Sunday, January 31, 2016
To my great shock and dismay I read that Perdido Street School is no longer a source of very important education news. The author Reality Based Educator (RBE) has discontinued his blog and that is a great loss to the education blogosphere.
We bloggers are the voice of the educator and losing one of the best will create a void for the rest of us. Like RBE, Arthur Goldstein aka nyc educator, encouraged me to start my own blog and it has made me a better and more informative person. Perdido Street School was one of the first blog posts I read every day and while I might not always agree with RBE's politics, I highly respect his opinion. How he can update his blog twice or even three times a day is beyond me. I have trouble enough updating my blog once every two days.
RBE, you will be greatly missed and we all hope that you reconsider and bless us with your insight and information that we all depend on.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
One of the more stressful environments teachers find themselves in is when they do not trust their Principal, be it for incompetence, vindictiveness, or just being plain abusive. When there is a lack of trust between the staff and the school administration, it only ends up hurting the students both academically and emotionally. Therefore, its important for teachers looking for positions which schools they would be wise not to apply to. The "dirty dozen" list below comes from the latest school snapshot (2014-2015) that shows the schools that have the least trustworthy principals that should be on everybody's "do not apply" list.
William Cullen Bryant..............40%
Cambria Heights Academy.......43%
Science, Research, and Math...60%
Queens HS for Teaching...........63%
Martin Van Buren....................70%
The citywide average is 82%
Just missing inclusion into the "dirty dozen" were Queens Preparatory Academy (71%), Forest Hills (72%), Newcomers (73%), and York College High School For The Sciences (73%).
One thing that I have been told is that even though the survey is not subject to the Principal's scrutiny, many teachers don't want to take the chance that their Principal will find out. Therefore, they don't truefully fill out the survey with negative comments in fear of being targeted.
Maybe Chancellor Carmen Farina should start with this list, when she finally decides to remove poor leaders who have not gained the trust of their staff and, in turn, hurts the school's learning environment.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
In every class you always have a parent or two who believes their child walks on water when they can't even swim! However, what's even worse, there is always the parent from hell who believes their child is perfect and deserves high scores when the reality is the student's work is mediocre at best. That is the case today as I was pulled out of my grading assignment to document the grade I gave a child.
The grade I gave the child was based upon four different factors, tests, labs, assignments, and participation. When I added up the entire package the final grade was a touch below what I gave the student, so I rounded up the grade to the higher value. I didn't penalize the student for missing days or arriving late to school, which I should have done. Finally, on the days the student didn't show up to my class, the student could come in the next day and pick up and make up the assignment. The same goes for the student's missing labs.
Naturally, the student never bothered to make up the missing labs or take the previous assignments.to do Therefore, the blame was placed not upon the student, who's failure to make up the assigned work but was placed squarely on me by the parent since I didn't inform the parent of every assignment she did not complete. Moreover, I failed to have an online grading book so the parent could closely follow on the internet her child's progress. I also was at fault for not getting back to the parent about the student;s grade, despite the fact I had not calculated the grade at the time since I was still marking labs and did not finish grading the last test given that day.
Reading this you would think I failed the student? The grade the student received was a "B" average and I was being generous! Unfortunately, for some reason this parent believes her student is an "A" student and her grade would have been higher, except its because I'm a lousy teacher and I don't appreciate the student. The parent of course, ignores the six days that her child missed my class in the last two months or the problematic behavior her child exhibits far too many times as well as the student's lack of focus.
I would like to say the school administration had my back but I spent the entire morning being made to justify my grade for the student and being threatened with going to the Superintendent's Office to micromanage my grading policy and organization. Having my back? It felt like I was being stabbed in the back! I felt quite disrespected and people want to know why there is a looming teacher shortage?
In the next semester, to protect myself from both the school administration and helicopter parents, including the parent from hell, I will make every effort to document everything daily but I will not use an online grading book and have big brother watching my every entry. Furthermore, I never use an online grading book until and unless the union contract requires it. To me that is too much work and I have a life after school even if other people don't think I should..
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Since the turn of the century, education deformers have been in pursuit of the "holy grail" that would make every American student academically proficient. This futile search for education excellence has been met with disappointment, frustration, and failure as all their attempts to improve education has made it worse instead as they ignore the root cause of the problem..
