits of clothing, the iPods with wires all over the place, the cellphones in easy reach — is a problem of boundaries. We are having trouble these days figuring out what they are and how they should be set.

Andrew Bierce (d. 1914) defined a geo-political boundary as "an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other." I think we're talking about pretty much the same kind of imaginary lines defining imaginary rights when we discuss boundaries for any aspect of teenage behavior.

Clothing, appearance, and electronics are all part of the boundaries issue. We want kids to dress appropriately (and modestly) for school, yet a segment of the teacher population dresses like the models in Teen Vogue. We ask kids not to bring their cells or iPods into the building, yet some teachers can’t be without these. When men come to school unshaven, obviously thinking it’s okay or even cool to show off a day’s growth, does it help the teenage boy define his own school appearance? Or when a teacher wears an iPod going into school and shows he can’t be without his music, does it help a student understand the pull of immediate gratification or show that it’s possible to go about one’s business without the help of a primal beat?

None of these are neutral activities. They are part of a cultural phenomenon marked by a tolerance for mixed messages and blurred boundaries.

A certain “youth culture” dominates the profession now, and that’s because young adults, perhaps just a few years older than the students they’re teaching, make up a significant sector of the workforce. What we expect teachers to look like and how we expect them to behave has radically changed, and I’m not sure this shift is helping kids just plain grow up.

Talking about synchronicity!

"60 Minutes" on CBS this evening just aired a segment on "The Millennials," the generation of young workers I've just been talking about up above. The show pointed to the flip-flops, the electronics, growing up differently than the way we did, and a whole lot more about this inscrutable group of people.

Take a look here, it's fascinating.

May 20, 2008

Corporate webs and a press caught up in them

I've been admiring the work done by A Voice at The Chancellor's and Eduwonkette in exposing "Corporations at Work" in education. (Read my earlier post for a selection of some essays in this area.)

As long as bloggers like these keep writing this stuff, we need to be reading it. Actually, this is not really a suggestion. It's pre-requisite for taking this country back.

Progressive Democrats of America sent around an email yesterday containing a passage written by Bill Moyers from his book Moyers on Democracy:
I wish I could say that journalists in general are showing the same interest in uncovering the dangerous linkages thwarting this democracy. It is not for lack of honest and courageous individuals who would risk their careers to speak truth to power — a modest risk compared to those of some journalists in authoritarian countries who have been jailed or murdered for the identical "crime."
But our journalists are not in control of the instruments they play. As conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, and networks, and profit rather than product becomes the focus of corporate effort, new organizations — particularly in television — are folded into entertainment divisions. The "news hole" in the print media shrinks to make room for advertisements, and stories needed by informed citizens working together are pulled in favor of the latest celebrity scandals because the media moguls have decided that uncovering the inner workings of public and private power is boring and will drive viewers and readers away to greener pastures of pabulum. Good reporters and editors confront walls of resistance in trying to place serious and informative reports over which they have long labored. Media owners who should be sounding the trumpets of alarm on the battlements of democracy instead blow popular ditties through tin horns, undercutting the basis for their existence and their First Amendment right. (from Moyers on Democracy)
Last month I shouted out to the press to start listening to teacher voices.

I am shouting out to practically everyone now to point your antennae at this corporate webbing and do whatever you can to expose the crap out of it.

May 17, 2008

ATRs and other expunged teachers: union-busting to the max

Eduwonkette's post yesterday on teacher salaries and ATRs is an excellent "preview," as she calls it, of what she's planning for our masochistic reading pleasure in the coming weeks. I wish we could program her to work automatically on every piece of internet claptrap produced by the Brave New World of corporate education. Something like a web crawler gadget that could debunk the stuff the minute it's put up.

But, I want to emphasize something that must be included in any discussion of the cost of ATRs and the union members waiting around in rubber rooms:

It's not only a case of big senior salaries.

Many, if not most of us learned only this week that once you've been sent to a rubber room, you'll be off the school's budget in 60 days. What had been a disincentive to put teachers out of commission over there (because a principal had to pay two salaries: that of the removed teacher as well as the one who hired to replace him) is now a new TOOL for eliminating unwanted staff — regardless of age, skill or talent.

To spell this out: a frivolous charge, an opinion on someone's competence or personality ("I just don't like them"), or a downright lie can get someone moved over there. And with the backlog they've got in handling these cases, it's a lot more than Out of Sight, Out of Mind. In 60 days from removal, it'll be Off My Budget as well.

So, it is not only a question of pushing senior teachers out of the system. The BoE has been systematically — and with the blessing of our duplicitous union because they have not made an immediate stink about this any place I know of — enhancing the capability of nudging all unwanted teachers out of the system.

