Sunday, February 19, 2017

When Ideology Trumps What's Best For Students.

If you're a regular reader of my blog you know that I believe that the DOE wastes millions of dollars on a bloated bureaucracy, short changes schools of needed resources and funding, and implements policies that keeps experienced, veteran teachers without a classroom.

Nowhere else in our country would a school district be allowed to spend money so lavishly on their own creature comforts at the expense both to the taxpayer and the students they are supposed to educate.  Yet the DOE wastes countless millions on their ideological pursuit of data mining, teacher accountability, and lawyers.  Moreover, the DOE allows 1,300 to 1,600 ATRs to act as substitute teachers and is estimated to cost over $100 million dollars annually.  Finally, their school-based fair student funding encourages principals to hire "the cheapest and not the best teachers" for their school.

The present DOE budget is 29.2 billion, that is a 7.3% increase since last year and a 22% increase since Bill de Blasio took over as Mayor.  By contrast, teacher salaries have only risen 5.5% since the Mayor took over the City.  If you realize that 4,500 teachers leave the system every year and are replaced by cheaper "newbies" the overall teacher salary has probably changed little.  Further, class sizes have remained unchanged and are the highest in the State.  Rather than hire more teachers and add more seats, the DOE encourages schools to give a "sixth period" to teachers and stuff as many students as possible in any one class.

Until Chancellor Carmen Farina retires for good and the new Chancellor "cleans house" at Tweed, ideology will trump student needs in today's DOE.  Children last.....Always!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

ATR Update, Rumors, Rumors, And More Rumors.

Since I broke the story about the rumor back in January that the ATR rotation may be coming to an end and that the new ATR DOE leader will start to place ATRs in vacancies, little has actually changed.  In fact, even more rumors and disinformation are being spread about the ATRs.  While I know no more than the rest of you, I do know that some of the rumors are downright wrong.  Here is what I know and don't know about each rumor.

Rumor #1 - Rotation ends:
According to the UFT leadership and ATR Assignment the rotations will continue next month.  Both claim that the ATRs are not being placed in one school to the end of the year,  While Randy Asher did tell principals in a meeting that he was intending to eliminate the ATR rotation and place some ATRs permanently in vacancies, he was vague on how he was to achieve it.

Rumor #2:  Forced placed in vacancies:
ATRs have been forced placed  for years and nothing changes. The few vacancies that do exist after the outside the system January hiring are few and far between. Some schools hide vacancies or find excuses to keep the vacancies unfilled.  How Mr. Asher's proposals will significantly affects the ATR hiring process remains unknown if at all.

Rumor #3: Double Observations:
I find it highly unlikely that a school administration will have the time or inclination to add to their paperwork by observing ATRs especially if the ATR is only there monthly or is not provisionally hired for a long-term leave replacement or vacancy.  My understanding is that the field supervisors will continue to rate the ATRs in rotation not the schools.

Rumor #4 Danielson Rubric:
The ATRs are observed using Teaching for the 21st century and not Charlotte Dainelson.  The union would have to reopen the contract to change the ATR evaluation system.

Rumor #5: ATR time limit:
While I don't trust the union on many levels one issue they have been rock steady on was no ATR time limit.  An ATR can be in that status for the rest of their career.  Can the union give up the ATRs in a future contract?  Possibly, but the two unions that agreed to an ATR time limit, Chicago and Washington D.C. found themselves voted out of power and our union leadership knows that.

I do agree the union leadership should have sent out a mass email either debunking the rumors and informing the members what issues are being negotiated with the DOE concerning ATRs.  This lack of transparency and secrecy has allowed the rumors to spread throughout the ATR community and is it any wonder that most every day there is a new rumor cropping up and the blame must be laid at the feet of our disconnected union leadership who continually fails to get input from the ATR community on issues affecting them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

High School Science Instruction Is Given Short Shift By The DOE.

Increasingly, principals who are subject to tight budgets and not fully funded, find different methods to reduce expenses. One of the ways these principals reduce their budget is to cut school staff.  Many schools have no social worker and are usually short guidance counselors in their quest to cut expenses.  Moreover, the schools will try to reduce support personnel like paraprofessionals and school secretaries and try to use much cheaper school aids instead.  However, the favorite tactic that principals use is to push veteran teachers into retirement, either by persuasion or by targeting them, and hire cheaper "newbie" teachers in their place.

