Friday, October 31, 2014

Horror Stories From The ATR Pool.

With Halloween here, its time to recount some of the horror stories told to me by the ATRs in the last couple of years.

Freddy Kruger:
This nightmare started when an ATR, trying to go the extra yard in entertaining the class he was covering, by asking them to solve a math question, using a baseball analogy.  In describing the problem he used statistics commonly used in baseball.  However, one female student didn't understand the concept and he patiently explained the math problem to her.  When she still didn't get it, the teacher explained that since she really didn't understand baseball he could see her confusion in solving the Math problem.  The girl felt insulted and reported the ATR to the Principal who charged the ATR with gender discrimination and verbal abuse/  The ATR ended up with a Letter To The File (LIF) and a "u rating" for the year.

An ATR covering a leave replacement was teaching a Science lesson when three girls decided to play "UNO" instead.  The teacher asked the girls to put the cards away three times.  However, the girls refused the teacher's request.  The Teacher went over to three girls and took the UNO cards away.  One girl refused to give up her pile and the teacher grabbed them from her hand.  In doing so he touched her hand in taking the UNO cards away.  The three girls went to the Principal and the teacher ended up being charged with corporal punishment and OSI was contacted.  The result was a LIF for the teacher and no disciplinary consequences for the three students who failed to do their work or follow the rules.

Michael Myers:
A student was feeling ill and the ATR, who was provisionally assigned to the school, told the student to go to the school clinic to be checked out.  The teacher was trying to do what's right by having qualified medical personal observe her and to ensure the child's illness was not contagious to her classmates.  The student refused to go and an argument ensued until the student reluctantly went to the school clinic.  Two weeks later the Principal held a disciplinary hearing and charged the teacher with verbal abuse (yelling)  and embarrassing the student in front of her classmates.  The  teacher ended up with a LIF and a "U rating" for the year.

An untenured ATR saw a poor performing student's Regents paper being marked separately from others and quickly realized that the teacher was violating State rules.  She asked the teacher why he had the student's Regents paper and was told to mind her own business.  She reported it first to the Assistant Principal and then the Principal of the alleged Regents violation.  However, it appears the Assistant Principal and Principal wanted this student out of the school and were in on it.  The untenured ATR's satisfactory observations in the Fall semester became "Unsatisfactory observations" after she reported the Regents violation, in the Spring semester.  She was discontinued at the end of the school year.

A Math certified ATR was dumped into a self-contained Special Education class all day without any technology or lesson plans left for the classes and was told by the Assistant Principal to keep them entertained.  He tried his best but the students were out of control and when the Assistant Principal walked in saw that the teacher was having trouble keeping them focused.  The Assistant Principal gave the ATR a "U observation" for poor classroom management.

These are just a few of the many horror stories from the ATR pool.  If you have some stories to share, please send them to the comment section and I will publish them.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How Educators Need To Act In Their 3020-a Hearing.

When tenured educators are charged by the DOE under State regulation 3020-a, the only outcome the DOE wants is termination.  However, in only half the cases does the DOE get the educator to leave the system and most of them decide to resign or retire rather than go through the stressful 3020-a hearing process.  It appears that between 45% and 55% are either terminated, forced to resign, or retire.  The reason that the DOE does not get its way is that the DOE must prove the charges against the educator by the preponderance of relevant evidence in front of an independent arbitrator.

There is no matrix for determining the arbitrator's award.  Except if the arbitrator finds the educator committed sexual misconduct then termination becomes the automatic award.  Different arbitrators weight the DOE specifications (charges) differently, despite the number, severity, and type of specifications against the educator. Therefore, its extremely important that the educator's appearance and demeanor will go a long way in influencing the arbitrator award. Here are the actions an educator must take in the 3020-a hearing to save their job.

First, and foremost dress and act professionally.  Treat everyone in the hearing room with respect, even the DOE lawyer!  Your attitude will be noted by the arbitrator,  Men should wear a suit and tie while women should wear business attire. Don't be argumentative, emotional, or display displeasure. These actions at the 3020-a hearing will result in the arbitrator giving a more severe award then might otherwise be warranted.

Second, be on time and never miss a hearing date.  Being late to your hearing will annoy the arbitrator and will make your lawyer's defense more difficult.

Third, thoroughly familiarize yourself with the charges against you.  Craft a point-by-point rebuttal and give it to your attorney.  The more you understand the DOE specifications, the better prepared you will be to defend yourself.  Stay attentive and take down notes when witnesses testify.. 

