Sunday, June 25, 2006

New York State Refuses To Increase Charter Schools. Hooray!

The New York State Legislature refused to increase the number of Charter Schools from the existing 100 to 250, as Governer Pataki demanded. Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City and Joel Klein, Chancellor of th DOE are all strong supporters of the Charter Schools and this is a major victor for the NYC public school system. Why is this important? Well at least 80 of the extra 150 Charter Schools would have been located in New York City, further weakening the NYC public school system. All three politicians would use public school money to fund the Charter Schools and further limit funding for the public schools. In fact, the city's priority is to push for charter/small schools and starve the rest of the public schools. Moreover, the charter/small schools are given space in the public schools adding to overcrowding in the large schools, especially the large high schools.

To the uninformed Charter Schools are schools that take public money but are not subject to DOE regulations and don't need to be unionized. Their only subject to the condition that the school shows that they are meeting State standards in educating the students. If the story ended here how could anybody be against Charter Schools? Well, here is the problem, despite all the advantages the Charter Schools have over the public schools they compete with, they show no improvement academically. How can that be given the advantages the Charter Schools have? Listed below are these advantages given to a Charter School.

First, the Charter Schools have smaller class sizes, the Charter Schools usually have between 15-20 students per class while the public schools have between 28-34 per class. The smaller the classes, the better the students learn.

Second, the Charter Schools, while using a blind lottery to select their students, requires parent interaction and support. Parents who don't follow closely their child's education, don't bother to apply to Charter Schools. In fact many Charter Schools require parent involvement as a condition of their child's acceptance to the schools.

Third, the Charter Schools have much more strict discipline codes. Student misbehavior can and does result in that student being expelled from the Charter School. By contrast the DOE does not even allow public schools to suspend students or send them to another school.

Fourth, almost all Charter Schools have longer days and even Saturday school. Meaning students are in an educational setting for longer periods of time and therefore, increased learning.

Finally, the Charter Schools, like the small schools, don't have to take their fair share of students with special needs or limited English learners. They simply tell parents of these children (assuming many actually apply) that as a new school they don't have the funds, teachers, and equipment to work with these high-maintanence children.

You would think that with all these advantages, the Charter Schools would blow away the Public Schools? However, with some exceptions (KIPPS) this is not the case. Why? It's really simple. Poor Administration and inexperienced teachers who get burned out due to the increased demands on them.

Many of the Charter Schools are run by private organizations who usually try to run the school as a private business. The result? the administration is usually sparce and they quickly find out that the students are not widgets and each child needs some sought of guidance and that the school is not usually prepared to deal with these issues. Worse are the teachers that are hired. Many of them are not certified, most are inexperienced, and some are failed teacher from the public schools. Further, the teachers are overworked, threatened (no union protection), and abused. Teacher quality, to say the least , is very uneven. Furthermore, the teachers find that they must teach many different subjects and for longer periods of time. The result is teacher burnout and teacher turnover. It may be nice that the administration can fire a teacher at their leasure but the dirty little secret is that high quality and experienced teachers are not knocking at the door to be abused in the Charter School environment. Even the successful Charter Schools (KIPPS) have serious teacher retention problems that are only partially handled by large salaries for the additional work. Finally, increased instruction does not always translate into better academics. Here, "the law of diminishing returns" applies as worn-out terachers and bored students cry enough and just go through the motions.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the Charter Schools are in serious trouble. The City of Denver is so disgusted with the charter/small schools that they are thinking of closing them down. All of them! If the public schools had the same advantages of the Charter Schools, the public schools would blow them away. However, even with the advantages the Charter Schools have statistically, they show no improvement academically with the public schools they compete with.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Same Old UFT, Givebacks For The Members & Salary Increases For The Leadership

Last night the UFT Leadership voted itself the same 15% pay raise that the members received. Sounds like this is fair....Except the 15% raise to the UFT leadership came with only one minor giveback. The UFT offices will be open one hour extra once a week. Big deal! What did the members giveback for their 15% raise?

1. 37.5 minute tutoring session four days a week and you can have up to ten students for each
tutoring session. Furthermore, you can have as much as 20 students in a classroom if you
share the classroom with another teacher.

2. The introduction of administrative duties such as hallway, cafeteria, & bathroom duties.
These non-professional duties are an insult to all teachers.

3. The elimination of grievences when given a letter-to-the file.

4. The eliminating of senority transfer rights. The Open Market Transfer System will result in many of the older, more experienced teachers being forced to stay at their own schools as
principals select younger, less experienced teachers for the open teaching positions.

5. The possibility of being suspended without pay based upon a simple student accusation.

6. The giving up of three days (two for classroom instruction) making our year 190 days, the
most ever!

Now you don't need to be a rocket scientist that giving back one hour, one day a week is in no way equal to the major teacher givebacks that our leadership negotiated away.

