Monday, July 24, 2006

Mayor Bloomberg's & Chancellor Klein's Children Last Program

I have reached the halfway point in teaching summer school in my non-air conditioned building and have come up with the following observations after talking to my students.

First, I have eight students who have been thrown out (explled) of Private/Religious/Charter schools in June. Four of them due to behaviour issues, the rest for poor grades. All are waiting to be placed in the public school system. The rest of my students come from four public high schools and despite their obvious behaviour and academic problems, are forced to go back to their public schools. Let's see under the Chancellor's regulations you can't leave the school if you want to and the public school can't transfer you to another school if you are found to be a disruptive influence. How does this help the child? It doesn't of course.

Second, how can the DOE allow children to learn in non-air conditioned schools? I do notice all the administrators have air conditioners. Maybe the DOE should be using the money they claim their saving on central administration to air condition the summer schools. Oops, I forgot that money has already been allocated to the empowerment school principals not the classroom or it's students.

Third, class size in my classes are reasonable, 26, 28, 32. However, the Living Environment and Math A teachers have class sizes of 40+ each. What a wonderful learning environment for students who have academic problems as is.

Fourth, under the Chancellor's regulations in summer school the teacher cannot automatically expell a disruptive student. Instead an Administrator removes the student and sends the student back to the class the very next day. the student wins and the class loses.

Finally, the summer school program is the stepchild of the DOE funding activities. In particular, the high school students. Therefore, the high school students lack classroom supplies, up-to-date books, and a proper learning environment necessary for the majority of the students to succeed. The DOE would rather give money to Charter schools than use the funds to help prepare high school students who are in danger of not graduating by adequately funding the summer school program.

In conclusion, when it comes to the summer school program it's children last not first!

Friday, July 14, 2006

New York City Has Agreed To A Contract With No Givebacks - Very Interesting!

Shockingly the Bloomberg administration has agreed to a tentative contract with it's largest union (DC37) that apparently does not contain union givebacks. This development is of extreme importance because it "sets the pattern" for the next contract for the teachers. For people unfamiliar with municipal bargaining in New York City. Once the city agrees with one of the major unions (usually DC37, the largest and weakest) on a contract. All other unions are subject to the parameters of that contract. For teachers to get more than the DC37 pattern, the teachers usually have to give up days and work extra time during the school day. Therefore, lets see what the general outline is of the DC37 contract.

The DC37 contract gives the union a 3.15% raise for 13 months (July 2005 to August 2006), a 2.0% raise for the next 6 months (August 2006 to February 2007) and a 4.0% raise for the last 13 months (February 2007 to March 2008). By compounding the interest it comes out to a 10% raise for a 32 month contract. The extra 2 months were added so that the city could give the union's welfare fund a much-needed cash infusion of 23 million dollars. Interestingly, the union won a very important takeback, the right to live in the New York State suburbs, as long as they pay the New York City Income Tax. This takeback (given up in 1987) is based upon the reality that the average DC37 employee (annual salary of $28,000) cannot afford to live in the big apple.

Why did the city give such a relatively (for them) generous contract to a union that they have used previously to impose a "pattern" on the rest of the unions? Simple, its politics, and the city's ever-growing budget surplus. First, Lillian Roberts is in serious trouble as head of DC37. She is outvoted on the executive board and has made enemies of the other unioms with her approval of a vastly inferior contract that was short on money and long on givebacks, which of course established the "pattern" for all of the other unions. Second, the city's ever growing budget surplus, presently 5 billion dollars! The tentative contract for DC37 was payback by Mayor Bloomberg to Lillian Roberts for saving the city millions of dollars in the previous contract when the city was claiming a budget deficit (it turned out the city had a budget surplus of 1.3 billion dollars). Further, Lillian Roberts is up for a tough reelection campaign later this year and the Mayor is supporting her reelection and this contract will help her immensly. Finally, by comng to a contract with DC37, the city has set the "pattern" before real negotiations with the tougher unions (police & teachers) get going.

What will this contract mean to the New York City teachers? First, the New York City teachers contract expires on October 7, 2007 and the teachers will receive the same 3.15% raise starting on October 7, 2006 that DC37 will get in their first year of their contract. Logically, the city is willing to give a 4% raise to the teachers for the first year (October 2007 to October 2008). This is the "pattern" set by the DC37 contract. Any increase in that number will be associated with givebacks, a situation that is not likely to be receptive to the teachers. Therefore, the 4% value seems to be a reasonable value for the first year.