Given the above tactics that principals use to reduce expenses, one of their favorite is to reduce Science instruction both for Regents and Advanced Placement courses and save on Science teachers.  The DOE approved and encouraged practice was the byproduct of the terrible 2005 contract that allowed principals to become CEO's and not instructional leaders of their school.

First, NYS Science Regents is based upon five days of instruction and an extra period for laboratory skills. Otherwise, known as a 5-1 program.  Outside of NYC, all school districts in the State run the Regents recommended 5-1 program.  However, thanks to the UFT allowing extra teacher time in the 2005 contract,  the DOE quietly encouraged schools to raise the classroom instruction time to barley meet the time requirement set by the State and make it a 4-1 program.  The DOE and schools knew full well that the few extra minutes of classroom time was only used for reinforcing the day's lesson and not to start a new lesson.  The result was that as the end of the school year approached many Science teachers were under increasing pressure just to finish the curriculum and there was no time for Regents review since there lost 30 days of instruction.  The result was a lower percentage of students passing the Regents and fewer yet who achieved mastery in the course.

Second, few NYC schools follow the College Board's recommendations of double periods daily and no more than 20 students in any Advanced Placement class.  The rule in New York City is to dump up to the contract limit of 34 students in single period Advanced Placement classes.   Is it any wonder that New York City Public School students fair poorly, when compared to the rest of the country?

Finally, it is not all that uncommon to have teachers who are uncertified in the Science they are instructing in.  Even in the elementary and middle schools most schools will have a non-Science teacher trying to teach Science, with usually disastrous results.  Even in the high schools many teachers who teach Regents Earth Science are not certified in the subject.

How does the DOE and school principals get away withm this educational abuse of the student's Science education?  Simple when our union leadership stays so silent on the abuse that you can hear crickets chirping at UFT Headquarters .   Therefore, instead of exposing the Science education travesty in the City schools they are complicit in sweeping the issue under the rug.

You don't need to be rocket scientist to realize that both the DOE and our disconnected union leadership rather ignore the issue than to help students get a quality Science education.  Children last...Always!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Sweetheart Endorsement Our Union Gave Mayor Bill De Blasio.

Last week Michael Mulgrew announced, without member input,  the endorsement of Mayor Bill de Blasio for reelection.  What "takebacks" did our disconnected union leadership negotiate with the Mayor to get the union's endorsement?  Nothing, nothing whatsoever.

It would have been nice if our union played hardball and demanded some "takebacks" from the Bloomberg era of massive "givebacks". Here are just some examples of the "takebacks" I would have liked to see.

Fair Student Funding:
Eliminate the school-based "fair student funding" that badly under fund schools Moreover, the fsf  forces principals to hire the cheapest and not the best teachers for their schools.  Finally, most schools only received 89% of the already stingy fsf

Class Size:
Where is the class size reductions promised by Bill de Blasio when he was running the first time?  Why didn't the union leadership hold the Mayor's feet to the fireInstead class sizes have remained largely unchanged and are the highest in New York State.

Despite promises to the contrary, few ATRs have landed permanent positions and there still is between 1,300 and 1,600 ATRs without permanent placements. Despite the school system averaging 4,500 vacancies annually, these experienced and veteran teachers have little chance to land a permanent position under present DOE policy that originated from the Bloomberg era.

Teacher Voice:
Teacher autonomy in the classroom has been replaced by administrative micromanaging and data mining.  Moreover, school policy is top down and teacher voice is ignored, when given, and the DOE is deaf when it comes to teacher complaints.  Be it incompetent and vindictive principals or lax student discipline.  Even complaints about academic fraud is more likely to get the teacher disciplined then the perpetrators.  Shouldn't our union leaders be pressuring the Mayor and his staff to empower teachers since empowered teachers result in better student academic outcomes.

Parking Passes:
How about giving school staff their parking passes back?  School staff was the most affected by Michael Bloomberg's limiting parking passes and made life more difficult for many teachers.

Unfortunately, our disconnected union leadership rather be the Mayor's valentine rather than demand "takebacks" for our support for his reelection.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What Is The Average NYC Educator Pension Last Year?