First, there was no child left behind that required all schools and their cohorts meet academic standards by 2014. Over the years many states obtained waivers, like not hiring "highly qualified teachers" and carving out exemptions for different cohorts of students. Then there was the Bill Gates pushed small schools initiative that claimed small schools that replaced large schools help students. Once the playing field was leveled, (take a look at the Bronx) even Bill Gates realized that small schools were not the answer. Next, were the charter schools, surely the charter schools freed from union regulations was the answer. Innovative teaching and the ability to impose strict discipline will allow for academic achievement. However, most charter schools became test prep factories and failed to provide a stable teaching staff as teacher turnover hurt the very student academic achievement they were trying to achieve. Moreover, in the few successful charter schools like "Success Academy" , those schools found ways to suspend struggling students, not promote them, and make life miserable for their parents until the student was removed from the school. Even, the biggest supporters of charter schools are slowly realizing this model does not work,
Bill Gates, then spent his billions to push for a teacher evaluation system, making teachers accountable for student growth scores. Encouraged by the Obama Administration who dangled billions of federal dollars to the states during the depth of the recession, 47 states jumped at the money, called "Race To The Top"with many of the largest teacher unions supporting it. It mattered little that most teachers were dead set against such an unfair teacher evaluation system but it was much needed money. Furthermore, despite a study that shows teachers account for between 1% (high school) to 14% (K-2) of a student's academic growth, some states like New York requires student growth scores to be an astonishing 50% of a teacher's evaluation! Now, many States are rapidly retreating or eliminating their teacher evaluation systems as being punitive (Danielson) and riddled with errors (junk Science). However, the damage has been done with a teacher shortages spreading throughout the country and fewer qualified individuals willing to be disrespected and abused by electing to become a classroom teacher.
Finally, the newest idea that ed deformers are picking up on is "blended learning" that is a combination of classroom and online courses. However, experience has found that "blended learning" has not lived up to its promise and many school districts, including New York City, are using it to eliminate teaching positions to save money and use it as a "credit recovery course" . Unfortunately, the use of "blended learning" is already morphing into just another way for struggling students ti get easy credits.
Will the education deformer world find the "holy grail" for that great education? Not very likely unless they solve the social-economic factors of family, poverty, and community first and then spend the funds needed to reduce class sizes and provide quality teachers to the schools. Unfortunately, that's the ed deformer blind spot on what's really needed to improve student academic outcomes.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
According to the Special Commissioner of Investigations (SCI), there were 5,500 complaints made against educators in 2015 and 26% of them were substantiated or 1,430 cases. SCI investigates complaints of sexual misconduct, criminality, test tampering, or financial mismanagement. Some are serious, like sex with a student or stealing money, while others are not. Regardless, all substantiated complaints by SCI and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), who investigate issues of corporal punishment and verbal abuse, are placed on a teacher's file as a red flag for anybody considering in appointing the teacher to their school, or as I call it a "scarlet letter".
Unfortunately, even the most minor of incidents such as making a bad joke, disciplining a misbehaving student, or a student misunderstanding a teacher's intentions can lead to a SCI or OSI investigation and if the student has a friend or two to back her up, the allegation is then substantiated. However, just because the two investigative agencies substantiates the allegation, it does not necessarily mean the allegation is true and lead to termination. It depends on what was substantiated and is there real evidence to back it up, not simply hearsay. Moreover, even if the DOE decides to file 3020-a termination charges against the tenured teacher, only the independent arbitrator can decide if the teacher's conduct was egregious enough to warrant termination. For teachers who are not tenured, usually any substantiated allegation by SCI or OSI will lead to the teacher receiving a discontinuance and will make it nearly impossible ever to work for the DOE again.
While the two investigative agencies will claim that they conduct a fair and impartial investigation, the investigations are heavily influenced by three factors and they are;
- Does the Principal like the teacher?
- Does the teacher have previous discipline issues?
- Did the teacher cooperate with the investigators?
......................."NEVER TALK TO SCI"...................
Remember, the default is that investigators assume the teacher is guilty of the allegation and anytime you are scheduled to meet with an investigator, make sure you have proper union representation if its OSI and a lawyer if SCI is the investigative agency. Hopefully, you will never be put into the position that requires taking this advice.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
It appears that no matter who is Mayor, be it Michael Bloomberg or Bill de Blasio, they only care about the graduation rate and not whether these graduates were academically proficient to make it in higher education or the business world. To make matters worse, high school report cards are geared to two major metrics, credit accumulation and graduation rate, on the other hand, the "college and career readiness" metric is only supplied for informational reasons. While the "college and career readiness" metric may not be the best metric to use to determine academic achievement, its the only metric that principals and schools cannot easily manipulate. Moreover, this metric is closely correlated with the need for students to take no-credit remedial courses in college.
