Sunday, July 28, 2013

Why New York City Is Not Detroit.

I read the article by "Ed the Apple" and must disagree that the bankruptcy in Detroit is a warning sign for New York City when negotiating with the unions.  The differences between New York City and Detroit are like "night and day" and here's why.

Per Capita Income:  New York City has a per capita income of $31,500 compared to only $14,200 for Detroit.  More importantly New York City's average household income is $56,009 compared to only $25,000 for Detroit.  This shows that New York City has more income to spend and is less reliant on government assistance.

Poverty Rate: While the New York City poverty rate is at an all time high of 21% under Mayor Bloomberg, the Detroit poverty rate is an astounding 36% and the unemployment rate is 18%, compared to less than  9% for New York City.

Unfunded Liabilities:  Detroit has billions of unfunded liabilities and when 38% of the budget pays
for legacy costs (retiree pensions and health care), it does not leave much for existing City services.  By contrast New York City, while under pressure, is only 12% of the City's budget. In addition, New York City has been able to cover the ever escalating legacy costs while Detroit cannot. In fact, New York City has shown a budget surplus every year since 2005.

Economic Future:  New York City has experienced an economic boom with tourism at an all time high and the financial industry, while still losing jobs, providing the engine to power the City's economy.  Detroit, on the other hand is an economic wasteland with rows oi boarded up houses and long abandoned factories. Furthermore, New York City has a low crime rate and a booming technology sector while most small businesses are fleeing Detroit with its high crime rate, the highestin the nation, where it take an hour for the police to respond to calls for assistance.  In the misery index, Detroit finds itself one or two nationally, depending on the methodology.

Vibrant Middle Class:  New York City fared fairly well in the recession and are seeing many poverty ridden areas attracting middle class families and singles into the area.  Despite the ever widening wage gap under the Bloomberg Administration, the City has maintained  diverse middle class communities and has seen housing prices rise that has attracted ever increasing number of middle class families to the City.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Detroit.  The middle class is almost non-existent.  "White flight" after the 1967 riots was followed by the auto industry leaving and along with them the black middle class.  Left was the poor minority class with high unemployment and low wage jobs, many of them living off government benefits to survive.

Public Services:  Say what you like about the Bloomberg Administration's policies, "good or bad", for the most part City services for the residents are top notch.  Good schools, police, fire, and sanitation are a hallmark for the City.  By contrast, city services are almost non-existent as police, fire, and sanitation is cut to the bone and response times are counted by the hours not the minutes.  As for the schools?  Over 75 schools are closing and the new schools are staffed by TFA recruits, the two year wonders, will take their place.  Will the Detroit  schools get better when TFA recruits replace the experienced teachers laid-off by the school closings?  Yeah when it snows in the Caribbean.

Comparing the problems in Detroit with New York City is like comparing "apples and oranges".  While they are both cities, one is losing population while the other is attracting more people, many with the skills that make them productive citizens in a vibrant City like New York.  The problems in Detroit should not and will not affect contract negotiations with the City.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why Teacher Tenure Is Important.

In today's New York Daily News there is a sympathetic piece about a teacher who was pressured to resign from his $75,000 per year teaching position because he was seen with his shirt off.  The article shows a very ripped Stefan Serie who explained that he was an extra on a Bravo show Jewish-American Princesses and at a "pool party" he was seen with his shirt off.  According to Mr. Serie he was summoned a week later and told that his pending tenure will be revoked and told to resign, which is what he did.

What gets me is that many after school sports activities on school grounds will have male athletes practicing without their shirts.  This is called "shirts and skins".  Even female athletes will go with "sports bras" in real hot weather.  Yet this suburban school district decided to terminate Mr. Sire for simply not having his shirt on at a televised "pool party".  Unbelievable.

Interestingly, Mr. Sire is an eight year teaching veteran and untenured which is a major problem when  it comes to Long Island schools.  These school districts are notorious for hiring teachers for a year or two and not give them tenure.  Therefore, the teacher probably had been teaching in other school districts and finally found one willing to give him tenure.

