Saturday, September 20, 2014

Don't Expect NYC Schools To Improve Academically Under The DOE's Present Policy.

With much fanfare and little scrutiny,  Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina praised the miniscule increases the City students achieved on the 2013 State tests and have proclaimed that 100% of the NYC school children will be passing the State tests.  However, when one takes into account the lower cut scores and the large "opt out" cohort, any real academic progress is simply "smoke and mirrors".  The politicians can crow all they want about imaginary academic gains but the truth is that these supposed gains are illusionary.  Moreover, the unacceptably wide racial/income academic achievement gap has not improved and this is shown by the analysis done for the 4th grade citywide.  According to the report, the top schools are predominately made up of students that come from the surrounding diverse middle class neighborhoods or are screened, while the worst preforming schools are in neighborhoods of deep poverty and nearly 100% Black and Hispanic.

The question is how can we improve the academic ability of the New York City school students?  There are ways.  However, the new Mayor and his disappointing Chancellor has done little to take strides in that direction.  For example, despite the Mayor's pledge to reduce class size, the opposite happened, class sizes have actually increased once again for the elementary and middle schools. Numerous studies have shown that class size has a significant effect on classroom learning and the City has the largest class sizes in New York State.  Until class size is reduced significantly, don't expect any academic improvement.

Another issue, is the lack of "quality teachers" in the classroom.  The new administration has continued the destructive "fair student funding" policy that encourages principals to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers" for their schools.  Since 50% of these teachers will leave the profession in five years and over 80% from the school they started at, few will ever become a "quality teacher" for the school that hired them.  Moreover, the steep learning curve "newbie teachers" experience makes their students guinea pigs until the teacher has demonstrated good pedagogy skills and gets tenure three years later, if their the lucky 60%.  A seven year study showed how difficult it was for struggling schools to attract effective teachers.  Even the offer of $20,000 extra for a two year commitment met with few takers.  How does the DOE expect to attract teachers to struggling schools for a measly $5,000?  The answer is they don't.  Combined with a hostile and stressful classroom environment, is it any wonder that retention is a problem?  High teacher turnover and poor academic achievement in these struggling schools go hand in hand.

Shockingly, Chancellor Carmen Farina froze already tight school budgets at 2013 levels and that is 14% less than in the 2007-08 school year.  She unwisely kept the money sucking and useless "Children First Networks" and worst of all, the Chancellor has made the demonetization of the 2,000+ ATRs part of the new contract, meaning that the DOE will waste money and talent by having high priced "babysitters" rotating weekly from school to school.

Finally, under the new Chancellor, the failed policies of the Bloomberg Administration are still evident and many of his architects are still in control of Tweed.  Rather than "clean house" she has kept many of them in place and the classroom environment is still as hostile as ever with loads of paperwork, Leadership Academy Principals" and inadequate school resources a norm.

What needs to change to make real academic progress?  Lower class sizes, the elimination of "fair student funding" with all staff salaries coming out of DOE Central like it used to be. Downsizing and folding the Children First Networks into the Superintendent's Office, with the savings going back to the schools for resources and the placing of ATRs back into the classroom with the 160 million dollar annual savings being used for hiring of more teachers which will lower the average class sizes, especially in deep poverty neighborhood schools.

Mark my words, without the usual academic tricks any real academic progress will be illusionary and will; not result in the narrowing of the racial/income academic achievement gap.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Join The New UFT Caucus - Solidarity, Where Mainstream Teachers Have A Real Voice.

There is a new UFT Caucus that has formed that will be focused on "teacher justice", not social justice,  and will act as a real trade union, representing school staff in the New York City public schools.  This new and dynamic caucus is call "Solidarity" and will represent the mainstream educators, the disenfranchised ATRs, and those without tenure.  This caucus will be a real trade union caucus and will not dilute the message by having a "social justice" plank or spend member money on causes that the union leadership decides, without member input.