Just wait til this catches on.

I've already written something about serving at the principal's pleasure, and Chaz wrote a terrific summary of the current contract fallout for ATRs and other trouble spots  over at his blog

This is something I wrote in a comment to Eduwonkette's post, but it's germane to this discussion:
There is an underlying point here that cannot be separated from the discussion: The principals could ALWAYS see or find out how long you've been in the system, which not always meant your salary, but how old you are, and how often and perhaps WHY you changed schools. They also had access to hidden networking in all districts which made it a very un-level playing field for an excessed teacher.

Senior teachers -- who are the most likely staff members to want to teach with a degree of autonomy recognized in the contract but overlooked by UFT and [BoE] alike, and who include many union activists (chapter leaders, etc.) who have gone up against a principal or even a superintendent when they abuse the contract — all of these people are "known" at the district level. I suspect there is even a real list of them.

Principals ask around when they hire people who are in the system long enough to have reputations. The newer teachers not only don't have reputations, they don't have tenure. They are the ultimate inanimate body for any principal: silent, fearful, and contract-ignorant.

As ch. leader a couple of times in my career, I successfully grieved overcrowding in one of my schools for two whole grades. At that same school, the superintendent's office itself tried to get me to change the UFT personnel on the C-30 committee —how do you like that one? Just after being excessed from there (I wonder why), I loudly protested at some off-site music PD that the city was actively replacing music positions with band-aid programs where freelance artists come to the school to teach kids once a week — this was being condoned as a good thing, and we music and dance teachers should just LOVE seeing our positions given away to outside contractors; as they escorted me out of that auditorium, the entire audience of teachers, hesitantly at first, but ever-increasing, broke into a loud applause.

In another school, the principal committed fraud over my signature as chapter leader. New Visions's answer to this: "I think you and he should not be in the same school." So much for fair play.

Teachers with years in the system — and I won't use the term "senior" anymore, because the average years in the system is coming way down as the transience level goes way up — have a lot more stacked against them than bigger salaries. [see here for more on that]

And it is VERY MUCH PART OF this same discussion about what to do with ATRs.
UFT management's been back-sliding on this issue. We need to force them to address exactly what the system loses when the BoE makes it easy to expunge teachers with a certain number of years in this game.

If we don't get to keep our senior voices and fighters, it'll be under Weingarten's watch that the union's been busted.

The educorp octopus has grown new legs

And is it even legal??

Don't even bother to read this introduction and go right over to these two articles at The Chancellor's New Clothes to get a whiff of the sewage system that our politicized departments of education (plural) have become.

The first one is about the May 16 NYS State ELA exam with a reading passage about how a supermarket bagger changed the workplace. (It doesn't say a thing about him getting a management job as the result of his efforts: just that he made a lot of people in the place feel better about themselves.) The passage is excerpted from a book by Barbara Glanz, and the publisher is, you got it: McGraw-Hill.

The second one is about Barbara Glanz herself, because that's what The Chancellor's blog does for breakfast: track things down through the eduswamp. Even more this time, it connected some dots for me about a ghastly corporate model and our very own rubber rooms.

I don't have anything more to say about this just now, except that I am not discrediting the service of any supermarket baggers here. I do, however, thoroughly condemn the governmental agencies that have allowed advocative political economics to creep into a required reading test.

Is there no one at these ├╝ber-levels who is doing oversight? Or, should I say, is there no one doing oversight who isn't free of corporate connections?

May 13, 2008

When did education turn into an industrial complex?

“Industry” used to be a word that brought to mind a whole array of positive meanings — from hard work, to labor and its unions, to skilled management that could build whole cities towards the skies, get us all from sea to shining sea in just a few hours, clothe us, feed us, raise us out of ignorance, entertain us and cure us if we got sick.

“Industrial” meant strength, durability, and a no-nonsense domination of the physical environment as much as did minerals, electricity, power and steel.

And tagging along with all this mighty American strength was what all parents wanted their kids to be: “industrious,” diligent, having as Wordnet puts it a “persevering determination to perform a task.” You went to school, and you learned to be industrious.

Boy, has education taken a wrong turn.

It struck me as I’ve been reading the recent blogs laying out the “industry” education has become in this country that we can’t look for warm-fuzzy feelings from that word anymore. The business of getting our kids taught has been taken over by a loathsome machine of education politics, power grabs, and slick PR.