The primary importance is to make the general public and especially parents of students that their schools are succeeding academically, the main emphasis by school administrators is to improve the graduation rate by any means possible.That includes "credit recovery", online programs, blended learning, scholarship requirements, and administrative pressure on teachers to pass otherwise failing students. In other words, teachers that fail too many students will be subject to poor observations and in a worst-case scenario, termination under 3020-a.
Listed below you can see how disconnected it is between the City's graduation rates when compare to the school's "college ready"for most of the Queens high schools..
School...........................Graduation Rate.....College Ready
Fredrick Douglas Academy VI....45%.....................8%
Science, Research, and Tech......65%....................12%
Humanities and Arts.................76%.....................13%
Martin Van Buren......................55%....................14%
Academy of Medical Tech..........64%....................20%
Cambria Heights Academy.......73%....................22%
Long Island City.......................65% ...................23%
Hillside Arts & Letters..............81%....................28%
George Washington Carver......74%....................28%
Information & Technology........78%....................29%
Queens HS of Teaching............91%....................34%
Middle College HS...................66%.....................35%
William Cullen Bryant..............68%....................35%
Arts And Business...................90%....................39%
Robert H. Goodard...................92%....................41%
Robert F. Kennedy...................84%....................47%
Finance & Enterprise...............94%...................76%
What is most obvious is the high ratio between the graduation rate and the "college ready" metric. For example Rockaway Park and August Martin have the highest ratio being 27 and 21 respectively. While the lowest is Francis Lewis and the Academy of Finance and Enterprise at 1.2. The average ratio for all the schools listed is 2.45. Meaning that for every five students who graduate, only two are prepared academically. Intentionally left out of this study were the screened and selective schools who cherry pick only the high achieving students ( ratios close to 1) as well as the international schools since they attract recent immigrants do not have the same demographics as most Queens schools. Just looking at the data, schools that have a graduation rate to college ready ratio of less than 2 are the schools that have a high priority in real academic achievement while schools with ratios higher than 3 seem to be more interested in pushing out failing students by graduating them academically unprepared for the adult world.
In conclusion, good schools have low graduation to college ready rates, the closer to 1.0, the better the school is, while schools that have a ratio over 3 should be avoided at all costs.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
There was real hope when Mayor Bill de Blasio replaced Michael Bloomberg that the DOE "gotcha system" would be replaced with real collaboration. However, Bill de Blasio appointed Carmen Farina as Chancellor and she retained 80% of Mayor Bloomberg's policymakers at Tweed. Moreover, Carmen Farina turned out to be part of the problem and not the solution. While our UFT President is hugging the Chancellor, her failure to "clean house", allows her minions to continue to bully the classroom teacher. Finally, the school administrators are using Danielson as a punitive weapon against teachers, making the classroom workplace a hostile environment.
Stories, too numerous to list in this post are principals showing up unannounced in the teacher's worst class to catch the teacher unprepared. Field Supervisors requiring a Danielson like observation with students that the ATR has no history with or ownership of. Requiring lesson plans in a certain format despite a decision that administrators cannot require the teacher to do just that. Further, in far too many schools there is a climate of fear and an "us against them" approach between administrators and teachers. Worse yet, student misbehavior is met with administrator inaction and no consequences. Instead of having the teacher's back these administrators stab the teacher in the back. The result is that teachers feel bullied and disrespected.
When complaints are send to our union leadership, they bury their collective heads in the sand and do little to correct the situation. In some cases the union has privately told their DOE counterparts that they don't take many complaints seriously and claimed they are from disgruntled teachers. The result is few teachers get relief from administrative bullying and some end up in the 3020-a process and potentially terminated.
On February 8th there will be New York Healthy Workplace Advocate group that will lobby our Albany politicians to pass the NY Healthy Workplace Bill against workplace bullying, including the classroom. So far only UFT Solidarity has agreed to join the lobbying group. However, at present none of the other UFT caucuses, Unity, More, or New Action, have agreed to join the lobbying movement. Of course the deform sock puppets E4E has also refused to attend as well. That is a major disappointment for me since this is a teacher justice issue as well as a social justice issue that most everybody can support.