The average educator pension for all New York City retirees in 2016 was $43,701.  Not bad but not a windfall by any means.   However, if you read the Daily News headline, the newspaper makes it seem that the average pension for educators is $88,000.  Of course, inside the article you find out that their definition of "average" is much different than everybody else s.

It turns out the Daily News average salary is based upon educators (including Assistant Principals and Principals) who retired in 2015 with 30 or more years experience, not the average of all educators who retired in 2015.  Deceiving?  I certainly think it is.

Obviously, this is the newspaper's opening salvo on educator pensions as the Constitutional Convention is discussed and this may be one of the issues brought up.  Once again the Daily News is practicing questionable journalism in their quest to demonize teachers and their benefits.

Friday, February 10, 2017

To Caring Parents. Avoid These Queens High Schools At All Costs.

A major problem parents have is how to guide their middle school child to a safe and academically proficient high school. This post will help parents stay away from schools that have the best chance to potentially harm their child academically.  The three types of schools are the Renewal high schools, high schools with a terrible administration, and diploma mill high schools with low academic proficiency.  Some high schools may fall in more than one category.  However, just being in one of the three categories should disqualify the school from consideration by caring parents who want a quality education for their child.

Renewal Schools:
The Renewal schools, which are academically struggling schools, are rapidly losing experienced and veteran educators to retirement, resignation, or transfer and are populated  by "newbie teachers" who themselves suffer a steep learning curve to master the art of teaching.  These schools suffer from classroom management problems, instructors struggling to learn the curriculum themselves, and are subject to an unstable school environment with high teacher turnover.  Just take a look at this post to better understand why parents don't want their academically proficient child subject to the Renewal School environment.

Bad Administration:
Some of the highest teacher turnover rates are usually associated with terrible principals and their administration. For example the neighborhood around a school like William Cullen Bryant High School is middle class, yet the school cannot attract the neighborhood students because of the Principal, Namita Dwarka, and her Assistant Principals.  Instead the school is forced to reach out to the DOE to get enough "over-the-counter" students to keep their numbers up.  Under her four year tenure as Principal, of the 173 teachers she inherited, she has seen 137 leave.  You can read my post about her and other bad principals Here.

Diploma Mills:
There are far too many schools that operate as "diploma mills"  with very low "college and career readiness" rate.  Many of the Rockaway High Schools fit into this category.  In fact, almost all the high schools in Southeast Queens can fall into the diploma mill category.  Add the Renewal Schools and you have unprepared graduates for the post secondary and the adult world. 

Parents in the know and who have academically proficient children would be wise to avoid these schools at all costs.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

To Chancellor Carmen Farina - Tomorrow Really Is A Beautiful Day.

Back in February of 2014, Carmen Farina, the newly appointed Chancellor of the New York City schools wrongly decided to keep schools open, despite the National Weather Services forecast of heavy snow just when children where traveling to their schools.

Her poor decision making was compounded by her statement that "it's a beautiful day", despite a heavy snow and sleet storm happening at the moment outside her window.  She then claimed that it was important for the children to have a hot lunch.  However, few schools had enough staff to make a hot lunch and the vast majority of students trapped in their schools ended up with cold sandwiches.

To make matters even worse she justified keeping the schools open because it was a babysitting service for parents.  Of course most sane parents did not go to work and kept their children home rather than threaten their safety due to the elements.  Moreover, aren't schools for educating children and not a babysitting service?  Finally, it was the first indication that Chancellor Carmen Farina was following the Bloomberg ideology to keep schools open at any cost, even if it potentially threatened the life and limb of children who travel to school through heavy snow and icy roads.

Now that Chancellor Carmen Farina is apparently retiring at the end of the school year.  She and Mayor Bill de Blasio have realized that its more important to keep children safe and have closed schools,  Now tomorrow is really a beautiful day!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly About The Bloomberg Small Schools.

Back in 2009, Bill Gates, who pushed for small schools, soon realized that small schools didn't work.  The one exception he said was the New York City (Bloomberg) small schools.  Instead, Bill Gates focused on teacher accountability and evaluation based on test scores.   Why was the Bloomberg small schools the exception?   Simple.  The Bloomberg small schools, to ensure they succeeded, were over funded,  while the large comprehensive schools were underfunded by 20% or more of their fair student funding.   Moreover, the Bloomberg small schools were allowed to exclude "high needs" students like English Language Learners, Special Education, and Behaviorally challenged students while dumping then in the large comprehensive schools he wanted and did close.  Finally, if the Bloomberg small schools could not attract enough academically proficient students, they still received funding for the empty seats which kept class sizes small.   The result was that the first few years, these Bloomberg schools had much higher academic proficiency rates and that is why Bill Gates found them a success.  Of course, once the Bloomberg small schools were subject to the same funding and policies as the rest of the schools, the student academic achievement dropped significantly.

