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 to 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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

For Many, The Charter School Miracle Really Is A Mirage.

If you read the New York City newspapers, you would think the charter schools are the answer to the "failing schools" issue.   According to the print media the charter schools have shown the way to student academic achievement. However, when you look at the few successful charter schools and go deeper into the statistics, you would find that the charter school miracle is simply a mirage. A look at the NYC Public School Parents blog is a must read to see what the damaging effects the charter schools brought to the public schools in Harlem's District 5.

The supporters and backers of charter schools claim that these schools give minority children a choice and gives them a chance to succeed academically.  What the charter school supporters fail to mention is that the successful charter schools practice an exclusion policy that makes sure that "high needs" students are not part of the student population of the school. A UFT report shows how the charter schools fail to serve the most neediest students.

First, to apply to a charter school, a family must fill out a detailed application that many families don't want to be bothered with.  Therefore, many of the more dysfunctional, high poverty families are excluded by their failure to fill out the application for selection into the charter school.  Moreover, the charter schools expect parental involvement and volunteers for their school and this excludes families who don't have the time or motivation to do that. Not surprisingly,  the above referenced UFT report showed that charter schools have less deep poverty students than the district schools as a result of the application process.

Second, the charter school will discourage English Language Learners and Special Education Students from applying to the school by claiming that they don't have the resources or services for their children.  This limits the number of "high needs" students who are students at the charter schools.

Third, many of these charters have a strict student discipline policy and behaviorally challenged students are usually kicked out of the school and dumped into the district public school.  If a parent balks at removing the student, the school will threaten to have the student repeat the grade as an encouragement to have the student leave the charter school.

Fourth, If a student academically struggles, the charter school will counsel out the student before they hit the testing grades,  The charter schools use the same trick as they do for the behaviorally challenged students by threatening the parent with the child's repeating the grade as an incentive to remove the child from the school. Too many students are kicked out of charter schools for various reasons. More importantly, the charter schools fail to replace the students once the testing grades start.  This ensures the neediest students are not part of the charter school cohort.

Finally, the narrowly focused English and Math curriculum at the expense of other subjects and their obsession with test preparation for the State tests hurts the student's total education experience.  This shows up in the failure of any of the charter school students being accepted into the competitive specialized high schools.

Many of the charter schools are totally segregated with 100% Black or Hispanic and with extremely high teacher turnover.  Worse, the teachers are given a script and teach from the script.  Little if any innovative teaching goes on in the charter schools nor do teachers last long enough to develop the teaching skills to help their students.

The charter school miracle is really a mirage.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Principal Quality Is The Fatal Flaw In The New York City Public Schools.

I grew up and was educated in the New York City public schools and eventually became a public school teacher.  During my days as a student and the beginning of my teaching career, the one constant was that the Principal was a long-term classroom teacher and generally respected for their experience and understanding of the classroom issues.

While not all these principals were great leaders, they were knowledgeable and had an institutional memory of how things worked.  Principals were expected to slowly rise up through the teaching ranks, become an Assistant Principal and maybe after a minimum of ten years gets a shot at being the school leader.  However, things changed for the worst when Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a non-educator as Chancellor and the Chancellor.  The Chancellor, Joel Klein, in-turn founded the infamous "Leadership Academy".  

The "Leadership Academy" accepted potential administrators with a minimum of three years of experience in the education field and no classroom experience was required.  The result was that many of the newly minted "Leadership Academy" principals were not even tenured teachers!  The Bloomberg/Klein philosophy was that schools could be better run as a business and principals were the "Chief Operating Officers" of their schools and long-term education credentials were not necessary to be a Principal.  The Bloomberg Administration closed over 164 schools and replacing them with 634 new schools, all needing principals. The result was that many of the new "Bloomberg small schools" ending up with these "Leadership Academy" principals that presently make up approximately 20% of all New York City principals.

One of the biggest problems with the "Leadership Academy" principals is that they are trained to be top down managers rather the collaborative leaders.  Many of these "Leadership Academy" principals hire inexpensive and untenured teachers and will not hire highly experienced teachers due to both their higher salary and more importantly, their institutional memory on how successful schools are run. For the "Leadership Academy" principal its about the school report card and constant test prep than what's best for the academic achievement of the students.

If the quality of principals doesn't improve and the current Chancellor leaves the "Leadership Academy" principles in place, then don't look for any real academic improvements despite the rhetoric coming out of the DOE.  The schools are only as good as their leader and in too many cases the leader is from the "Leadership Academy" and that's not encouraging for student academic outcomes.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Is Carmen Farina The New Cathie Black?

There is an increasing concern among educators that Chancellor Carmen Farina is not up to the demands of heading the New York City school system. Her lackluster, unfocused, and dare say, incompetent leadership has many talented educators frustrated with her disappointing performance as Chancellor.  Worse, she has kept on many of the Bloomberg era personnel who retain their critical policy making positions in the DOE that has made teaching in the classroom a hostile experience and damages the students trying to learn in them.

What's unfortunate, is that Chancellor Carmen Farina, unlike the Bloomberg era chancellors, enjoys unlimited freedom in changing the dysfunctional DOE as the new Mayor allowed her to implement policies that would improve the schools. Instead, she has continued many of the destructive Bloomberg policies including the largest class sizes in the State, freezing the already inadequate school budgets, and continuing the badly flawed teacher hiring and retention policies that hurt student academic achievement.

The pity is that Chancellor Carmen Farina, unlike the last four chancellors, is a long term educator and should have been more receptive to positive changes in the classroom.  However, the reality is that Carmen Farina had bought in to Michael Bloomberg's education reform, rising to Deputy Chancellor before being pushed out by Joel Klein in a power struggle and is part of the problem and not the solution in making the classroom environment a more welcoming place to teach and learn in.

To me, Chancellor Carmen Farina is becoming more like the incompetent Chancellor Cathie Black, with her verbal gaffes such as her "its a beautiful day" comment among others. More importantly, the very people who were hoping for real change for the better for the New York City school system and were delighted with the new Mayor's  education policy,  instead were rapidly losing confidence with the seemingly incompetent Chancellor and her failure to improve the New York City schools. Maybe its time for Carmen Farina to retire for good and get a competent Chancellor to transform the New York City schools for the better.