Why did the School District deny tenure to Mr. Sire on such an innocence action by him?  It's because they can!  Tenure is important because it protects teacher from frivolous actions by school administration and false  accusations by vindictive students.  This disgusting action is just another example why tenure is important for teachers.,  In this case one person saw a problem with it and the poor guy now has no job.

That is why teachers cannot allow one person who does not know the facts to decide the fate of a teacher.  Like giving the clueless Dennis Walcott the right to terminate teachers accused of "sexual misconduct" without real evidence and the equally clueless Campbell Brown that cannot even get her facts straight when it comes to how independent arbitration and "due process" works.

See nyc educator blog for another take about this story.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Real Story On What An ATR Costs A School's Budget, Assuming The Fair Student Funding Program Is Not Fully Implemented.

In my last post I received a comment from a high union official who claimed that I was not being factual on how much a higher paid ATR would cost a school.  In my post I stated that a school would be responsible for picking up the difference between the school's average salary and the salary of the ATR.  Well, the union official is correct to a point.  At present, the DOE has not fully implemented the "fair student funding formula" and has a "hold harmless provision so that schools with experienced staff do not lose funding.  Therefore, a school picking up a senior ATR will not be charged any more money for that year and only show a small increase in the "average teacher salary" next year if the ATR remains at the school.   I previously wrote an article that showed how it works in a school budget here.   However, this is the "average teacher salary" so taking the small school example in my post the "average teacher salary" goes up $2,000.  That means the school must pay $40,000 extra for the total teacher salaries. For the large schools in comes out to $25,000 extra. This may not seem significant but don't tell that to the principals who are stuck with very stringent budgets and must pay their CFN's out of their budget. Unfortunately, even this is a temporary measure and compounding the money problem is the UFT agreeing with the DOE that recently excessed ATRs have first crack at any vacancies that further makes it nearly impossible for long-term ATRs to fill a vacancy despite having seniority.  Is it any wonder that many senior teachers have been ATRs for five or six years?

As you can see, from my post back in October of 2011 even in a small school with an untenured teaching staff, a higher paid ATR would cost only $2,000! However, when the "fair student funding program" is fully implemented and teacher salaries will count for 100% of the school's teacher budget.  There will be no more "average teacher salary" calculations, the "fair student funding formula" will be based upon actual teacher salaries and no Principal can trust the DOE from sticking them with a budget that reflects the actual salaries retroactively.  In fact, the DOE has stated their intention of doing so in the future.

 While our union leaders reassure us that this will not be the case.  The principals either do not trust the DOE or use this potential uncertainty as one of their reason for not picking up senior ATRs.  Therefore, the result is that ATRs who are higher salaried are left without a job, even when they are excellent teachers and proved it during a long term assignment at a school. 

The question is why won't principals pick up ATRs?  The answer is that almost all principals are afraid that Tweed will eventually implement the full "fair student funding formula" going back to the 2008-09 baseline and leave the principals holdiing the bag. 

If the union wants to help ATRs they should make it a priority to eliminate the "fair student funding formula"  that penalizes senior teachers and require all excessed teachers to be placed in their district before any teachers can be hired from outside the DOE.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The City Pulls All Stops To Get "Select" Newbie Teachers Hired While Trying To Kick ATRs To The Curb.

The DOE has shown once again how they will go to great lengths to get "newbie teachers" hired while making it difficult for schools to hire better qualified ATRs.  In today's Gotham Schools there is an article that showed how the DOE welcomed these "newbie teachers" with cookies, drinks, presents, and put them on the top of the list for vacancies. The DOE even brought in a musician to serenade these "select newbie teachers".   Many of these teachers may have graduated high in their class but can they teach?  Obviously, many, maybe a majority of these "select teachers" will be long gone from the New York City schools in five years and the City will be forced to find and train replacements at the expense of the students.