To join the lobbying effort you can sign up here:
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
The new year has started and I am shocked how little some educators contribute to their TDA. In the school I am in now, I had to encourage some teachers to put in money into their TDA. A few who did have money in their TDA had allocated less than 5% of their paycheck. Ihis post is my recommendation to educators on why its important to contribute as much as you can to your TDA contribution.
First, the minimum I recommend for educators is to contribute 10% of your paycheck. Yes, I know that 10% seems like a lot but it really is not 10% because you save on taxes, If you live in New York City, educators will be paying a combined 27% tax rate (15% federal and 12% state and local). Therefore if an educator contributes, say $10,000 to their TDA from their paycheck, they will save $2,700 from their taxes. That's right, because the $10,000 will not be taxed and even if you take the money out after you turn 55 years of age and reside in New York State only the federal government taxes need to be paid as the TDA is exempt from State and Local taxes.
Second, the TDA money is taken out in 24 checks annually and you can adjust your take home pay to minimize the pain since you will be taxed on a lower salary. For example, the $10,000 will result in a $417 reduction per paycheck. However, since your salary that is taxed is also reduced by 10%, the $2,700 reduction in taxes will allow you to recover $113 per paycheck. Therefore, the actual reduction in take home pay is $304 per paycheck.
Third, remember, the TDA contributions are tax deferred and accumulate interest for the decades during your working career without being taxed and will be exempt from State and City taxes if you decide to live in New York State when you retire and withdraw the TDA funds.
Finally, at retirement, you have at least three choices for your TDA. You can make it an annuity, convert it to the fixed income fund and which gives you 7% interest (UFT titles) or 8,25% (non UFT titles) and take the interest, or take a fixed sum annually based upon your wants or needs.while keeping an asset allocation that allows you to combat the eroding effects of inflation.
Once, you start putting in the 10%, then increase your contribution rate annually by 2%, after receiving a raise. By the time you retire you will probably max out your yearly TDA contribution ($18,000 or $24,000 if you are 50 years of age or older). The end result of the "short-term pain for the long-term gain"will be you may end up a millionaire with or even without your pension or Social Security. What a wonderful thought.
Monday, January 18, 2016
At the beginning of the 21st century (2000), high school were community based as each high school was zoned and the students who lived in that community zone went to their high school. The only exceptions were the specialized and vocational schools. Along came Michael Bloomberg and his Chancellor, Joel Klein, who decided that school choice was the cure for the ills of the New York City public school system. The zoned high schools became a thing of the past and a student can choose any high school throughout the City. This became known as school choice and was supposed to make all high schools competitive and diverse. However, the exact opposite happened instead. Here we are in 2016, after 12 horror-filled years under Mayor Bloomberg and the high schools are more segregated both academically and racially than ever before.
The Bloomberg/Klein tenure saw the DOE deliberately segregate schools both academically and racially. First, they eliminated zoned high schools, allowing high performing students go to any school they wanted to while the low performing students were left behind. Second, the DOE encouraged an increasing numbers of schools to become screened schools whose sole purpose was to attract high performing students to the school. Third, the Bloomberg/Klein administration decided to close many of the large comprehensive high schools and to achieve that purpose was a deliberate policy of dumping "high needs" students in increasing numbers in these schools to ensure these schools fail and be replaced by the Bloomberg small schools. Finally, to ensure that the targeted large high schools struggle and eventually close, the DOE would discourage high achieving students from either going to the school or allowing them to transfer out.
The result of the deliberate Bloomberg/Klein policy was to segregate many of the high schools both academically and racially. Many of the struggling high schools academically in the City are nearly 100% minority. By contrast, the academically proficient high schools are either diverse or majority Asian and White. While bringing back the zoned high school is not a complete solution to segregated schools, its a start as each school will have a layer of high achieving (minority) students and these students will go a long way to improve the schools academically and bring in school pride that is sorely lacking in far too many schools. More importantly, over time as neighborhoods change and slowly gentrify, the schools will also become more diverse and attractive to all the community's student population.
You want more diverse schools both academically and eventually racially then bring back the community high schools.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
There were many stories about education in the New York Post this week, ranging from the "rubber rooms" (they never went away), our disconnected union leadership using our dues to thank Andrew Cuomo, and the fight between Mayor Bill de Blasio with the principals union on the micromanaging of the renewal schools. Here was the original New York Times Opinion piece by the President of the CSA, Ernest Logan. However, what really caught my attention was the excerpts from a new book called "The battle for room 314". The book was written by a failed first year teacher who left the high-paying business world to teach in a small Bloomberg school in lower Manhattan and quit at year's end due to frustration, disrespect, and lack of support, a very common problem in the New York City school system. The book's complete title is “The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School” while I have not read the book yet, the excerpts tell the story of what's happening in our public schools. Let's go through the excerpts and identify the very many recurring issues we see in the schools today.