The "Solidarity" caucus will represent teachers and school staff. and not muddle their message with tangential issues that have nothing to do with education.  If you are a teacher or school staff employee and want what's best for your school then its time to become a member of "Solidarity" who will advocate for the educator and not hugging the Chancellor or supporting marches that demonize fellow union members.

Join the "Solidarity" caucus and belong to a real union that represents school staff and help improve the hostile classroom environment that our present no-accountable union leadership allowed to happen on their watch.  Its time that the rank and file have a real union that listens to their concerns and that is "Solidarity".



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Its Our Own Fault For The Lack Of Real Democracy And Transparency In The UFT.

Over the years, many teachers have bemoaned the fact that our union leadership has ignored the wishes of its members.  The complaint is that the union lacks real democracy and transparency in its operation.  While I agree 100% with these teachers, the blame must be placed where it belongs and that is on ourselves.

If we look how our union operates, we see that our union is dominated by one caucus, "Unity" which requires total subservience to the leadership, where any dissent results in expulsion from the caucus and the perks that go with it.  No other caucus requires a "loyalty oath" as a condition of employment in the UFT.  Decision-making is done by a small inner circle of Unity loyalists, dominated by President Michael Mulgrew, and rather than reach out to the rank and file for their input, they impose their own political philosophy and claim that is the union's position.   Even the District Representatives are appointed by the union leadership when before Randi Wiengarten came to power the District Representative was voted on by the Democratically elected Chapter Leaders of the Borough or District,  The latest two examples of the union unaccountable leadership riding rough shot over the members were the recently negotiated inadequate contract  that threw the ATRs under the bus, deferred raises as far away as October 2020, and eliminated retroactive raises for ex members who resigned, were terminated, died, or became an Administrator, just to make the new Mayor look good.   Yeah, I know that 77% voted for the contract but it was the scare tactics used by the leadership such as "if we don't approve the contract, we go to the back of the line and the City won't have the money to pay us." that scared many members in voting for it.  Then  there was the Al Sharpton led anti-police march that the UFT co-sponsor, using member dues money to fund.

Yes, our arrogant union leadership acts like Eric Cartman and does as they please but its our fault that they can get away acting this way.  In the latest elections for UFT President, only 25% of all members actually bothered to vote and only 17% of active members.  Furthermore, retirees votes were 52% of the total vote.  The breakdown can be found in the MORE blog and the numbers are below:


The majority of UFT members did not bother to participate in these elections. Out of 173,407 ballots mailed, only 43,138 were returned. When 75% of the membership doesn’t think voting is worth their time, that’s a serious problem. We can’t read the minds of those roughly 130,000 non-voting members, but we can imagine that frustration, demoralization, and basic alienation from the union at the chapter level must be ingredients in the explanation. While public education is facing an historic crisis, our union has thus far failed to involve the majority of members in a struggle to defend our rights and to improve our schools.

The participation results, listed by division, are shameful:

                               Mailed  ballots           Returned ballots

High School:      19,040                          3,808

Middle School:   10,807                          1,879

Elementary:         34,163                          7,331

Functional:         51,040                          7,704

Retirees:              58,357                          22,462
Retirees contributed the majority (52%) of the ballots. Among UFT members who are still on the job, only 18% voted. When the active membership is less engaged in the life of the union than those who have stopped working (and, in many cases, live in other states!), that is cause

Is our union any different from other unions?  Probably not, except that our union allows retirees to vote and when you look at the new contract you can see that retirees are the winners.  An article, which I only partially agree with, identifies the lack of active member participation in elections and we teachers are no exception to this.

Presently, the two other caucuses, MORE and New Action, has failed to garner significant support and as for the E4E cult?  They are simply a fringe group and a front for anti-union corporate reformers, who didn't even bother to enter the elections for fear of exposing their lack of membership.  For our union to become more democratic, we need to have a new caucus that focuses on teacher justice and not social justice issues that dilutes the message and alienates a significant sector of the rank and file.

