May 31, 2010

May 30, 2010

What's the helmsman doing?

This absolutely glorious Sunday morning has been nearly ruined for me by a UFT post I just read that the charter school legislation passed by Albany this week addresses "most of the UFT's key concerns."

I kid you not. That's the title of the UFT post:
What Mulgrew seems to be happy about is this: "We changed the conversation about charter schools." Changing the conversation, though, isn't what I thought we've been paying the union to do.

A couple of things they think this bill accomplished:
— how the state could make sure they're open to the neediest children,

— how to ensure real parent voice,

— how to get more oversight in charter school ops,

— and how to limit profiteering.
First of all, it eludes none of us that the
number of charters will now go up, so they needn't bother trying to tell us there'll be a new limit on their number. Big deal.

And no one believes for a second that there will be adequate oversight of the charters with this bill or limits to the role of profiteers in charter operations. Just look at the article Why the Charter Cap Bill Should Not Become Law posted on Gotham last Tuesday before the vote, in which Leonie Haimson and Mona Davids wrote:
Unlike the bill earlier passed by the Assembly, this bill would bar the State Comptroller from auditing the books of charter schools, despite the financial scandals that have erupted in New York and throughout the country regarding conflicts-of-interest, self-dealing and misuse of public funds. It would continue to allow for-profit management companies to try to make a buck off our children, despite the cuts that are decimating school budgets.
They also put a big quantifier on how much parent voice there'd be:
And it would deny parents from having any say in where these schools are located, intensifying bitter battles that already are ripping communities apart and leading to more overcrowding and the loss of critical cluster spaces and libraries.
They identify other objectionable stuff in the new bill as well.

Thanks go to Norm for drawing attention to Jackie Bennett's analysis of high attrition rates in charter schools. (It was posted on Unity tool, which nobody much reads.) It turns out attrition is much higher in charters, even the high-performing ones, when you compare them with public schools.

At least Mulgrew knows that Race to the Top funds can't be used to fix class size. The money is to be used for new projects, so unless more lawbreaking takes place (like moving around designated funds from one place to another as they always do), we in the public schools are still in the same boat as before. Sinking.

He needs to be reminded with megaphones in both ears that lauding a new charter bill doesn't do much for the UFT. Nor does running charters of their own, by the way.

Playing ball with the politicians on this one doesn't get our senior teachers back into classrooms and out of ATR and RR limbo. Nor does it reduce DoE lawbreaking, stop special ed violations, put an end to teacher-bashing, oust the unqualified and poorly trained supervisors that harass us, or raise the political clout of our union.

What it does is lower our faith in this union and unionism altogether.

Will someone please get down to business and throw us a lifeboat.

Postscript: Norm caught this ball and is running bases over at Ednotes.

May 28, 2010

Getting closer!

Someone just wrote me that Paterson's incentive bill just passed the legislature.

Here's the message posted by the NYS Office of the Governor, which is two steps forward for some of us.

Governor David A. Paterson Announces Passage of Early Retirement Incentive Legislation

ALBANY, NY (05/28/2010) Governor David A. Paterson today announced that the Legislature has passed his bill authorizing an early retirement incentive . . .

May 26, 2010

More on Brill's "poop" in the NY Times

Sometime before the publication of his piece in the New Yorker last August (on which I posted a lengthy rebuttal by Joy Hochstadt here), pseudo-journalist Steven Brill paid a visit to the Chapel St. rubber room where Philip Nobile has been reassigned for the past three years.

Nobile has given me permission to post his report on some exchanges he had with Brill at that time.

Steve Brill, Part 2
New Yorker Hatchet Man Extends Act to the

Brill, oh boy, is back on the education beat with "The Teachers’ Union’s Last Stand” in this week’s New York Times Magazine. When asked last winter if he was working on a sequel to his New Yorker article on rubber room (“Worst in Class,” Aug. 31), he replied via email, “Nope. Something slightly related but different.”

But there was no difference in tone, slant, and accuracy in his twin blasts. He has poisoned the issue of teacher unions as assiduously as allegedly problematic teachers.

What the city and country needs is an Anti-Brill who will contest the ex cathedra claim that bad teachers and their unions that love them are the bogeymen of the achievement gap and dispute the notion that hardcore, top-down, you're fired accountability is the sole solution, as if schools alone can overcome the crushing social pathologies that stall learning among some minorities.