Fourth, The DOE will blow even the most trivial action into a major incident and take things said or did by the educator out of context.  Your job is to defend yourself with clear, concise, and understandable actions and put it into the proper context.  Try to show your intent behind the action you took and express sorrow, when appropriate, that your actions were misunderstood.  Do not be arrogant!

Fifth, Try to get witnesses for your defense.  Past and present students are important and will help your defense with the arbitrator.

Finally, Tell your attorney everything!  If you lie to the lawyer or caught in a lie at the 3020-a hearing it will probably result in termination.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Time Magazine Joins The Teacher Bashing News Media.

The once gold standard of news reporting, Time magazine, has now sacrificed their journalistic responsibility for some cheap headlines by putting on its cover, a picture of "rotten apples" with a caption saying its nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.  While the article inside the magazine seems more balanced, the use of the picture demonizing teachers rather than a more neutral cover on the tenure wars is inflammatory.

Most educators know that the problem with education is not teacher tenure but the lack of education funding and deep poverty.  Many students show up to school hungry, tired, sick, and insecure.  To believe that a teacher can cure society's ills is not only naive but is insincere when you claim that if you eliminate teacher tenure education will improve. In fact, the opposite is the more likely result. In the book "The Teacher Wars" by education reporter Dana Goldstein, she reported that a teacher affects, at most, 7% of a child's academic achievement.  That means that 93% or more of the factors that affect student academic achievement are beyond the teacher's control.

If teacher tenure is the problem then states that have no teacher tenure should have better educational outcomes and a lower racial/income academic achievement gap.  However, the opposite is true.  States like Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas have the lowest academic levels in the nation and the widest racial/income academic achievement gaps where teachers have no tenure protections.  Furthermore, many studies have shown that teacher tenure is associated with better student outcomes since teachers feel more secure to try different approaches without fear of being fired.  Moreover, teacher tenure reduces teacher turnover which can destabilize a school.  Finally, if a teacher is truly awful, then the Principal can deny tenure or, if tenured, can document the reason to terminate the teacher in a "due process hearing".

A case in point is the New York City schools.  Given the same racial and income cohort, schools that have experienced tenured teachers have lower staff turnover and better student achievement.  By contrast, the schools that have higher inexperienced non-tenured teachers on saff suffer from high teacher turnover and lower academic achievement. Is it any wonder that the schools who have a deep poverty concentration have the highest teacher turnover, the most non-tenured teachers, and the lowest college readiness scores?

Already there are fewer college students going into education  and fewer yet who actually want to teach in the classroom.  How can you expect to get "quality teachers" when the media continually demonizes teachers and blames them for all the ills in society.  This just scares high quality potential candidates from considering the teaching profession and ensures that it becomes the profession of last resort during the recession years and go begging when other, better paying and less stressful jobs are available.  The teaching profession is a highly respected profession throughout the world, except in this nation where these deep-pocketed billionaires have convinced the media that the problem with the nation's teacher quality and not the real reasons of inequility, inadequate funding, and poverty. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Overview Of The Different UFT Caucuses.

The UFT is one union.  However, it has different caucuses when it comes to representing educators and here is my overview of each of the UFT caucuses and what, I feel they stand for or in some cases against the member interests.

In power since the beginning of the union and the leadership has become increasingly disconnected from the rank and file. Under Unity teachers have been subject to "givebacks" and now making ATRs  "second class citizens".   Democracy ends at the lowest level with only Chapter Leaders elected by the members.  All other positions are appointed by the leadership who demand a loyalty oath.  Lately, the union has put politics above the interests of the members by not supporting Teachout against Cuomo and co-sponsoring a derisive Al Sharpton lead march against fellow union members.  It seems that the leadership's social justice interests trump the rank and file needs.

The opposition caucus that once held real promise but is ideologically split between the moderates and the Socialists.  Lately, the Socialists have seemed to have taken the upper hand in this caucus and their social justice plank seems to trump all other issues, including member rights.  The MORE caucus has moved to the far left and has alienated many anti-Unity moderates which makes their days as the primary opposition group questionable.

New Action:
They claim to be the voice of reason in the UFT but their deals with Unity, like getting two executive board seats in exchange to supporting the Unity caucus candidate for President, is unsettling to me.   Moreover, they tend to follow the Unity position when the leadership tells them to. They also put too much emphasis on social justice and also unwisely supported the Al Sharpton anti-police march.