Let's look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Bloomberg small schools and the false promises of a great education they claimed the students would get..

The Good:
In theory, small schools allow for a more personal relationship between staff and students.  In fact, many of these schools advertise the family-like atmosphere and that most teachers are familiar with the students and can provide emotional and social support as well as academic help.  Usually, graduation rates are higher at small schools since fewer students fall through the gaps as the schools are better able to track students.

The Bad:
Small schools have limited course selection, few electives, and no flexibility in their schedules.  Moreover, despite the small school size, classes are usually at contract limits of 34 and students are forced to take courses that they are not capable of passing.  Further, the Bloomberg small schools have a largely inexperienced staff and subject to high teacher turnover leading to an unstable school environment. Finally,  many of the unscreeneed Bloomberg small schools are now required to select "over-the-counter" students.  Many of them "high needs" and level one students just to reach the numbers when it comes to funding. No more funding for empty seats.

The Ugly:
The Bloomberg small schools have abysmally low "college and career readiness" rates  Usually headed by a "Leadership Academy" Principal, and have a reputation of being top-heavy in administration and hostile to their teaching staff.  Moreover, teacher autonomy in the classroom is virtually non-existent and micromanaging is the rule, where Danielson is used as a weapon.   Finally, the graduates from these schools are subject to no-credit remedial courses and struggle in college.  In other words.  they graduate unprepared for life after high school.  Remember, there are no "credit recovery courses" in college or administrative pressure to pass undeserving students and being absent or late gets one fired in the job market. Welcome to the real world and for far too many of these students its really a slap in their face.

Finally, most students who are  enrolled in the Bloomberg small schools will tell you it was one of their worst mistakes selecting their school.  If you don't believe me then just ask them when you end up in these unscereened Bloomberg small schools.


Sunday, February 05, 2017

Inside The Numbers Of The Poor College And Career Readness Rates At These Diploma Mill Schools.

In today's New York Post an article identified the high schools with high graduation rates and low "college and career readiness" rates.  Not surprisingly, all of the schools are concentrated in two Boroughs.  The Bronx and Brooklyn.  Many of the schools are themed Bloomberg small schools which suffer from high teacher turnover.   The list is found below.

School................................Graduation Rate.....College Ready
FDNY Fire & Safety..................83.3%....................1.9%
Urban Assembly......................82.5%....................3.8%
School For Music & Theatre......89.5%..................11.8%
Eagle Academy For Men II.......88.7%...................14.1%
Law & Community Service........80.6%...................6.5%
Academy For Young Writers.....86.3%..................12.3%
George Westinghouse..............81.1%...................7.6%
Victory Collegiate....................76.0%...................2.7%
New Visions  Humanities..........86.0%...................1.2%
However, if one is to break down the school statistics you can find many other commonalities with the schools listed above.  Let's look at what these diploma mill factories have in common.

Student Body:
The student body is usually over 95% minority and a high percentage receive free lunch, a marker for deep poverty.  Moreover, the schools tend to be male dominated.  Finally, many of these schools have a much higher percentage of "high needs" students than the average school in the City..

The schools identified have a majority of untenured teachers and are subject to high teacher turnover as teachers flee these schools when the Open Market Transfer System opens up for the summer..

Chronic Absentees:
All these schools suffer from a high percentage of chronic student absenteeism and student discipline is an ongoing problem.

Unsafe Neighborhoods:
The majority of the high schools are located in neighborhoods that are high poverty and considered unsafe.

The bottom line is that until the schools have a stable teaching staff, s stringent and enforced student discipline code, and a more diverse student body.  These schools will be the poster schools for diploma mills that simply push out students who are unprepared for post secondary education and the adult world.

For all unscreened high schools in Queens you can find it Here.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Teacher Blame Game Continues.