I tried to do my part by engaging Brill in a dialogue. As a rubber roomer myself with a background in journalism (we were both staff writers at New York magazine), I was perfectly situated to examine his prejudices. I offered my services to The Teacher, but executive editor Deidre McFadyen, probably on the advice of Mulgrew, did not reply. Brill was more courteous, but to my surprise this sumo of the printed word refused to go a few rounds with one of his unnamed victims.

Herewith our too brief exchange from last September:
Me: As you can imagine, your story is of great concern to us rubber room folks. I'm planning to write a reaction piece. Can we set up an interview?

Brill: Why don’t you write your piece and then I can react?

Me: The piece is about you and your article, not textual analysis. Need to talk to you, journalist-to-subject, as you were to us in the rubber room with the same courtesies. It will be an interesting exercise for both of us — a worst teacher in New York engages his New Yorker critic. Readers are bound to be enlightened and entertained as we advance the discussion of the swiftboating of inner city teachers. Forgive me for saying so, this is a teachable moment and you must be game.

Brill: [no response]

Me: Are we on?

Brill: For what? Your last email said you had already decided the merits of your case.

Me: I don't understand your point. Since I haven't interviewed you yet, there is no "case." My story is when you came to our rubber room. We assumed your good faith. I expect you to return the favor.

If you are reacting, perhaps overreacting, to my use of the word "swiftboating," you of course know that the term was not applied to your piece, but rather to a media trend. Surely, you won't deny that the New Yorker's cover headline "Worst in class," describing hundreds of teachers yet to be tried for alleged misconduct, rubs up against the genre.

I repeat my claim that a dialogue of sorts between you and me will sharpen the discussion on education reform. Can this project be more irresistible to a guy like you?

Lunch at Michael's?

Brill: [no response]

Me: Have you decided to observe the journalist's code and grant me an interview? If I may say so, it does not behoove the founder of Brill's Content to say no . . .
I did not hear from Brill again until months later. However, I brought up his destructive New Yorker article with UFT Staff Director LeRoy Barr during his semi-annual pilgrimage to Brooklyn’s Chapel St. TRC on February 8. I gave him some serious gas about the union's utter PR failure re rubber rooms.

Specifically, I complained that the UFT had zero response to Brill except for a feckless letter-to-the-editor by Mulgrew. Consequently, the intelligentsia, our natural constituency, has fallen for Brill's DOE slant. Barr deflected my criticism by hyping a forthcoming but undefined publicity pushback. He said that we would be “happy” that the union had pooled its resources for this game-changing moment. Unknown to us then, Mulgrew was secretly negotiating the end of TRCs with the DOE.

Still in denial, Barr shifted the blame from the UFT to us for talking and giving the press the chance to spin. True, some anonymous rats in our room gifted the Post with uncomplimentary quotes about Alan Rosenfeld and his alleged double-dipping on the job. The other day SCI investigators visited us seeking dirt on another alleged double-dipper previously exposed in the Post. Hearing that I was no friend of the subject, they interviewed me. I told them that even if I had something on a brother or sister, I wouldn’t tell them because we’ve got enough trouble just being in the room.

I sent Barr a draft of this post, promising to quote his feedback. In keeping with the UFT’s un-solidarity with the least of the brethren, he had no comment.

Finally, I forgot to inquire whether Brill’s sequel was commissioned by the New Yorker.
Brill: Sorry. Never talk about that stuff.

Me: Or talk to me about your previous piece. We the condemned spoke to you, but you stonewalled me in return. This was conduct unbecoming a journalist, if you don't mind my saying so.

(Note: Brill's Content was a media watchdog publication he used to published. It's now defunct. See here for my comments on Brill's piece in the NY Times this past weekend, and here for what South Bronx had to say.)

May 23, 2010

Do we really need the NY Times?

Not if it's comfortable for them to publish Steven Brill's kind of biased zealotry against public education.

Check out the opening paragraph of his piece in today's Magazine section:
MICHAEL MULGREW is an affable former Brooklyn vocational-high-school teacher who took over last year as head of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers when his predecessor, Randi Weingarten, moved to Washington to run the national American Federation of Teachers. Over breakfast in March, we talked about a movement spreading across the country to hold public-school teachers accountable by compensating, promoting or even removing them according to the results they produce in class, as measured in part by student test scores. Mulgrew’s 165-page union contract takes the opposite approach. It not only specifies everything that teachers will do and will not do during a six-hour-57 ½-minute workday but also requires that teachers be paid based on how long they have been on the job. Once they’ve been teaching for three years and judged satisfactory in a process that invariably judges all but a few of them satisfactory, they are ensured lifetime tenure.
Brill may have had breakfast with Mulgrew in March like he says, but there are some serious untruths in these first five sentences.