You learn about it when you read up on the corporate model fostered by Jack Welch and his kind (e.g., Mary Hoffman's essay) and on the great book— oops, test — publisher McGraw Hill (e.g., at Time Out from Testing, all over the Schools Matter blog including here, or Wikipedia). The corporate interconnectedness of education business groups have been brilliantly traced by Eduwonkette (Feb. 14th) and a couple of times already over at Chancellor’s (May 9th and 12th). And as much as The New Teacher Project spews its ya-da-ya-da on its website, it doesn’t necessarily make that organization better at the job of training teachers than any other group. They just landed the contract, as did the Aussies in the early 2000s (Andrew Wolf). Did I mention the Gates Foundation yet?

Thousands of inner-city kids pass through our classrooms each year, and we can’t reach them. The overcrowding, the unusually stupid demands on our skills and time, the waste of money, talent and resources, and the easy way administrators, politicos and press dismiss our own experienced voices are choices made not by us, but by arrogant industrial carpetbaggers who may never have been teachers at all.
That’s about where we are, folks.

I just heard John Dean interview on Air America this afternoon, who said it will take a run of at least three Democratic presidents to put things right again in this country.

When does the clock start on Joel Klein and on all the enablers that made the likes of him possible?

More importantly: When can we get the “industry” to back out of education?

May 11, 2008

Picking up where I left off...

Everyone who’s read this blog with any regularity knows that it was created last fall out of anger at the UFT’s bumbling — or intentional sell-off, I still can’t tell which — of the last contract and a serious absence of damage control and union “presence.”

The continued disabilities of UFT management in these areas have undermined the careers of the most experienced and educated sector of the teaching work force, the middle- and late-career teachers. And there is little sign that UFT management will get better at their job defending teachers’ rights as long as they keep feathering their double-pension nests and seek national office.

I have been silent for a few weeks just when I could have been more vocal, as I myself am an ATR, a hot topic in the blogs and in the press.

It turns out, there’s quite a variety of us in this position. There are those who got here through school closings and those who got here through their positions being cut. Some applied elsewhere and found new jobs, others applied and didn’t, some didn’t even get interviews, and some were willing to take what comes and didn’t apply at all. There are ATRs subbing who get daily assignments and those who’ve been given full programs; some report to work and are not given anything to do at all. There are those whose salaries are being paid by Central and those who remain on the budget of their schools. Like all teachers, some are happy in their situation, others are not taking to it very well, some are being treated fairly decently and some are being harassed. You’ll never get agreement on the exact nature of the ATR beast.

What I have been told from people in senior management positions in the UFT is the following, and some of it has been expressed in press reports or correspondence:

a. Weingarten will not renegotiate the contract, as she says in her May 2nd letter to ATRs:
I wanted to personally reassure you that the UFT will not reopen the contract to negotiate any change in the terms and conditions of your employment. We have a rock-solid job security clause in our contract that does not allow the Department of Education to lay off any of our members, particularly ATRs.
b. ATRs will not lose their “jobs.” Of course, that’s the very limited meaning of the word — salary, health plan etc., and pension — not the complete one, which means your career.

c. With the changes to the transfer system, so many more teachers were able to find jobs at other schools than ever before. (That’s such a plus, in their eyes.)

d. There aren’t a lot of attacks on ATRs. Apparently they’re not being U-rated much or harassed. I was specifically reminded that if a principal wanted to push you towards early retirement by sending you to the rubber room, you’d still be on their budget. So, they’d have to keep paying your salary as well as the salary of the person who’d they be hiring to do the job you’re now doing (whether it’s daily subbing or the full-time program).

e. This section has been REVISED, after some ambiguities I didn't yet have explanations for when I first wrote it were clarified in a bit of late-night correspondence. Hats off to Chaz, who answered at least one of those questions in the comments, before I had a chance to post this revision.

I had asked at a chapter leaders’ meeting last week whether principals might be prone to dish out U-ratings to ATRs to keep salary costs down. After all, a single letter in the file can lead to a U-rating, and a U-rating has salary consequences. The response from the reps at the time didn’t solve my confusion, and they may have actually misunderstood my question. So, I wrote to a couple of CLs in ICE, one of whom dug up some wording in the UFT Chapter Leader’s handbook that said “a pedagogue who has not reached maximum may be denied a salary increment for one year.” Does that "salary increment," I wondered, refer only to a Step orto a longevity increment as well?

After some back-and-forth with the other CL and the rep again, it boils down to this: U-ratings do not prevent you from getting either the longevity increments or the raises the union negotiates with each contract. You can read about this in the DoE handbook called Rating Pedagogical Staff Members, which says under Part II.G. (Implications of an Adverse Rating) that U-ratings might cause people to “suffer the loss of annual salary increments.” Steps, it was explained to me, fall into that “annual” kind of increase, whereas longevity does not.

