Sunday, May 28, 2006

Education On The Cheap - You Get What You Pay For

If it wasn't so sad I would laugh how Mayor Mike Bloomberg keeps calling himself "the education mayor". Mayor Bloomberg, like the mayors before him, have shortchanged the NYC public schools of badly need funds and failed to retain teachers due to salary and classroom conditions. Who suffers the most? You guessed it, the student! Bloomberg has put in charge of the Department Of Education (DOE) non educators who are clueless on what goes on in a school, never mind the classroom. These non-educators are lead by the anti-teacher chancellor, Joel Klein who believes good teaching is done by micromanaging the classroom. Let's look at what's needed for a successful classroom and see how Mayor Bloomberg & Chancellor Kein have addressed these issues.

Class Size:

Every study has shown that the lower the class sizes, the better the students do on high-stakes testing. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that a smaller class size comes with it less noise, more interaction with the teacher, and a better understanding between student and teacher. Despite an overwellming majority of New York City residents who want lower class sizes, Mayor Bloomberg refused to lower class sizes. When the City Council added money to lower class sizes in the early grades, Mayor Bloomberg & Chancellor Klein instead used the money for non-classroom uses. Furthermore, Mayor Bloomberg has gone to court to fight a charter proposal for lower class sizes supported by administrators, teachers, and parents.

Unenforced Student Discipline Codes:

Student discipline codes are so vague that many administrators try to convience the teacher to withdraw their complaints. Further, school principals try to minimize student actions so that they don't have to report the incidents to the DOE. The combination of both issues empower the student and makes classroom management an issue even for the experienced teacher.

Classroom Infrastructure:

Many schools are in terrible shape, with rats, mice, and roaches. Air conditioning? Yeah right!
how could any mayor who claims he cares about the students allow summer school in stifling hot classrooms? Many schools still have the old chalkboards with cracks and holes in them. Technology? You must be kidding. My school was wired for wireless, the problem there are no computers to put into the classroom! The student desks in some schools are 40 years old and are in terrible shape. It is a wonder that the children learn as well as they do with the poor classroom environment their subject to.

Classroom Supplies:

All teachers in the New York City public schools suffer from inadequate supplies. Lack of a working photocopying machine, paper, chalk, testing materials, and other classroom needs are sorely lacking in the NYC classroom.

Classroom Micromanagement:

DOE has imposed a "one-size-fit-all" approach to classroom teaching rather then letting teachers teach how they see fit. Only the classroom teacher understands his/her students. However, DOE and Columbia's Teacher College believe their cookie cutter approach is the flavor of the day and has been imposed on many of the schools in the city.

Teacher Disrespect:

Never has teacher disrespect been greater than under the Bloomberg/Klein administration. The micromanagement of the classroom, the imposing of non-professional duties, and their gotcha mentality when teachers are at odds with the administration. Teachers are rarely, if ever consulted on classroom issues and their voices are ignored when problems arise. Further, teachers are no longer allowed to grieve letters to their file and are subject to 90-day unpaid suspension based upon student accusations.

Teacher Salary:

The city has been using a policy of "pattern bargaining" which they select the weakest union and work out a contract. This contract is the "pattern" and is the framwork of all other union contracts. Therefore, city workers are falling behind others in wages. The result is that city teachers average between 15-35% below the surrounding suburbs. In other words the city teachers must fund their own raises by giving up time, days, duties, protections, or a combination of all.

The Result:

A school system that is struggling with low teacher morale and a teacher retention problem. Boring and overcrowded classes and poor student discipline codes can only result in a school system that is doomed to failure and unable to fulfill its mandate to educate all students.

As long as the Mayor of New York City follows the principles of "education on the cheap" improvements in student performance will not improve above the present levels.

My thanks to nyc educator for the comment "education on the cheap".

Sunday, May 21, 2006

It's Time For Takebacks In the Next Contract

Last week New York City and the Police Union started contract negotiations and this appears to be the time for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) to start formalizing their own contract position. Yes, we have a 350 member negotiating committee. However, when the actual negotiations with the City & DOE start, it will be led by the same old people who have little interest in what is important to the classroom teacher. Therefore, it is time to put my union on notice that as a classroom teacher, this is what I expect of them.

No Givebacks

There will be no givebacks, none whatsoever! This is a non-negotiable issue and even if we are to be without a contract for years, so be it. Any union official who accepts talk of a giveback should be fired, or at least suspended for 90 days without pay for union misconduct. I would only be too happy to be on that board.


We should have learned our lesson by now. PERB does not take into account the unique differences between unions. Therefore, pattern bargining is used as the basis for any contract. No accepting the pattern and no PERB!

Salary Parity

The next contract should include the provision that the NYC teacher salary, from top to bottom, reflect the Metropolitan Area teacher salary. In particular, the adjoining counties of Nassau & Westchester. This cannot be done? They did this in Yonkers in the 90's because of teacher retention problems and Yonkers was in worse financial shape than NYC.

Salary Adjustments

Make the salary steps more fair for the 5 to 10 year teacher. The lack of a step increase for this group is a significant factor in teacher retention.

City/DOE Match In The TDA

The UFT should demand a minimum of a 3% employer match for teacher contributions in the 403b plan. This is a reasonable demand as many large employers provide matching funds to encourage employee participation.

School Year Limits

The UFT must demand a limit of 183 days as do many school districts have. Our union must stop buying into the City's position that the schools are a baby sitting service. I'm sick and tired of hearing our Union leaders whine how they have no control of the schedule. Bullshit! Having a 183 day school year limit solves that problem.