1. "Mulgrew's 165-page union contract."

First of all, there is no single union contract.
There are at least nine separate agreements for each title in this union. The teacher contract and its additions does reach to 165 pages, but the guidance counselor's contract, for example, goes only to 75. The Memorandum of Agreement signed in Oct 2005 and to extend until Oct 07 modified the many agreements that had expired in May of 2003. The next Memorandum of Agreement was signed in Nov 2006, and extended all of these contracts in a similar fashion until Oct 09. We are now working without a renegotiated contract, and Mulgrew has gone to impasse over the DoE's new demands.

In any case, none of these agreements are Mulgrew's, because it was Weingarten who negotiated them. They were
undoubtedly grooming Mulgrew to replace her over the past few years, but he did not determine the direction of these expired contracts. His job now is to defend the ones we're forced to live with until the new one is signed, and to make sure we get one we can live with next time round.

2. The contract "specifies everything that teachers will do and will not do during a six-hour-57 1/2-minute workday."

Bull. I'd say roughly 30% of our working day is dealing with problems that are nowhere near specified in the contract, particularly in times like these when we're filling in for the DoE's shortfalls.

The biggest and most time-consuming task is classroom management, which is becoming increasingly more difficult as class size grows unchecked and students are not getting the services they need. You won't find a word about that in any contract. Who does Brill think attends to the children when special ed violations place them with you instead of with someone else? Who does he think buys supplies on their own time when schools don't provide them, or moves furniture, cleans up, and does their own tech support when other staff are unavailable and/or unwilling? Who performs the multiple layers of attendance-taking and paperwork required by the DoE, which has been escalating these tasks in their orgiastic glee over data and accountability? And where does it say in any contract that you have to teach a subject you don't know anything about, because that's what happens all too often these days. We end up frequently enough teaching out of license.

3. "requires that teachers be paid based on how long they have been on the job".
A half-truth, as everyone knows. Educators are also paid on how many credits and/or degrees they have above a BA.

And I'll quibble as well with the word "teachers," because not all the people standing in front of NYC classes have really earned that title. The darker truth is that the State Ed Dept has been coerced into minimizing the requirements in order to attract more grad students, particularly TFA types who enter so many NYC classrooms with a BA and a few weeks of ed prep over the summer. Way too many people intern for a couple of years as educators while they go through the stages of full certification, including getting their MA. Some don't even bother to complete it and leave after a couple of years for different kinds of jobs. (See this link for the four main kinds of teaching certificates you can hold in New York — provisional, professional, provisional and permanent — and a host of others for unique circumstances, e.g., transitional, supplementary.)

4. "that invariably judges all but a few of them satisfactory."

First of all, more than "a few" people are denied tenure, and some have are asked to prove themselves for longer than three years.

If someone whom the DoE has placed in the job as principal has decided a person is good enough at his job for tenure, then one can only blame that principal for granting tenure to a person who hasn't earned it. That's true even under the present teacher evaluation system.

I am also getting the feeling that Brill confuses "satisfactory" performance with "excellence," which is never prescribed by law for teaching or any civil service job.

5. "they are ensured lifetime tenure."

An outright lie. No one in this contract or any earlier one has ever been ensured lifetime tenure. There are ed laws that can remove you from the classroom for incompetence and crimes. You can also lose your job for whistleblowing and truthtelling, even for things you never did at all. And as much as we'd like not to think about it, the Legislature can indeed change the tenure laws
. So there is no assurance, as Brill says, of a lifetime job.

Brill's essay is patently a work of political propaganda, and why the Times printed it is beyond me.

But that's a rhetorical question and I don't really need an answer. I've just canceled my subscription to the paper, as many already have done well before now.

PS: I've written about Brill before, in this post.

May 6, 2010

Getting our ducks in a row . . .
or not

I don't have tell anyone that when Bloomberg threatens to lay off 4,419 teachers, we all want to know what our longevity looks like in print.

Unfortunately, that's not going to happen, and it's not because the DoE isn't publishing seniority lists this year, because they are. They've put out two since last spring. Garbage, both times.

When the whacked up list came out in the fall term, word had it that the DoE was "working on it." Software was being changed, and data was coming out gobbledygook.