Glad we finally sorted that out, but back to my original question: Would a principal use a U-rating to keep a salary from getting bigger? The reps said there was no history of this kind of thing, but that if the UFT saw a spike in U-ratings at strategic points in the contract, it would . . . Well, it wasn’t at all clear what they would do, but I’m not surprised anymore at the union's incredible willingness to put its head in the sand.

f. Senior ATRs, just when they are interested in building up their salaries for that final calculation based on the last 3 years, are pretty much barred from per session. Oh, the UFT claims of course they aren't, but they’re speaking in a limited kind of way and mostly theoretically. It is true that if you are given a full program and are being paid out of Central, there’s no reason why you can’t be given a per session commitment. I’m sure it’s being done. But if you’re in a school where both you and your position have been cut and you’re doing daily subbing, HR might place you at any point in another school. I doubt in this case that your principal is going to grant you a per session program. That would mean they want your skills in the building, and by excessing you, they clearly told you they do not!

The UFT also claims you can do per session work at another school. Perhaps true, in a campus situation. But mostly, you can’t expect kids at another school to wait around for you, particularly if they’re unsupervised, until you get there from your present school.

The UFT loves glib answers to real-world difficulties.

In addition, the UFT filed an age discrimination suit against the DOE in State Supreme Court on April 7 on behalf of older excessed teachers who had not been given positions (and in some cases interviews either) for reasons of salary or age (see Dorothy Callaci’s “UFT sues Tweed for age discrimination”, April 10).

If this goes anywhere at all, it’ll amount to bupkas. I can’t see any court awarding monetary damages to any complainant for the emotional stress of being pushed out of one’s career and being left unprotected by a contract. So, have a good time with this, fellas, but I’m betting it won’t amount to anything tangible. Unless you call any win against BloomKlein something tangible, and some of us actually salivate at that thought.

For anyone who has been out of the country for the past few weeks, here are links to the ATR articles that have recently had some play. (PS: look at the hours some of these guys keep!!)

May 1, 2008 Leo Casey on “A Manufactured Crisis and an Attempt at a Naked Political Power Play”

May 2, 2008 Ron Isaac on “ATRS: How Low Can the DOE Go?”

May 5, 2008, 8:14 am: Leo Casey on “Stubborn Facts, Pliable Statistics and the Manufactured Crisis of Excessed Educators,” who lays out the UFT position that: “the “stubborn facts” are that [the DOE has] no interest in solving the problem so long as they believe that they can use it to win the power to fire educators without due process.”

May 5, 2008, 9:12 pm: James Eterno on the ICE blog: “UFT Officers Agree Not to Reopen the Contract on ATR Issue; Resolved Clauses OK but Whereas Clauses Full of Unity Distortions,” in which he spells out how there is NO job security in the present contract:
Article 17F is no longer about job security but instead covers a voluntary buyout for ATRs. The UFT's claim that there is "rock-solid job security" does not hold up under careful scrutiny. To put it another way, would you rather have a clause in a Contract that says you have job security or have the UFT leadership tell you that you have job security?
How scary is that? And he spells out a lot more over there as well.

May 6, 2008, 2:57 am : Leo Casey on “The New Teacher Project Responds.” He posts the response of Tim Daly (who heads The New Teacher Project) to the blog he had written earlier the same day.

May 6, 2008, 2:58 am: Leo Casey on “More Stubborn Facts: A Response To The New Teacher Project’s Tim Daly,” in which he concludes: “Why have the DoE and TNTP spent the last weeks trumpeting to all who will listen a cost that the author of its own analysis now concurs was misleading?”

May 6, 2008, 5:03 am: “Mayor Mike's Kinfolk Issue a Report,” which also talks a lot about New Teacher Project and their nefarious mission to obfuscate statistics and do the Chancellor’s bidding.

May 7, 2008: Eduwonkette: "Joel Klein Blames Idle Teachers for $4 Gas, Subprime Crisis," which recommends a third party study to address the suspect anaylsis.

May 8, 2008: Michael Spielman at “UFT: Tweed created job barriers for ATRs,” which mentions the The New Teacher Project: “a nonprofit organization that has millions of dollars of contracts with the DOE, runs the city’s Teaching Fellows program and manages Hiring Internal Support Centers for the DOE.”

May 8, 2008: “The New Teacher Project.” Slightly tangential, but lists all the people involved in running the NY Teaching Fellows program. Lots of outgoing bucks there.

May 11, 2008: Leo Casey on “Watch What They Do, Not What They Say…” He says that at least one school is posting an ATR position, which just shows to go you how topsy-turvy the world is for ATRs.

I'm thinking of creating a pool or two on the outcome of all this for ATRs. Gotta make up the cash losses somehow.