On the other hand, there are over a thousand ATRs floating around the NYC Public Schools and few are offered positions , except as long term replacements in hard to staff areas like science and special education.  The ATRs who do get jobs are usually the untenured or ATRs that have less than five years experience and are relatively inexpensive.  As for the highly experienced and relatively more expensive ATRs?  They have a less of a chance of getting a vacancy then a snowstorm in April, thanks to the "fair student funding fiasco".  This is especially true in the Bloomberg small schools where most of the teachers are recent hires and the average teacher salary is $55,000.  Therefore, for a Principal to hire a teacher making $85,000,  He or she would need to come up with the $30,000 difference. Is it any wonder that Principals would be reluctant to hire a teacher who is going to put a dent into his or her budget?  While some of the best schools have an average salary of $80,000 or more, many schools run by "Leadership Academy principals" experience massive teacher turnover and cannot afford or want an ATR "quality teacher", even if it's what's best for the students. Just last year, the ATR job fair was a joke with few schools represented and even fewer administrators with the authority to offer positions.  In one case, a school sent a Secretary to take names of ATRs to screen them for a possible interview.  What a joke and a disgrace!

It's too bad that the DOE is so shortsighted that recruitment is more important than retention to them. When I keep reading that the DOE puts "children first", I must laugh because the real truth is that the students of the school is put last when it comes to hiring qualified teachers.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Principal Alison Coviello's Motto. "Do As I Say Not What I Do".

I have been reading South Bronx's running account of his problems with the Principal at P.S. 154, Dr. Alison Coviello.  According to South Bronx Ms. Coviello is an "elitist" who believes in perfection from her staff.  That in itself is not a problem.  However, when it comes to Dr. Coviello actions, perfection is not necessary. She doesn't see a problem breaking the rules for her favorites or for herself for that matter and embellish problems against teachers she doesn't like or want in her school.  If she doesn't like your tone of voice, that's insubordination but of course she can use the same tone of voice on the staff and that's acceptable in her world. 

In addition, she practices desperate treatment against staff members that she doesn't like.  Just read South Bronx's running account here, here, here, here. here, and here.  If you demand perfection then you must be the role model for that perfection and not just demand it.  That means when a teacher asks you to "model the lesson" you do it!   Obviously, the  Principal does not "practice what she preaches".

She also apparently broke the rules by not hiring an ATR for a common branch position.  Instead she hired a teacher from the outside the DOE that did not have a common branch license.  Listed below is the advertisement to the Teacher's college newspaper.
Yes, she apparently broke the rules and ignored the DOE/UFT ATR agreement by hiring a teacher outside the DOE!  Was she punished for this?  Of course not.  Moreover, as a graduate from the infamous "Leadership Academy" she believes she can do as she pleases and if that means harassing senior staff, or ignoring the hiring rules, so be it. Having a hostile work environment seems to be a recurring problem for all these "Leadership Academy principals" and Dr. Coviello appears to be no exception to that view.

It's just another case of the old "double standard" practiced by the DOE.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Randi Weingarten's Legacy That Has Made Teaching In The NYC Classroom A Minefield.

There is little doubt that teaching in the New York City classroom has become an increasingly hostile experience under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellors Joel Klein, Cathie Black, and Dennis Walcott.  However, much of the blame must be laid on the doorstep of our ex UFT President, Randi Weingarten.  The great appeaser.  Under her destructive tenure as head of the UFT she eroded the rights of her members and allowed the DOE to impose programs that were damaging to the classroom teacher.

Let's start with the erosion of teacher "due process rights" under 3020-a  for teachers accused of
incompetence.  Until 2000, a teacher accursed of incompetence would go before a three member arbitration panel to determine the penalty.  The result was the teacher would usually get a compromise verdict and keep their job.  However, Randi Weingarten negotiated with the DOE and agreed to have only one Arbitrator review the incompetence charge and many teachers found themselves terminated. Moreover, in the same 2000 agreement the teacher had no choice in the assignment of an Arbitrator while teachers in the rest of the State have the right to refuse the first Arbitrator offered to them.  In 2002 she allowed the Bloomberg Administration to have Mayoral control of the schools that has resulted in a "rubber stamp" PEP that echos the Mayor's  policy.

Then there was the terrible 2005 contract that further reduced teacher "due process rights" and caused the ATR crises. Rather than describe the problems associated with the 2005 contract.  Included,  is a legacy of the awful "givebacks" that Randi negotiated for us:  Here, here, here, here, and here!  This contract was an unmitigated disaster and was considered a "sellout" by many of the rank and file.