The author claims the school is 100% minority (one white student in the entire school) and many are apparently over aged and under credited. Peer pressure at the school makes any student who wants to follow the rules and eager to learn a target for bullying, intimidation, and ostracized from the student body. They come from poverty, broken homes, and violence is a recurring theme with many of these students. The disrespect to the school staff is obvious when you read the excerpts. For example, the teacher is gay and one student wrote on his blackboard that he was a faggot. Or another one yelled in the hallway that who the teacher was balling was no chick. Worse, the teacher was investigated for sexual harassment, as a female student lied about what he said to her, despite the fact that everybody knew he was gay! Even worse, they left the student in his class and told the teacher not to be alone with her! By the end of the year the teacher was disillusioned and petrified to return to the school for another year and resigned.
Like all principals during this period, they hired who they liked (thanks to Eric Nadelstern) and not what was needed for their students to succeed. He hired teachers that lived overseas and that included many "newbies" to the New York City schools who experienced a definite culture shock in instructing these challenging students. Furthermore, the Principal did not suspend students, even the ones that made learning impossible, as one student said "its three hundred strikes and your out".. The staff referred to the Principal as the "fearless leader" for his failure to lead or take action against dangerous students, making instruction and learning nearly impossible to do.
Unfortunately, this school sounds like far too many high schools in the City, especially the Bloomberg small schools, and his story can be repeated over and over again in schools that have "high needs" students. The Daily News has an article about how unsafe the schools are and how the Bill de Blasio administration is not showing the true scale of violence in the schools.
The solution is complex but first and foremost we need to eliminate deep poverty, have consequences for student misbehavior (not restorative justice), and most of all a peaceful classroom where students feel safe and protected so they can break the chain of poverty and destroy the school to prison pipeline. Putting a bandage on an infection just hides the illness and doesn't cure it and that is what is going on in far too many of our schools then and at present.
Friday, January 15, 2016
Once again Eric Nadelstern has published an article about how he would improve the New York City schools, this time by coming up with some lamebrain ideas on how to get a 100% graduation rate for the New York City students. Yes, the very same Eric Nadelstern who was Deputy Chancellor under Joel Klein and then quit when Mayor Bloomberg selected Cathie Black over him to be Chancellor when Joel Klein was fired by the Mayor. Yes, the very same Eric Nadelstern who said that two thirds of the teachers were ineffective. Moreover, who can forget how he gave us the money sucking and useless "Children First Networks" and don't forget his pushing the Superintendents to hire the "Leadership Academy" principals. Finally, he empowered principals to hire who they pleased and that included teachers not certified to teach in the subject area they were assigned to teach while jettisoning veteran teachers to the ATR pool or the infamous"rubber rooms".
How would Eric Nadelstern get a 100% graduation rate? His recommendations are listed below:
- Reward success and penalize failure. Giving failed schools more money violates this basic principle of effective organizational redesign.
- Failed organizations don’t reinvent themselves. That’s equally true in the private sector. Blanketly ruling out school closings is a serious mistake.
- Make everyone responsible and accountable for student success. No other metric matters
- Devolve responsibility, resources and authority to schools. Centralizing decision making simply lets principals and teachers off the hook for student performance.
- Rather than combine schools, we need to create more new schools. No other strategy in the last ten years has yielded more effective student learning results.
- Reduce teacher load. Teacher teaming and blended instruction are but two successful approaches that will accomplish this.
- Partner with the private sector by encouraging them to establish more successful schools for our children. Competition breeds innovation.
- Reform the central office. Schools cannot reform themselves until central does their business differently and stops micromanaging them.
Let's take each recommendation and see what Mr. Nadelestern is really saying?
- He ignores the fact that failing schools have large percentages of "high needs" students while his successful schools take a much lower percentage of these students.
- Didn't Mr. Nadelstern reinvent the organization with his failed CFN's and making "Leadership Academy" principals CEO's of their schools? How has that worked out?
- Really now? When did Tweed hold itself accountable? That statement is laughable.
- Under Mr. Nadelstern, school budgets were either frozen or reduced while Tweed saw their budgets increase; Now Mr, Nadelstern wants it the other way!