Looking at the document we had at our school, I thought some of the stats seemed to be okay. But the order was all wrong, and a ton of vets were inexplicably listed as having just six years' service under their belts.

So we waited all winter for the new version, which the principal made available last week. Again it was one big mess.

I was angry enough back in the fall when this arrogant, corrupt, spendthrift and non-accountable Department of Education couldn't spit out a proper list that would allow us to check our longevity stats. In this of all years, every one of us working members needs to be able to check that the DoE's calculation of our seniority and years-in match our own idea of our career service.

I brought up the problem of the junk lists with UFT managers more than once this year, and their apathetic response made me distinctly uncomfortable. But, I figured we had time and the new spring lists would clear the picture up.

So now it's May, and the principals are already telling staff where they're intending to cut positions. The union I'm sorry to say still has its head in the clouds, in the sand, and who knows where else. If anyone can show me any discussion of the problematical lists on the UFT website, I'll revise this post in a nanosecond.

You'll find things over there like this April 10th post explaining excessing and tenure —
Excessing follows reverse systemwide seniority order. . . . If you have any questions, ask your chapter leader to check the School Excessing Seniority List or call your UFT borough office.
The person who wrote that invitation is obviously uninformed. No such list exists at the present time.

One of the two UFT high-ups I wrote to about the problem this week expressed frustration and anger tantamount to my own. The other didn't bother to answer my email.

The difference between me and them is I guess this. I believe there is much more to this than software and programming issues.

I believe the Department of Education is putting the whole system into chaos so people can't navigate it or figure out where they stand. They've done it with massive re-organizations, and they've done it with pupil attendance lists. They've manipulated data, test scores, and graduation rates like there's no tomorrow. Absolutely nothing in the system is reliable, accurate, or sound.

The DoE is playing one big joke on us all, and the union is keeping up its part in whatever bargains they're making with the city by just looking the other way.

May 3, 2010

Representation without consultation

That's one of the themes in Philip Nobile's critique of the new rubber room agreement posted yesterday on the ICE blog.

A chapter leader and teacher of social studies, Nobile was reassigned to a TRC in retaliation for whistleblowing on Regents irregularities. He takes Mulgrew to task for failing to consult with TRC residents before coming up with this arrangement to expedite things and get people out of there. They are, after all, "the casualties of this bureaucratic Bay of Pigs."

Despite all the folderol over the new arrangement, a fair number of us remain unimpressed. As Nobile says:
"Despite the apocalyptic publicity in the tabloids, TRCs were never the real issue. Rather they are the rear end product of the DOE’s discipline system that can reassign a ham sandwich."
A good read, this post, particular for seven hard questions he challenges Mulgrew to answer.

May 1, 2010

Goldstein on Gates

While some of us have been taking on Albany and Wall Street this past week, Arthur Goldstein has been aiming at a whole other target over at Gotham.

Bill Gates — for whom we don't have to look very far for appropriate metaphors.
GOLDSTEIN: "I don’t trust him, and I don’t think he knows much about education, despite the millions he throws around imposing his pet projects on us."
I got a little harsh with Gates myself back in January of last year, when I called him an Ed-Dabbler. So, it shouldn't be any surprise that I agree with Arthur completely, and with the comments people have been posting.

Gates's Measure of Effective Teaching project does smack of big brother and omits inconvenient factors like class size. The UFT's collaboration on this project is misguided, if not downright harmful, and Leonie Haimson is right when she says NYC teachers should boycott the whole darn thing.

No matter how hard anyone tries, Gates's dupes will not come up with any suggestions for good teaching that haven't been around for centuries:
Know your stuff thoroughly

Speak clearly

"Tune in" to the students

Set and hold standards of behavior and scholarship

Mark lots of papers

Call parents, and

Teach from the heart.
Do all this all of the time and you'll really be good at your job. Do anything more than this and you'll be spectacular. But for that, you'll have to have the kind of talent no one can measure, no one can duplicate, and no one can evaluate separately from the group of students in front of you at any given moment.

Because all good teachers know that great teaching is an ephemeral mix of all the talent in the room, not just the teacher's. What each student brings to each class is part of the whole experience, whether he or she has a positive influence on the room or a negative one, whether he's gifted, challenged, introverted, extroverted, healthy, out of sorts, lovelorn, hungry and all the rest.

It is a dull drudge who will follow a rubric designed by a committee paid to come up with something.

Good teaching doesn't change. Only politics does.