In 2006 the Bloomberg/Klein Administration imposed a "fair student funding formula" on the NYC public schools.  Had Randi sued or brought the issue to PERB, she would have won.  Instead she remained silent and combined with the elimination of seniority transfer rights have resulted in older and more experienced teachers not being able to get a permanent position. Hence the ATR crises. She also allowed the co-location of charter schools, which was a shock to Joel Klein she since she could have stopped it in its tracks but failed to do so.

Even in the 2007 contract she allowed the voluntary but union endorsed, PIP+, the termination program for incompetent teachers and expanded the list of actions that fell under serious misconduct and ending up with a 90-day suspension without pay or health benefits.  It was during this time that the "rubber rooms" exploded with a maximum of 744 reassigned teachers awaiting their fate.

In 2009 Randi remained silent as Mayor Bloomberg and Christine Quinn overturned term limits that resulted in the disastrous third term and an increase in vilifying teachers that result in the Bloomberg "last in, first out" bill.

Finally, her parting gift to her members in 2009 was to reclaim the two days before Labor Day that she gave up in 2005 but at what cost!  We had to give up 1.25% interest in our TDA funds (8.25% to 7.00%).  If the average member puts away $15,000 annually for twenty years, the members lose about $10,000!  More, if you put in more.  Interestingly, we actually owe the City 0.58% when we get the next contract in 2014.!

Now Randi works on destroying member rights in other school systems.  Washington D.C., Baltimore Maryland, and now Newark New Jersey.   Interestingly, the Chicago teachers told Randi Weingarten to "butt out" and won.  Who can forget she invited Bill Gates as a keynote speaker at her AFT conference who's main idea is high stakes testing and video surveillance of the classroom. Goodbye and good riddance Randi, you have done enough damage to your members in New York City.


Monday, July 08, 2013

What Is The Most Important Characteristic of A Quality Teacher? Connecting With The Students.

Everybody agrees that all classrooms should have a "quality teacher" instructing the students.  However, when you ask the various education reform groups what is a "quality teacher"?  You get vague and unrealistic answers.   If you are Mayor Bloomberg a "quality teacher" to him its a "newbie" that will be a "Teach for America or Teaching Fellow" that cost the least amount and who we leave the profession before getting a pension or retire health benefits.  If it's Bill Gates it's all about being held accountable and under video surveillance.  Especially if it requires the use of "junk science".  If it's ex-Chancellor Joel Klein, it is a teacher that will come in at 7 am and not leave until 7 pm, while not asking for per session.  Finally, to Michelle Rhee a "quality teacher" is one willing to be an at will employee for a few dollars more in their paycheck.In my book a "quality teacher" must posses the following characteristics:

  • At least five years of teaching experience.
  • Good classroom management skills.
  • A deep knowledge of the curriculum.
  • A caring and supportive attitude.
  • A sense of humor
  • A positive connection with the students.
While most education reformers will ignore these requirements publicly, privately they know the above characteristics are necessary to achieve mastery of the classroom.   However, they also know that "quality teachers" require an adequate workload, supportive Administration, and the freedom to try different methods to maximize student learning.  Consequently, this eliminates charter schools, where teacher burnout and turnover is high and in most schools the entire staff is gone in three years.  It also eliminates schools with inexperienced Leadership Academy principals who have limited time in the classroom and are clueless to what good teaching is, and the Bloomberg small schools who are inhabited by untenured staff and burdened with rigid curriculum requirements.  Is it any wonder that the Mayor hates experienced teachers?

Just look at the higher achieving schools, what do most of them have in common?  Right an experienced staff and a supportive Administration that allows the teachers to find the best teaching techniques that allows students to reach their academic potential.  In the school I was in all year, I saw all aspects of good teaching.  A supportive Administration, a stable and experienced teaching staff, and freedom to do the right thing for the students.  When I asked my students what makes a "quality teacher" they almost all said the same thing that the teacher likes and cares about them.  That's right, almost all my students wanted the teacher to connect with them and understand their needs and problems.  One thing they didn't like was for the teacher to be unsupportive or trying to "friend" them.  Both type of teachers turned the students off to learning.  As one girl said to me "I have enough friends. I don't need a teacher to be my friend".  Furthermore, many inexperienced teachers do just that and the students simply walk all over them and these teachers will never master classroom control.  On the other side of the ledger was the teacher who required it to be "my way or the highway attitude".  This type of teacher over controls the classroom , is inflexible, and is resented by the students. Therefore, based upon my many years of experience and discussions with my students while the other factors I listed are important, the most important factor is connecting to the students.  By connecting with the students you gain their respect and give them the confidence that they need to reach their academic goals.