- We now know the Bloomberg small schools don't work, once they are funded like other schools and couldn't exclude "high needs" students. Even Bill Gates has realized the small schools are a failure.
- Blended learning is a farce and the online courses don't require rigor, Moreover, the blended learning allows schools to hire fewer teachers and instead of reducing teacher load will increase it with a smaller staff.
- Sounds like a pseudo charter school approach and will result in a high teacher turnover and reduction in "due process rights".
- I agree. However, when Eric Nadelstern was second in command, why didn't he implement it?
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
With great fanfare and little scrutiny, the DOE reported that for the first time he City students reached the 70% graduation rate level. If you read the newspapers that means the education reform that started with Michael Bloomberg and continues with Bill de Blasio is working. However, let's dig deeper and see why the graduation rate is increasing every year?
First, lets look at the good. The increased amount of transfer schools that opened in the last decade for over aged and under credited students (must be 16 years old) was a real godsend and students that would have normally dropped out are given a second chance to graduate. These schools offer a tri-semester year, allowing students to get additional credits and graduate with a diploma rather than get a GED or no diploma at all. I have been to these schools and while the majority of the students will stop coming and eventually drop out, a good many of the remaining students accumulated real classroom credits and graduate.
Now the bad, as many teachers will tell you, far too many students are being given credit for courses they had no business passing but do anyway. For example despite the DOE claiming that starting in 2012 the credit recovery programs will be more rigorous and that seat time must be part of the credit recovery determination, the truth is far different. Most schools require online courses (APEX) and the students can take the test as many times as necessary to pass the course or have a smart peer to take it for them.
Furthermore, since the school's "Quality Review" is a function of the graduation rate, reported violations, and student suspensions, the new breed of Principal (20% from the Leadership Academy) cares more about their statistics then real academic achievement and will pressure teachers to pass students by going over their class passing rate (scholarship)'. Combine that with the greater percentage of untenured teachers being hired and who are unwilling to fail students because it would piss off the Principal, the result is an artificial improvement in the graduation rate.
Finally, the lax student discipline code means less reported violations and suspensions along with greater teacher accountability. For example, if little Johnny fails his tests, is regularly late to class, does little or no homework, and does not complete assignments, the teacher must document everything and show the outreach he or she did. If you can't prove you did this, you better pass Johnny or face the consequences. Just read the Pissed Off blog and read about the massive remedial (no credit) courses these students take at her Community College and how many drop out.
Bill de Blasio and Carmen Farina may crow about the 70% graduation rate but we teachers in the trenches know better.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
When Bill de Blasio became Mayor, he brought with him many ideas that progressives wanted to see in the New York City schools. One of them was how to change the student discipline code that would give students a second and even a third chance to mend their ways. This has resulted in a drastic reduction of student suspensions by 17%. While I do understand that minor infractions like student lateness, cursing, and failure to have school books or writing instruments should result in a stern lecture and a call to the parent, the fact is, that more serious student infractions are being treated the same way. For example, student insubordination, repeated cellphone usage in class, and disruptive misbehavior are being treated as if these are minor infractions rather than the more serious infractions that they are. Worse, student threats and intimidation to staff are being treated as if they're minor infractions as well.
One of the main programs that schools are being pressured to use to cut down on student suspensions is the "flavor of the day", restorative justice method. This program is a mediation program that takes the student offender into a circle of school staff, including teachers,administrators, and guidance counselors and try to explore the causes of the student's misbehavior. In theory, restorative justice would allow the student to realize that his or her behavioral problems can be addressed and the student comes out of this mediation circle a more compliant student.
Unfortunately, what sounds good in theory, does not work in the real world of the New York City schools. I have personally been involved in three such restorative justice sessions during my travels as an ATR. In two of the three cases, the students told their friends that what a joke it was. In both cases the two boys had been deliberately insubordinate to their teachers. In the third, a girl threatened her teacher and despite the teacher's report (she was not part of the circle or even attended) the girl claimed she was having a bad day and was sorry. Did it help? Nope! The last day I was at the school the same girl throw her book at a para who tried to discipline her in another class.
Now the New York Post has an article about how a group of 37 schools that go one step further and hand out warning cards (remember the movie Demolition Man?) for violations rather than real punishment. The result is staff morale is dropping and the school climate feels increasingly unsafe. However, since school grades are based on suspensions, school administrations are happy to limit school suspensions if their school grades improves. What about student and staff safety? That is not as important as getting a better school report from the DOE.