The problem arises with the second and third years of the contract. Since DC37's contract will be ending and unless other major unions have settled a long-term contract (highly unlikely), the final two years will be based upon the city's financial condition, Randi Weingarten's willingness as leader of the Municipal Labor Council (MLC) to agree to give the city a less generous Tier V pension for the newbies, and/or paying a percentage of the salary (1 - 2%) for health benefits. Obviously, if Randi caves here, all the municipal unions will be getting significant raises (up to 5% if both are implemented) by giving back on the pension and health issues. However, if the MLC refuses to giveback on the pension & health issues the question is how much will the city offer? This is difficult to say. First, it depends on the city budget surplus/deficit. Second, what other givebacks the city wants from the teachers? A sixth period? More time during the day? Less time off? Required coverages? Randi has already said she will no longer exchange time for money and has committed to a three-year, 4 -5% per year contract to try to catch up to the suburbs. Therefore, unless the city is willing to pay the teachers close to what Randi wants without givebacks, the best the teachers can probably do is a 2-3% raise without the givebacks previously mentioned and that's assuming the city has not fallen into a budget deficit.

Personally, I expect one of two scenarios to occur. First, and the most likely scenario, the MLC caves (Randi caves???) and allows the city to start a Tier V pension and/or a 1-2% employee contribution to pay for health benefits, allowing the city to give the unions a 3 - 5% raise, based upon the status of the city budget surplus/deficit. The second scenario is that the MLC does not agree to the pension and health givebacks and the city may just decide (quite likely) to fake negotiating until either Bloomberg's term expires or the State finds the city bargaining in bad faith. In which case look for the city to offer a 2-3% raise with some very minor givebacks to save face.

In conclusion, it would appear that without the city receiving major givebacks in the pension and health area don't look for a contract anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Quality Teacher In Every Classroom? - You Get What You Pay For

A nonpartisan organization called the Education Trust has found that students in urban, high-povety high schools were twice as likely to meet State standards when taught by highly rated teachers. This conclusion was not based upon a limited study but from a comprehensive study rating 140,000 teachers in Illinois. Further, teacher experience made a profound difference in student performance. Therefore, to maximize student achievement in the urban high schools it is important to have an experienced, highly rated teacher in the classroom. The question is how does New York City achieve the goal of providing such teachers in their urban high schools?

First, you need to pay a competitive salary. Why would a highly-rated, experienced teacher teach in a school system that pays 15% less than the surrounding suburbs?

Second, you need manageable class sizes. In the New York City high schools the average class size is 32 students compared to 23 students in the surrounding suburbs. Thats 39% more students and less attention given to the needy students.

Third, teacher control of the classroom. In the New York City schools teachers have very little control of the classroom and many of the classrooms have safety problems. DOE student discipline regulations gives classroom teachers little say in removing disruptive and dangerous students.

Fourth, a continuing practical and informative professional development program, led by these very teachers to make other, less experienced teachers better. Instead of ideological (i.e. Columbia Teachers College) mindless professional development that has little if any classroom application.

Finally, the lack of strong and classroom-based administrators. Unlike the suburbs where most administrators were once those highly-qualifed, experienced teachers, many New York City administrators have little classroom experience and come out of a business-based "Leadership Program". These administrators were not master teachers and their experience with dealing with the teaching staff is not collaborative.

How does New York City attract teachers to work in their schools? They have job fairs, out-of-state-recruitment, and yes a global recruitment outreach program! I kid you not.
If they ever found life in space they would probably have a intergalactic job fair, that's how desperate the City is to attract teachers. Furthermore, many of the teachers hired by the City are not really certified as the highly-rated teachers are. In New York City (with State approval), many of the newer teachers come from the NYC fellows program, Teach For America, and other alternate certification programs. In my high school (like most) besides having teachers with alternate certification, we have had teachers from Jamaica, Slovokia, Austria, Nigeria, Germany, Hati, and the Phillipines. Most of the foreign teachers left after their two year commitment was finished . In all cases the reason they left was the culture shock of student disrespect and the tepid backing of the administrators. Very few of the alternate certification teachers last in the profession as the teaching job is found to be too tough to handle. By contrast the suburbs pick and choose among the many applications from quality teachers. Why? because the provide competitive salaries, low class sizes, teacher control of the classroom, and enforceable student discipline codes. The very things a highly-rated teacher looks for.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that to attract highly qualified, experienced teachers you most make the job professionally satisfying, and less emotionally exhausting. Things the New York City school system has failed to do.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Is Our Union Strong? Let's Compare With The Heavy Construction Union

I can only laugh at how my union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), is so feared by the New York City media. If you read the Daily News and New York Post, the New York State legislature cannot go to the bathroom until the UFT gives them the go ahead. However, perception is not reality. In today's Newsday the heavy construction unions settled their two-day strike and received a nearly 6% raise each year for four years. What did they give back? The right to sit on a chair and take a snooze (a la Sopronos) if their heavy equipment is not ready to be used at the construction site.

While I think these unions made a good deal, you don't hear any media outrage on the generous package the contractors gave them. In fact, mayor Bloomberg offered his offices to close the deal. By contrast our union obtained a "shitty contract" that gave us a 15% increase for 54 months or 3.25% per year which is less than the inflation rate! For this little money we gave up three teaching days, ten more minutes each day, the right to grieve, a 90 day unpaid suspension, and unprofessional hall, cafeteria, and bathroom duties. I decided to compare the raises the heavy construction unions received since 1982 to the UFT negotiated raises teachers received during the same period.