A "quality teacher" is a teacher who can related to the students and guide them to maximize their academic achievement.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Just Another DOE Double Standard When It Comes To Punishing Principal Minerva Zanca For Alleged Racist Misconduct.

Here we go again!  The DOE fails to take any action against a Principal of a closing school who allegedly made racist remarks about Black teachers in her school and then terminated or excessed them.  According to numerous reports Principal Minerva Zanca of Pan American High School which is scheduled to close made racial epithets against her black teachers and got rid of them at the end of the school year.  Read the story here. Ms. Zanca worked under and is a protege of the infamous Principal Jose Cruz at the MAST school in Campus Magnet who has a reputation in "U' rating more teachers than any other Principal in the City.

There is now a petition against the Principal and a protest at Tweed scheduled for noon Monday July, 8th by teachers to have Principal Zanca removed.  The question is why hasen't the DOE done it already? 

The answer is the old DOE "double standard" when it comes to alleged misconduct by administrators.  For the DOE administrators are "innocent until proven guilty" while for teachers it is "guilty and never proven innocent". The same rules should apply to all educators not different rules as the DOE presently employes.  If you are in the City and not teaching summer school, please  show up and tell that hypocrite Chancellor Walcott to terminate Minerva Zanca immediately.  Campbell Brown, Ben Chapman, Fox news, and the Daily News where are your outrage?  Oh, I forgot she is not a teacher so its not newsworthy.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The DOE's Idea Of Academic Excellence Is Different From The State And The Colleges Know It When It Comes To Science.

I was always wondering why the State's and the City's idea of academic excellence were somewhat different.  So I decided to look at what differences are there in Science and to my shock I found out that the City was allowed to quietly water down the Science requirements.  No wonder, that the City would always report different results than the State.

For example, two years ago the City DOE quietly changed the academic requirements metric for Science by allowing schools to get two years science credit for a one year Regents course.  That's right, by quietly changing the standards the DOE enabled some principals to give double credit for a Regents Science course as long as they gave double periods or made it a two year course.  One school in particular went as far as giving their students a two year "Living Environment" course and then take a non-Regents course in Earth Science, Chemistry, or Physics to satisfy the Physical Science laboratory requirement. If this sounds like shortchanging the students and fooling their parents, it certainly is to me.  However, the CUNY and SUNY colleges are not fooled one bit and one recruiter told me that when they see no second Science Regents, the chances of the student getting into her college is diminished.  The recruiter went on to say that the City and State colleges are aware of the watering down of the City's Science curriculum and  their Admissions Office investigate more closely the student's transcript.  Finally, the "college readiness" scores for the NYC high schools showed that most of the "college and career ready" students (50%) came from only a few schools (10%). The watering down of the Science curriclumn will not help the scores any.

This is not happening only in the struggling City schools but in schools that are solidly middle-class and high achieving.  In one case, the Principal of this high achieving school has decided to have his students skip Earth Science altogether and give a double period of Chemistry.  While it will take a year to see the results, the Science staff is not optimistic since many students cannot handle the Math and advanced scientific concepts that are required in Chemistry.  For many of the students it will be a wasted year of frustration and failure. 

While I cannot say anything about the rest of the core subjects, the DOE is apparently allowing principals to dumb down and narrow the science requirements at the expense of their student's academic achievement and this is a problem for many students and their parents who expect academic excellence and not shortcuts or watered down requirements that will hurt their chances of going to a four year college.

The DOE should be ashamed of themselves for their "watering down" and narrowing the Science curriculumn and allowing principals to practice "education on the cheap" at the expense of their students academic success..