Its time that a new UFT caucus be formed from the disenfranchised membership, ATRs, untenured teachers, and mainstream educators who are unhappy with the union's leadership and lack of support.  Maybe the ICEUFT section of MORE can split and form its own caucus, as it did once before, and focus only on educator issues. Become a real trade unionist alternative caucus.   Only then will the UFT leadership take notice and maybe our union will become more democratic and transparent.  Until things change, its more of the same, a disconnected union leadership that cares more about their relationship with the City and DOE than for the membership.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yet Another Flushing High School Principal Leaves The Troubled School.

The once prestigious Flushing high school has continued to academically deteriorate in the last few years and has become a dumping ground for "high needs" students throughout the borough.   As a teacher there in 2011-12 I can personally attest to the problems at the school.  The school was once slated to close but survived when the courts ruled against Mayor Bloomberg.  Instead, like many of the schools that survived the axe, the Department of Education decided on a slow strangulation policy instead. Flushing high school now shares its building with two new small schools and have reduced freshman and sophomore classes.  The result has been a major excessing of teachers in the last two years.  Last year the average department excessed an astonishing four teachers from the school and over twenty teachers overall.  During this time the school has had three diffwerent principals i n the last three years and a new Principal will take the helm this year making it four principals in four years.

The latest casualty is the infamous James Brown.  No not the singer but the Principal who was hired to lead troubled Flushing high school  by then Chancellor Dennis Walcott, despite being found guilty in court by a jury of his peers for harassing a female subordinate who also accused him of sexual misconduct .  Yes, he was found guilty and left the Baldwin school system and was hired by the Walcott Administration to be Principal of Flushing high school despite the Chancellor's long stated zero tolerance policy on alleged sexual misconduct.  You can read the entire James Brown story on my blog Here.  Moreover, during his troubled year as Principal he tried to artificially raise passing grades by putting in a grading system that was in violation of State regulations only to be exposed and subject to ridicule, before being forced to abandon it.

It was only a little over two years ago when another questionable Principal was removed due to the police finding drugs in his car during a traffic stop.  He now works at the DOE in another capacity.  His story can be found Here.  In between Mr Brown and Mr. Hudson the DOE hand-picked Principal alienated so many of her staff, that she fled the DOE entirely and know works in a school district upstate after only one year at the helm.

How can a school be successful when the very leaders the DOE selects for the school have serious character issues, lack extensive classroom experience, and are selected on who they know and not on their academic credentials.  Until the DOE puts the very best in roles of leadership, no school will be able to show real academic improvement and Flushing high school is a prime example of the academic neglect by the DOE as they have failed to put a real educator, with high academic standards as a role model for staff and students alike.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Case Study Why Teacher Tenure Is Necessary - Principal Alison Coviello

Many teachers who are targeted by their Principal for incompetence and misconduct complain that instead of collaborating with them to resolve their personal differences and offering support to improve their pedology,  the principal pre-planned the attack on these teachers.  The problem is proving it and that is the crux of the issue.  However, in the South Bronx School blog we get an insight of how a Principal planned to target this blogger for incompetence, despite the teacher never getting an "unsatisfactory rating" previously and was "S rated" in June of that year.  If it wasn't for the "due process rights" that gives us our tenure protection, he would have been terminated simply because the Principal didn't like him.

If you have been following the South Bronx School blog, you know he was charged and awaiting his hearing under section 3020-a for incompetence and misconduct by his Leadership Academy Principal Dr. Alison Coviello of PS 154.  I previously wrote a post about Principal. Coviello's reign of terror and you can find it Here.  Well, it appears that South Bronx School was somehow able to obtain an email from Ms. Coviello that was sent to her Assistant Principal on the strategy they were to use the following school year to make sure they can charge the teacher with incompetence.  The August 24, 2012 email was printed by South Bronx School in the August 7th 2014 post and is reprinted here.