In 1982 the heavy construction unions pay was $14.82 and as of before this settled contract it has risen to $82.00 per hour. Therefore, the average yearly raise was a generous 7.5% per year for the last twenty-four years. By contrast the average teacher salary was $29,000 per year in 1982 and has risen to $48,000 in 2006, a 2.0% annual raise! Why are their raises so much higher? Simple they strike while the UFT does not.

Some of the Union flunkies will claim I'm comparing apples & oranges. No, I'm comparing the money! In New York City the city teachers are called the "brightest". However, when it comes to getting the money during negotiations the UFT is outsmarted by a union that the vast majority of its members never went to college, they just strike to get what they want. Who are the "brightest"? It's certainly not the union that represents the New York City Teachers.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bronx Sixth Graders Pass The Living Environment Regents

In the Wednesday New York Times there was an article on how ten of the twenty-three sixth grade students(23 not 34 in the class?) passed the Living Environment Regents. The school is named Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science. One of the many small schools that has popped up throughout the city. Looking at the school's website the only thing I could find is that they have 517 students for grades six through eight. Therefore, I cannot deterimine if this school is like Ms. Fizzle's school where only level 3's and 4's need apply or any other screening is done to weed out the poor academic students. However, this is not about the students it's about the Regents.

The Living Environment Regents has, like all the other introductory Regents, has been dumbed down. Why? Well its because the State of New York believes it is important to have as many students as possible to graduate with a Regents diploma. Since the State can't increase the academic ability of it's students, the next best thing is to dumb down the Regents.

In my school the three best science teachers teach Earth Science, Chemistry, & Physics. They basically get over 50% passing in their respective Regents (the average passing rates are 35% for all the teachers in these subjects). However, the Living Environment teachers (who are not considered top teachers) have achieved a 72% passing rate! The reason for such a high passing rate is simple. The students only need to get 37 points to achieve a Regents grade of 65! Talking about math gone wild! Using a matrix that only the great gods of the State prepared allows students who have no where near mastered science to advance where they hit the brick wall of Earth Science/Chemistry. Is it any wonder that the students are doing poorly on federal tests while improving on the state tests? The reason the states are dumbing down the tests being elementary, middle, or high school.

The bottom line is if you cannot make the students smarter, then dumb down the tests!!!!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

School's Over! Or Is It?

At 2:45 pm on June 28th I walked out of my school to enjoy the summer off. Let's see I don't have to report back to my school until August 31st. A whole two months! However, there is this nasty program called summer school and unfortunatly, I am teaching in it. Yes summer school is voluntary but when the cost of living in NYC metro area is 5.1%, the rent controlled apartments went up 4.25%, and the next teacher raise is only 3.15%. I must volunteer if I am to pay my bills and send my children through college.

When do I start summer school? June 29th, yes the day after regular school ended! Not even one day off between the two. For the many of you teachers who have not experienced the joy of summer school teaching. Let's just say it's known as "blood money" as it drains you like no other job in the school system. What is it like teaching summer school? Let me explain by going step by step into the joys of summer school teaching.

First, you get per sesson pay, about $38 per hour which is equal to a 2nd year teacher salary and a pay rate much lower than the average summer school teacher makes during the year.

Second, most summer school classrooms are not air conditioned and you must work in hot & humid classrooms and scream over the noisy industrial fans that DOE provides us with. Some teachers actually have to shut off the fan so they can be heard by the students!

Third, In the high schools you teach three back-to-back 90 minute periods with only a 5 minute break between each class. Need to go to the bathroom? Forget-about-it, you don't have the time plus god forbid an administrator leaves his/her air conditioned office and sees you away from the class. A letter-to-the-file will certainly be issued and you can't even grieve it!

Fourth, classroom supplies are usually not available and even copying paper is scarce. You want to photocopy something? Good luck in finding a working copying machine that teachers can use.
Experienced summer school teachers know to bring their own supplies and hope they last.

Fifth, class size limitations are thrown out the door in summer school. I once had 52 students in one of my classes. They were sitting on the window sills, the floor, and even the lab desk. Hopefully, after they get their July metro card 25% of them won't show up again and the class sizes drop into the low 30s.

Sixth, since the administration is unfamilar with the summer school teachers they will do as little as possible to help you with disruptive students. Further, they get pissed off that they must leave their air conditioned office to listen to your complaint and if they do take the student out of your class that day, you can bet the student will be back tomorrow.

Finally, the last day of summer school is August 18th and that gives you 12 days to have a vacation since all teachers report on August 31st. Yes to all you unbelieving teachers I said Thursday August 31st. Thanks Randi.

Do you really want to teacher summer school? Only if you are really desperate for the money.