The new kid on the block and claims it will be narrowly focused on educator issues and be more a trade unionist caucus.  I have joined the Solidarity caucus and hope they attract all like-minded educators who believe that the classroom environment and teacher respect is the most important consideration in teacher satisfaction and student academic achievement.  Time will tell if this caucus will become the primary opposition group or die a slow and painful death like many others have over the decades. Maybe if ICE splits with MORE and combines with Solidarity, a real trade unionist caucus will be created and become the face of the UFT in the future.

Educators 4 Excellence:
A fringe group who operates outside the UFT caucus system. This group is simply a front for anti-union corporate elites and is a fifth column. E4E had a chance to run in the last UFT elections but failed to do so in fear that they would have been exposed as a cult with few real members. Most of the E4E leaders were untenured teachers who quickly left the classroom and took the money that deep-pocketed  corporate reformers gave them to advance their anti-union agenda.

Here was my interview with an ex-E4E member.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why The MDRC Small School Study Is Crap.

Once again the so-called non-profit MDRC has used questionable statistics and biased assumptions to falsely show that the Bloomberg small schools, between 2002-07, had better graduation rates and enrolled in college at a higher percentage than the large high schools. Yes, if one looks at the simple conclusion it does look like the small schools have a 4 year graduation rate that's 15% higher than the large schools and 49% enroll in college compared to the 40% in the larger schools.  However, if one looks deeper into the statistics you find some very disturbing problems with the study.

First, the MDRC study only sampled the oversubscribed small schools and not all the small schools.   In particular, the MDRC study left out the small schools that had open seats and located in deep poverty communities.  I wonder how that would have changed the small school statistics?

Second, its common knowledge that during the Chancellor Joel Klein tenure, which takes in the 2002-07 study period, small schools were allowed to exclude "high needs" students, like Special Education, English Language Learners, and students with behavioral, attendance, and academic difficulties.

Third, while the average large school was underfunded by 20%, the Bloomberg small schools were given their full allocation and then some more additional funding to ensure they succeed.

Finally, the DOE deliberately dumped large numbers of "high needs" and over the counter students into the large schools, lowering their 4 year graduation rates and college enrollment percentage.

Let's see, if I opened a school and excluded "high needs" students, used academics, attendance, and  behavioral parameters to select or reject students,  and didn't take my fair share of over the counter students  my school would be successful too.  What's interesting is that the small schools didn't have better results, considering their exclusion of low achieving middle school students.  The reason probably lies with the poor administration (leadership academy principals)  and their hiring of inexperienced teachers that hurt student academic achievement.

If you believe the MDRC study is accurate than I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why You Need Equity Funds In Your Retirement Portfolio.

The most important question when one is nearing retirement is "will my income be sufficient to last thirty or more years"?  The answer to that question is complicated since most retirees what a risk-adverse retirement portfolio and don't know how long they will live.  However, in our present low inflation environment risk-adverse instruments like bank CDs, money market funds, and bonds pay little or no interest (>2%) and therefore does not generate the sufficient income necessary to live comfortably in retirement.  Sure, as educators we get a pension and social security benefits and they are partly but not fully adjusted for inflation and consequently, the spending power will be eroded over time. Most educators have been intelligent enough to put money in the TDA but as one approaches their retirement date, the majority puts it into the fixed income plan that gives 7% interest, a nice perk in our low inflation period.  However, like all risk-adverse instruments, the fixed income portion of the TDA will erode over time as well as inflation will slowly eat away at the spending power  Let's look at the three risk-adverse retirement funds and why the total income will erode over time due to inflation.

Pension:  Our pension is partly adjusted for inflation.  However, the inflation adjustment does not occur until 5 years after you retire and ten years if you retire at 55 years of age.  Using the average inflation rate, the pension will erode by 15% by the time the pension is eligible for an inflation adjustment and 28% if you retire at 55 years of age.  Moreover, the inflation adjustment is only one half of the Consumer Price Index (CPT) and is limited to 3% no matter how high the CPI gets. Finally, the inflation adjustment is confined to the first $18,000 while the average teacher pension is $42,000, that means that the majority of the pension is not adjusted for inflation. Therefore the pension spending power will be eroded over time.

Social Security: Unlike pensions, social security is adjusted for inflation.  However, the modified CPI used for the inflation adjustment ignores energy and food spikes which adversely affects retirees.  Further, social security only accounts for 25% or less of an educator's retirement income.

TDA: Quite a few educators take an annuity from the TDA since it provides the largest payout.  Since the average educator TDA is $316,000 then the payout is approximately $30,000.  However, just like all other risk-adverse instruments the $30,000 will erode over time since there is no inflation adjustment when you annuitize the TDA.