Some of our union caucuses (Unity and MORE) support these programs and maybe with a limited subset of minor infractions the restorative justice method may work but for the most part it just makes the New York City schools unsafe for students and staff.
Thursday, January 07, 2016
Closing Schools Under Bloomberg and Klein Showed Lower Regents Passing Rates And More Credit Recovery. What Else Is New?
In a too little, too late report. The City's Independent Budget Office (IBO) released a damming report on the quality of student education at six closing schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan back in the mid 2000's, during the heyday of the Bloomberg/Klein administration. The IBO report shows that students at these six closing schools were less likely to receive a Regents diploma, took massive amount of credit recovery courses, and when tested for the Regents or the RCT received the minimum passing grades of 55% or 65% to earn credit to meet the academic standards for graduation.
We educators didn't need to IBO study to tell us the obvious. I have been writing about the phony academic standards for almost a decade now and listed at the bottom of this article are some of those posts. What I find most interesting is that the IBO study waited two years after Mayor Bloomberg left office to publish a study that uses data that is almost a decade old. It appears to me the the IBO knew all along that the students of these targeted schools for closing were getting an inferior education and had the IBO dug further, they would have found that the Bloomberg administration was dumping the "high needs" and low achieving students into these schools to ensure the high schools fair and be forced to close due to poor academic statistics.
It''s no secret that the Bloomberg/Klein administration wanted to close the large comprehensive high schools and replaced by them with the Bloomberg small schools. Just read the JD2715 blog and see the article by ex- UFT Bronx Representative, Lynn Winderbaum who wrote how the Bloomberg Administration made sure the small schools would have superior stats by exempting them from taking Special Education and English Language Learners, for the first two years and received wavers for more years thereafter to exclude "high needs" and "self-contained" students, while dumping them into the remaining large comprehensive schools to expide their eventual closure. Most interestingly was how complicit UFT leadership was with the DOE in helping with the transition, especially Leo Casey.
While the IBO report is not a surprise, this report, hopefully is the first of many future studies showing that Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein did not care about the students. It was all about their ideology and that was what was most important to them.
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
In Chalkbeat I read an article by two elementary school teachers who rightly complained that Special Education students should not be graded on tests that are inappropriate for their students. Obviously, I and many others agree with these two teachers. In fact, the highly regarded NYC Educator, has written about how inappropriate the tests are to his recent immigrant students over the last year. However, what struck me was the fact both teachers who wrote the article are part of an organization called "America Achieves". I had never heard of this organization and decided to Google it. Sure enough this organization is funded by Bloomberg and Gates and other education reform supporters. What does "America Achieves" support? Let's see.
- The Common Core
- No unions
- Charter Schools
- No tenure
While I may have serious issues with our own union its still far better to be represented by a union than rely on these education deformer groups like "America Achieves" and Educators 4 Excellence who simply are sock puppets for organizations that want to destroy the public school system and the unionized teachers that work for them.
Beware of the wolf in sheep's clothing and "America Achieves" appears to be a wolf disguised as a sheep.
Sunday, January 03, 2016
This post is a thumbnail sketch of the three UFT caucuses as we look to vote on the different elected officials to run the UFT. Presently, I have not endorsed any caucus or any individual candidate. However, based upon what I have seen and heard I do have my preferences which will be listed as we get closer to the election date.
"Unity" has been in power of the UFT since the beginning of the union and even the most optimistic opposition member doesn't expect them to be voted out of office, especially when they receive 90% of the retiree vote. Worse, the retirees make up the majority of voters, a tough hill to climb for the opposition.
"Unity" has become increasingly disconnected from the active members under Michael Mulgrew. His love affair with Chancellor Carmen Farina continues as the classroom teacher is still subject to the "gotcha system", excessive paperwork, and ignores numerous complaints about principals from hell. Under President Michael Mulgrew, it's all about what is best for him and not the members. Remember how he supported that racial arsonist Al Sharpton with union funds against fellow union members? Or how about his backroom deal with the new Mayor Bill de Blasio to give us a vastly inferior contract that's back loaded while screwing the rest of the municipal workforce that also made ATRs a second class citizen? Who can forget how he supported the APPR, refused to support the "opt out" movement, and threatened to punch you in the face if you insulted his beloved Common Core.