This is the area that we most fight to the death if necessary. It is time that the Union demand the following takebacks:

1. Eliminate the two days before Labor Day. This was a sellout by our leadership and should be eliminated in the next and all future contracts.

2. The right to grieve. This giveback by the Union was wrongheaded and needs to be reversed.

3. The elimination of the 90-day unpaid suspension for non-felony charges and legal action as well as the removal of students who make false accusations.

4. Teacher control of their classroom. No more micromanagement.

5. Rollback the the 37.5 minutes into teacher-directed activities. Be it tutoring, clubs, professional development, consuling, etc.

6. Eliminate cafeteria, hallway, and bathroom duties in the 6R. No teacher should be subject to these insulting, non-professional tasks.

Additional Items

An increase in coaching hours and per session pay. The per session pay should equal the pay of the mid-salary teacher, not the beginning teacher.

Enforceable student discipline codes with penalties when administrators don't take action.

A narrowing of the Corporal Punishment laws by eliminating the statement "and any other action as determined by the administratior".

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Department Of Education's Student Discipline Code - What A Joke!

A major reason that schools are struggling with student discipline is the Department of Education's (DOE) unwillingness to hold students accountable for their actions. Before Tweed came about the old Board of Education would transfer problem students from their home school and admiring friends to a school where the student would travel long distances and have no friends to help cause trouble. In turn, that school would send their problem students to the first school. This involuntary transfer system, while not perfect, had the desired effect by isolating the troubling student and removing from the school the worst discipline problems. This consequence was not lost on many students and after the removal of these problem students, the school would settle down into a more academic environment.

However, the Tweed DOE does not allow for involuntary transfers anymore. A problem student can rape, rob, assualt, threaten, and commit all sorts of crimes. Once that student has completed their suspension/sentence, they go right back to their school and hookup with their friends to reap more havoic upon the student population. Incredible you say. Well believe it. Under the Tweed DOE the rights of the one is more important than the rights of the many. Is it any wonder that the New York Public School System suffers from academic problems? It's tough for even the best teachers to maintain classroom control and an academic environment when these students reappear from prison and threatens both the students and the teacher.

Another problem is student violations of the student discipline code that does not have a consequence to the student's continued disregard of the regulations. Here is a typical example from my school.

My school has a three strikes and your out policy. On the third strike the student gets a week of after-school detention (ASD) which all students hate. Sounds good? Well, here is the problem. What if the student does not want to attend the ASD? Well in my school nothing and the street-wise delinquents know it. The DOE has told school administrators that they cannot add ASD to students who refuse to go to ASD in the first place. Instead they want the schools to offer more consuling and understanding of these poor souls. Remember, under their oversight no child is bad, only misunderstood. Of course they don't have to deal with them.

Further, the DOE emphasizes attendance over school safety. It's more important to get the delinquents in school then to provide a safe, academic environment to the rest of the student body. So what that the school's resources are eaten up by increasing school safety officers, deans, and hallway aides that could be used in the classroom. The DOE does not care. No , their prority is to improve attendance and get as much money from the State as possible. Academics? Don't bother the DOE with that, that's the classroom teacher's responsibility. A case in point. In the high schools the students must report to school for the morning of June 14th even though the afternoon Regents are that day. Will there be any classroom teaching? Of course not and the DOE knows that. They just want to squeeze money from the State. This shows all to well the DOE priority, attendance!

As a classroom teacher the worst enemy of good academic performance is not the right-wing voucher supporters or the left-wing political correctness crowd, its the Tweed DOE who stifles a true learning environment by placing problem students back into their old schools and pushing attendance over school safety.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cellphones In Schools - My Opinion

The most heated arguments in the New York City Schools is whether the students should be allowed to have cellphones in the school. School authorities have banned cellphones because of its abuse by students. Cellphones have been used to cheat on tests, take pictures of girls undressing in the locker room, drug transactions, organizing gang fights, and distrupting classroom learning. Moreover, there has been a rise in school crime due to the thefts of ipods and cellphones. However, most parents think its a terrible idea for New York City to ban cellphones in schools. Since 9/11 parents claim that they are very concerned that their children are safe. Too bad that concern doesn't extend to open school night when the parents fail to show up or when you contact them about their child's academics or behaviour. Despite my skepticism of parents they are right, students should have the right to cellphones in school. However, they should be hidden and off/vibrate. Many students need to contact parents after school or during after school activites. it's also a real piece of mind for parents knowing where their child is.

What should be the consequences be for a cellphone going off or being used in school?

First, automatic confiscation of the cellphone and a parent retrival. parents hate to go to school to pick up cellphones in my school. I'm sure its the same everywhere.

Second, follow the first procedure and add a 3-5 day after school detention penalty. Any student who does not show up to after school detetion is given two extra days of after school detention for every day missed. Historically, students hate after school detention and will do anything to avoid it.

Third, add a two week suspension and loss of team or club privilages for the season. Of course after they finished completing procedure two again.

Finally, if the student continues to flaunt the cellphone rules, the student is given a long-term suspension (home instruction) and an involuntary transfer to another school if possible.

Sounds simple, its not. In New York City the Department Of Education tends to ignore or not enforce student discipline codes. Therefore, administrators and school safety officials are reluclent to take away cellphones. Consequently, teachers are left to try to enforce the rules without school support. The result, many teachers just give up and hope the cellphones don't cause too much disruption in the classroom. In my opinion the cellphone ban must stay in place unless and until the school student disciplines codes are enforced.