Will Leo Casey check for Unity bathroom passes at the UFT bathroom? No!!!
Will JColletti make sure that the people using the UFT cafeteria is limited to 45 minutes? No!!
Will Peter Goodmen patrol the hallway to ensure the UFT members are in their offices? No!!
Will Randi and her leadership gang using the extra time to tutor the students? Of course not!!

In fact, except for the extra hour, one day a week, of attendance with undefined duties, the UFT leadership will be getting the same 15% as it's members. Is this fair? Of course not but this is the UFT where they are more concerned in protecting their backroom deals with the DOE (new teacher stipends, large high school discrimination, & special education bias to name a few) than protecting the teacher who pays the dues.

Where is the union that is supposed to represent the teachers and not themselves? It certainly is not the Unity faction that leads the UFT. What about the other factions (ICE, TJC, UTF)? I just don't know but my vote will go to the faction that I believe best represents the classroom teacher,

Friday, June 16, 2006

Small School" Bias "- The DOE Lies & Our Union's Silence

The federal Department of Education is investigating the complaints filed against the New York City DOE by the Citywide Council on High Schools who claimed that the small high schools were not getting their fair share of students with disabilities and limited English skills. Obviously, the federal agency found the complaint valid and has proceeded to remedy the discrimination in enrollment practices. Even at a UFT Chapter Leader meeting the State representative stated that she was concerned about the "bias" in assigning students at the high school level.

What did the federal agency find that warrants the investigation? Well, for starters the feds used statistics that are commonly available, like the the typical large high school has a population that consists of 34% of the students with disabilities or have limited English skills. By contrast the typical small schools are limited to 12% of these students and this figure is even lower for the first three years where the small schools are allowed to further "screen out" these students. Moreover, the "not ready for promotion eigth graders" who are promoted anyway are almost always assigned to the large high schools. Finally the small schools use "skimming" to filter out unruly students and select students with involved parents. Talk about discrimination in enrollment practices. Even if you were to believe (I certaintly don't) the DOE filtered statistics, you would still find that the average large high school will have 24% of it's student population made up of special education and limited English proficiency students compared to 16% for the small schools, an 8% difference!

Incredibly, the DOE denies that they discriminate. City DOE council Michael Best claims that there was "no basis for any inappropriate findings". How could Michael Best say this when the chief executive of the DOE's small schools, Garth Harries stated that "a deliberate policy to exclude otherwise eligible students with disabilities (special education) from the small schools during the first three years of each school's existence". I guess if you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth according to DOE. By the way, people who heard Mr. Harries speech believe that this exclusionary policy appears to also include the limited English proficiency applicants to the small schools.

Is our union aware of the DOE discrimination? Of course they are! Many commenters have brought up the question why the UFT has not challenged the DOE on the discrimination in enrollment practices between the small & large high schools? Why did it take an outside group to complain to the Federal agency about this exclusion policy? The UFT response? Deafening silence! It's as if the union secretly buys into the DOE discrimination. How else is one to think?

It is a pity when our uncaring union collaborates with a lying DOE to screw the teachers and the students of the large high schools in the City.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The TRS 403b (TDA) Plan Revisited

In my previous column I commented on how limited, inflexible, and uncompetitive the New York City Teachers' Annuity Plan is when compared to the New York City's 457b/401k plans. Many of the people who read that article asked me if they can start contributing to the City plans without contributing to the TDA? The answer is yes. In fact you don't have to invest a dime into the TRS TDA and uses the City plans until you max out your contribution. Interestingly, if you ask the UFT they advise you to use the City's 457b/401k plans only after you max out in the TRS 403b plan. If you are an ultra-cautious invester and selected the fixed option (8.25%) for 100% of your investment, that is good advice. However, many teachers invest into the inferior variable options and the union is more concerned with keeping teachers clueless about the TDA shortcomings than the better deal the teachers can get using the City plans.

Further, the UFT acts like they have no control over the Trustees of the fund. What a load of crap! The UFT directly elects three of the seven Board members. Moreover, any decision made by the Board Of Trustees must include one of the UFT elected menbers. Therefore, the UFT has veto power over any changes the TRS wants to do. In addition, if the UFT really wants to improve the TRS TDA they only need to propose it. All seven trustees are beholden to the UFT since the four other Trustees are appointed only after being informally approved by the UFT. Since all the Trustees serve three-year terms, any of the Trustees that disappoints the union can find themselves out of the Trustee business.

Finally, I hear rumors that the variable options will be enhanced (whatever that means). How?, when?, does it compare to the City plans? I hope it is true? However, in my case it is "seeing is believing"!

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Classroom Teacher's Report Card Of The DOE

I was very amused by the June 1, 2006 letter from Chancellor Klein to the parents about the new school report card. The report card will include the school's attendance, safety, and student improvement (?), whatever that means. To compare screened schools with overcrowded large high schools is like comparing apples and oranges and the only thing they have in common are that they are fruit.

What I found really amusing is that Chancellor Klein stated that he developed this report card after asking parents, students, and teachers. Funny, I don't know of any parent, student, or classroom teacher who had any input into the plan. i would like these people to please identify themselves, if you really exist.