In my opinion, the "Unity" caucus has been in power far too long, while there are some very talented people in the caucus and I will happily vote for them in the upcoming election. However, the "Unity" caucus as an organization that is more about loyalty than about talent and any dissent to the leadership will result in their removal from their cushy union job. This is the only UFT caucus that requires a "loyalty oath" to join the caucus.
These are two separate caucuses who have decided to bury their differences and run a joint slate to try to unseat the "Unity" caucus. They have a real chance in catching the high school seats and erode the margin of victory by "Unity" elsewhere. The MORE/New Action coalition has a pro teacher plank with their advocacy of teacher rights and classroom improvements, especially lower class sizes, identifying vindictive principals, and supporting the "opt out" movement. Issues, the UFT leadership has refused to address. Finally, there are many very talented people as part of the coalition who I will gladly vote for.
Unfortunately, missing from their 2016 plank is the ATR issue. Was this a deliberate omission or a mistake? If the caucus wanted to advocate for the ATRs, their plank would have clearly stated it. Furthermore, MORE's obsession with "Social Justice" is displayed in their plank. They believe in restorative justice issues (they don't work), student rights to have cellphones in school (most teachers find them distracting in the classroom) and a more Socialist view of the world then I feel comfortable with.
The newest UFT caucus and is suffering from the usual growing pains. On the good side, their plank is pro-teacher and trade unionist. None of that "Social Justice" crap that muddles the message that the other two caucuses have. On their website they have already identified vindictive administrators called Administrators In Need Of Improvement. Further, I find their toolbox very useful. Moreover, they have taken the lead in advocating for the ATRs and list the field supervisors and any comments about them on their web site. However, the caucus is dominated by one person and that is a problem. Until this caucus matures and adds more people who are respected by the general membership, it is only as good as that one person in charge of the Solidarity caucus.
Note: I was one of the founding members of the Solidarity caucus but have decided to become unaffiliated to retain my independence.
When I vote it is what's in my best interests as a classroom teacher not the ideology, politics, or issues unrelated to education. I want my vote to count and so should you.
Friday, January 01, 2016
The year ahead will see some significant changes in the New York City Public Schools. Some good and some bad and of course some being wishful thinking on my part. So here are my 2016 predictions.
Chancellor Carmen Farina: Look for the disappointing Chancellor to pack it in and permanently retire to Florida and be with her grandchildren as Mayor Bill de Blasio finally realizes that the Chancellor is more the problem than the solution in turning around the New York City Public Schools. Her failure to "clean house" at the DOE, retaining poorly performing principals, the continuation of the "fair student funding", and her failure to eliminate many of the Bloomberg/Klein polices that resulted in ever larger class sizes, frozen school budgets, and a bloated Central Bureaucracy at the DOE has resulted in little or no real academic achievement.
Unity caucus loses the high school seats: For the first time in nearly a decade the dissident caucus of MORE/New Action wins the Executive Board seats from the high schools bringing a real voice to policy proposed by the leadership of the UFT. Unfortunately, the Unity caucus will still have a large majority and will still pass whatever they want with more transparency and scrutiny that is lacking presently.
Union and Friedrichs: If the Supreme Court rules against the unions and make dues checkoff a voluntary item. Look for a majority of teachers to refuse to authorize the union to take their money. The TWU, when they lost the dues checkoff privilege in their strike, only 33% paid their dues voluntarily. Because of how well the UFT protects their retirees, I believe most of them will authorize their union to collect their dues. However, for active members the percentages will be drastically lower. As for me I will pay my dues. However, I will split it between the union, depending how response they become to my needs, and organizations like "Class Size Matters" and other pro teacher organization that are worthy of my support.
Teacher Shortage: The New York City Public Schools have become a revolving door for new teachers who are hired by schools subject to the restraints of fair student funding and flee the hostile classroom or school when a better opportunity presents itself. Moreover, the more stringent State tests and teacher evaluation system is making it increasingly difficult to recruit certified teachers while ever increasing numbers of veteran teachers are retiring, especially in the high poverty schools. Finally, the poor quality of principals discourage new teachers, who get little or no support and are discontinued or quit in ever larger numbers. With the teacher shortage spreading nationwide, look for the beginnings of the teacher shortage to rear it's ugly head this year. and next.
Unaccountable union leadership: One would think that our union leaders would want to show the skeptical membership that they represent them.. However, the arrogance of UFT President, Michael Mulgrew, and his entitlement that he can do as he pleases and screw the membership to please his political allies, will continue. An example is his agreeing, in advance, to continue the ATR provisions until 2018 that has made the ATRs a second class citizen.