“Hey, I revised Zucker’s job description (per the advice of Mike Agona) so that it is focused more on literacy. This way, Agona explained, we’ll have a surer chance of winning a case when our observations detail incompetence.”

According to the South Bronx School blog this is the "smoking gun" that shows that the Principal decided beforehand to go after the teacher.  It certainly appears that the Principal was targeting the teacher even before the school year started and that brings into question the validity of the charges against the targeted teacher.  In other words, the Principal already assumed a predetermined outcome and prepared a strategy to implement it.

From my point of view, the Principal's harassment of the teacher in the 2012-13 school year was pre-planned and morally wrong and hopefully, the arbitrator will see that instead of working with the teacher to resolve their differences and do what's best for the students of the school,  Dr. Alison Coviello , instead did the exact opposite and harassed the teacher and in turn hurt the students of her school.  If it wasn't for our tenure protection, he and many other teachers would be terminated simply upon the whim of a Principal, many of them unqualified themselves.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Come Our Increase Of Union Dues Are Not Deferred Until 2020?


I received my September 15th paycheck and noticed our union has increased our dues by almost 5%.  At the same time, my salary will only go up a meagerly 2% come September 30th.  I think its only fair if our union followed the same procedures they accepted for the rank and file.  Therefore, the union should rollback the dues and allow it to rise in lockstep with our deferred raises. That means our dues should be reduced back to 2009 and the increases should reflect the raises their members actually get that were negotiated by the union.

I guess the union can't rollback our dues since they need it to replenish the money that they blew  by co-sponsoring an anti-police march and making nice with Al Sharpton.  Maybe our disconnected union leadership will next co-sponser a meeting with the education reformers by claiming they are simply misunderstood and only wants to do what's right for the students.  Oh wait, they did invite Bill Gates to be a keynote speaker at the Seattle AFT conference.

What's next for our President, Michael Mulgrew, after screwing the ATRs and giving members an inadequate contract,  holding hands with Al Sharpton, hugging Chancellor Carmen Farina, and threatening to punch you in the face if your against his beloved Common Core?   I shutter to think what's next as our disconnected union leadership does what's best for them and not for the members.   Quail anyone?  The tab is on the members.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The DOE Weekly Rotation Is A Waste Of Time, Money, And Talent.

Once again I find myself starting the school year in a school that doesn't even have classes in my subject area.  However, this year the DOE is not even pretending to try to match ATRs with vacancies.  Instead, the DOE will make a more determined effort to terminate ATRs, thanks to the new contract provisions negotiated with the disconnected UFT leadership. 

True, the DOE claims that starting September 15th, the DOE will start interviewing ATRs for any vacancies that will become available after October 15th.  The exceptions will be any ATR that survived their discipline hearings but received a $2,000 fine or more or received at least a 30 day suspension.  This includes any ATR who took a stipulation in lieu of going through a 3020-a hearing.  These ATRs are about 25% of the pool and are known as the "untouchables".

Its highly likely that any ATR who receive an unsatisfactory observation last year will also not be offered a vacancy since the DOE would rather go for two consecutive "U ratings" and start 3020-a termination proceeding then to allow the ATR to go through with the Danelson program since the ATR would need to get two consecutive annual "ineffective ratings" before the DOE could terminate the ATR.

This week the UFT will be giving their annual ATR "dog and pony show" and spin it in such a way as to make some of the more naive ATRs hope that the union will have their back and will make great efforts to drain the ATR pool by aggressively making sure that all school vacancies will be covered by the ATRs.  They will also claim that principals will not have to pay for the ATRs for two years.  However, they will not tell you that in the third year the ATR salary will become part of the school payroll and few, if any, principals will want to take a chance of seeing their budget reduced by being forced to pick up the ATR's salary.

The UFT meetings can be found on the ICEUFT  blog.