What I found chilling was that "experienced educators" (Tweed & their Regional flunkies) will observe the classrooms, talk to the students (yeah right) staff (principal and assistant principals, I'm quite sure thay will not be talking to the classroom teachers) and develop a "Battle Plan" (I can't wait to see this) for each student (ha, ha, ha). I just hope that the joke is not on us.

I figured it was time as an "experienced classroom teacher" to give the DOE a report card grade.

DOE's Understanding Of the High School Classroom

Calandar Year September 2005 - June 2006

********Activity************************************ Issue ************(Grade)

Teacher input into classroom policies*************** Does not understand******* (F)

Class size reductions****************************** Does not understand*******(F)

Knowledge of classroom conditions****************** Does not understand******* (F)

Student discipline problems************************ Does not understand********(F)

School overcrowding*******************************Does not understand********(F)

Promoting 8th graders without proper skills***********Does not understand********(F)

Respect for teachers******************************** Does not understand*******(F)

Based upon my report card the DOE has shown to be unaccountable and a failure when it comes to my classroom. The final grade? " F"

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Our TDA (403b) Plan & It's Many Faults

In my decade of employment as a teacher I have been a willing participant in the New York City Teachers Retirement System and its 403b plan. Hereafter known as the Teachers Defined Annuity Plan or TDA. First, let me make this clear, I am not criticizing the pension, which is quite good but the TDA which, to be kind, is found to be inflexible, limited, and costly, relative to the New York City's 457b/401k plans. I believe it is time to enlighten the New York City teachers on why the TDA needs to be upgraded and improved.

Selection Limitations:

The TDA is limited to three selections. Fixed, Variable "A" (stocks), and Variable "B" (bonds). By contrast the city plans have five investment funds and nine life cycle funds. The city plans allow for more diversity in investment selections and allows the participant to be aggressive, cautious, or safe and increases the chances of a large payoff at the time of retirement.

Administrative Fees:

You would think that the TDA would have low administrative fees to manage such an old and large fund. However, believe it or not it cost each TDA participant $18 per $10,000 invested in administrative overhead for the Variable options. By contrast in cost $6 per $10,000 invested in the city plans. In other words the TDA charges three times more in administrative fees than the city plans!

Limited Transfer of Funds

The TDA does not allow more than 1/12 of the investors total Variable "A" to be transferred monthly. In other words to get out of Variable A (stocks), it would take one calander year to completely leave stocks. Not good when the stock market is going down. In fact this is down right criminal! To my knowledge, no other 403b plan limits such transfers as the TRS TDA does.

Fund Performance

The only true attractive fund is the Fixed Option. Over the last ten years the Fixed Option has returned an eye popping 8.25% and is never to fall below 7% which is backed by the State. A very good option for the very cautious investor.

The Variable "A" option is basically composed of common stocks and has had a mediocore return of 9% for the last 10 years. Many similar funds averaged 10-12% in the same time period. While the Variable "A" option is not bad, it's certainly not good. Of course, try taking your money out of Variable "A", it takes a year!

The real turkey is the Variable "B" option that is composed of bonds and other fixed-income instruments. Over the last ten years it has returned less than 5% while similar bond funds averaged 6-7%. The Variable "B" fund is a poor performer. In fact a lawsuit has been brought by investors on the poor performance of the Variable "B" option.

Financial Planner Joel L. Frank who writes for the civil service newspaper, The Chief, has stated that it would be best to terminate the TRS TDA and replace it with a more competitive & flexibile plan. I agree and request that the UFT demand significant changes to the TDA or opt out to a more competitive and flexible plan.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Next Contract ? Read This!

Already there is talk about the next contract and the failure of the negotiation committee to have a no giveback position. While I'm not holding my breath on dynamic, classroom teacher centered negotiations, I do believe that the parameters of the next contract pattern is starting to crystalize. Unfortunatly, it will include givebacks for a raise that won't equal inflation.

What am I talking about? Buried in last week's The Chief, the civil service newspaper, in the for the record section was the City's preliminary proposal to DC 37. It included a 3.15% raise for 2007 (same as ours) and two 2% raises for 2008 & 2009. What' are the givebacks? How about paying for health insurance (TWU) and a 6% contribution for new employees to the pension plan (Tier V). While both need outside approval (health -Municipal Labor Council and pension - State legislature) it is the basis of the next "pattern".

The UFT may say loud and clear that they will not agree to any City proposals for more time and a sixth teaching period, it is interesting that they are very quiet about other givebacks like paying for health and a new pension tier for new employees. Further, it is interesting that the UFT are not talking about takebacks. First, the contract negotiations must include getting back the days before Labor Day. The giving up of these days was a travisty and must be eliminated in the next contract. My previous articles have talked about the other takebacks and needs not be repeated here.

Finally, it is very important that the next leader of the UFT represent the classroom teacher and not the lawyer elite. While I'm interested that a candidate is coming forward to contest for the UFT presidency. I need to be convinced that this candidate is not an idologue and is a true champion of the classroom teacher.