How much will the retirement income erode over time due to inflation assuming a historical inflation rate of 3.4%?

Years                                    Erosion Due To Inflation

That means that the $30,000 annuity in 2044 will have the same buying power as $11,100 would have today.  Not a pleasant thought. 

How does one account for the eroding effects of inflation?  The answer is to include in your retirement portfolio assets that appreciate over time and the only asset that has stood the test of time are equity funds. Historically, going back to the Great Depression, stock equity funds have appreciated by 7.7% over the period.  Yes, there are some bad years, the latest being 2008 but in the long run stocks and equity funds appreciate above the inflation rate and will protect your retirement portfolio from the ravages of inflation.  There are other assets that appreciate like commodities, .real estate, collectables, and precious metals but they are rife with speculators and experience wide swings and are not appropriate for a retirement portfolio.

Many professionals recommend an asset allocation that will give you the best chance of success is a 60% stock/40% fixed retirement portfolio but in any case, one should have at least a 40% equity fund allocation in their retirement portfolio. Regardless how you structure your retirement income, make sure that equity funds are part of the portfolio to protect you from the ravages of inflation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How High Schools Are Shortchanging Students In Science Education.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of the DOE budgeting process is the reduction of a quality Science education as the high schools reduce their Science departments to the bone.  This results in hurting student academic performance and puts the NYC high schools students at a competitive disadvantage with other New York State schools.  The DOE funding program called "fair student funding" (fsf) inadequately funds the schools,who, in turn, eliminate popular electives, reduce Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and cut extracurricular activities, the very programs that make for a successful school.  In addition, many teachers are encouraged to teach a "sixth period" and suffer burnout by the end of the school year as schools try to keep their staff salaries down.

In the New York City high schools principals are hamstrung with the unfair fsf fiasco that find many schools underfunded by receiving only 85% of what the formula should allow for.  Moreover, since 2008, the average school budget has been reduced by 14% and the disappointing Chancellor shockingly froze it at 2013 levels rhis school year. Therefore, principals have cut their expenses any way they can and that includes staff.

One of the ways that high schools have cut payroll is to reduce the amount of Science teachers needed at their school.  In far too many schools the principal has replaced the New York State recommended 5-1 program to a 4-1 program.  This means that students will have one less instructional day as the laboratory requirement will replace the instructional day once a week for Regents Science subjects.  This means that the students are receiving a month's less of instruction and the Regents results show a significant drop off of Regents passing grades. Moreover, many schools encourage non-certified Science teachers to teach , especially when it comes to Earth Science and that also results in a lower Regents passing percentage.  When you combine the three issues, many students who may have passed the Science Regents don't and fail to receive the coveted advanced Regents diploma that colleges look for.

Unfortunately, the DOE's "education on the cheap" policy extends to AP courses as well.  Many schools either don't offer the classes or limit them to six periods weekly rather than the recommended ten classes  as recommended by the College Board.  The result of this shortsighted approach puts the students at a competitive disadvantage with the nation and few students achieve the grade of 3 or higher, the minimum necessary to receive college credit.

Finally, some high schools have inexplicably replaced Regents Earth Science with non-Regents courses such as Astronomy, Environmental Science, Forensics, and conceptional Physics. Making it virtually impossible for the students to get an advanced Regents diploma unless they take the much more difficult Regents Chemistry or Physics courses.

A prime example of the short-sighted approach is happening at Cardozo High School, once the shinning jewel of the NYC high schools that has dulled in the last few years. It was only a few years ago that Cardozo has a 34 person Science department.  However, due to excessing, sixth period assignments, and  reduction in courses, the Science department is down to 19, a 45% reduction in staff!  AP courses are six periods weekly and many students don't get college credit/  Moreover, the school has one certified Earth Science teacher for a school of 4,000 students.  Is it any wonder that two thirds of the students failed the Earth Science Regents last year?  Of course that's better than at Bayside high school who excessed two Earth Science teachers and saw their passing percentage drop from 73% to 30% last year! Noe Chemistry is converted to a 4-1 course and I suspect the Chemistry Regents passing rate will drop accordingly.

How in the world can the DOE keep a straight face and claim that student academic achievement will improve when their very policies are putting students in a competitive disadvantage when it comes to all other schools in the State and Nation.  No wonder NYC's "college and career readiness" scores are dismal.  The disappointing Chancellor, Carmen Farina, needs to wake up from her dream world and face the reality  of the consequences of the DOE's "education on the cheap" policy that's hurting the children.