There is no question that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Chancellor, Joel Klein, tried to remake the New York City Public School; system into an education reform laboratory.  The result was a failure of historic proportions as various iterations and policies were foisted on the schools, only to be discarded as yesterday's garbage.  Large comprehensive high schools were closed and small ones were opened, top heavy on administrators and once the extra funding and student exclusions disappeared, the unscreened small schools ended up with lower academic achievement than the schools they replaced.   However, far too many of the Bloomberg/Klein era policies survive to this day.

For example under the progressive Mayor, Bill de Blasio and his Chancellor, Carmen Farina, many of the Bloomberg/Klein policies are still in place.  They are as follows:

  •  Large class sizes
  •  Graduation rate
  •  Fair student funding
  •  ATRs
  •  Danielson rubric
  •  Bloated DOE bureaucracy. 
  •  Data mining
  •  Uncertified teachers
  •  Double standard in disciplining staff and administrators.
  •  Principal autonomy. 
Just like in the Bloomberg years, real student academic achievement weren't realized and the income/racial achievement gap stayed as wide as ever.  Who gets blamed for the lack of academic progress?  The failed education reform policies by bureaucrats, and politicians?  How about the poor parent involvement?   It can't be the lack of resources and funding for the schools?  Or was it the high teacher turnover and the policies that devalue veteran teachers?  No?  according to the news media its the teachers themselves!

Now we will have the highly unqualified Betsy DeVos, who will do her best to divert money from the public schools to charter, private, and even virtual schools.  If you think we teachers were unfairly treated before by the likes of Arnie Duncan and John King?  When the new Secretary of Education finds that none of her policies will work who will she and her allies blame?  The teachers and their unions of course.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The UFT Leadership Is Once Again Secretly Negotiating With The DOE Without ATR Participation.

Here we go again.  Our disconnected union leadership ia apparently secretly negotiating with the DOE on changes to the ATR pool without reaching out to those affected, This time with Randy Asher and his staff at the DOE,  Of course, the negotiations are top secret and there has been no leaks coming out of the DOE or UFT about what's on the table.  However, every time the UFT leadership negotiates with the DOE, the ATRs end up with the short end of the stick.  Let's see how our disconnected union leadership has hurt the ATRs since 2005.

First, it was the terrible 2005 contract that our union agreed to let the DOE eliminate seniority transfers and bumping, which then resulted in the ATR pool., that started the ATR crisis.

Second, this was soon followed up later in the year by the school-based "Fair Student Funding" that penalized schools financially that hired veteran teachers and also allowed schools to offload teachers from their budget after 60 days if they filed 3020-a charges, no matter how frivolous the charges are.  The result was a massive influx of reassigned veteran teachers that reached 800 by 2007 Moreover, the UFT allowed the DOE to assign all teachers who won their 3020-a hearing or took a deal to be dumped into the ATR pool.  Even an arbitrator award of "a letter to the file" resulted in the teacher losing their position in the school.

Third, It was the UFT Vice President, Michael Mandel who brought up the idea of rotating ATRs from school to school and the DOE jumped at the suggestion and in 2011 the DOE and UFT implemented the ATR rotation that made ATRs "a stranger in a strange land".  Did Michael Mandel or Leo Casey, the two members of the joint DOE/UFT ATR committee ever talk to the ATRs?  Of course not.  Thankfully Michael Mandel retired and Leo Casey is now with theAFT and both cannot do anymore harm to the ATRs.

Fourth, our great negotiator, UFT President Michael Mulgrew negotiated his first contract that don't make members whole until 2020 and allowed the DOE to make ATRs "second class citizens" with reduced "due process" rights and made ATRs who won their 3020-a termination hearings "untouchables".  Even after the UFT wisely allowed the 2014 contract provisions to sunset in 2016, the DOE still has two lists of ATRs.  One list is for ATRs who were simply excessed from their school and the other who survived their 3020-a hearing. Guess which list the DOE refuses to hire from?

Presently, I have little faith in our disconnected union leadership making our life better.  They will stick to their "no time limit" for ATRs but beyond that, look for the union to agree to make our lives more difficult and lie to us that we have your back.  More like being stabbed in the back as the DOE tries different ways to fire us.  Why else will the union not reach out to the ATRs and have a representative or two to be involved in these delicate negotiations.  To me the answer is obvious. They secretly wouldn't mind seeing us fired by any means possible.