Friday, September 29, 2006

The Kleinberg Plan For The ATR's

It is common knowledge that there are over a thousand Absent Teacher Reserves (ATR's) roaming around with no teaching assignments and wondering what their future is? What is their future? Uncertain at best and ominious at worst.

First, let's start on why we have all these ATR's in the first place. Until this year all excessed teachers were placed in teaching positions within their borough before any other teacher can be hired. However, that all changed this year when the Department of Education allowed schools to hire newly-minted teachers and even uncertified teachers from the alternate certifaction programs like Teach For America & the Teaching Fellows Program without placing the excessed teachers. The DOE did not even try to pretend to care about the ATR's by having their job fair AFTER the new teacher job fair. Therefore, many of the schools that needed teachers were inclined and maybe even pressured to hire the new teacher over the experienced teacher.

Second, why are there so many ATR's? Good question and an equally good answer. The closing down of the large schools into small schools was a primary reason. See, once a large school closes and is replaced by small schools, the small schools are only required to select 50% of the large school staff and since many of the small school principals come from the Leadership Program who's emphasis is on loyality to the DOE and ignorance of how to collaberate with the teaching staff, many of the more experienced and knowledgable teachers were not selected in the interview process. To be fair, many of these teachers didn't bother to apply to the small schools since small school teachers are required to take on more non-teaching responsibilities and prepare more preps.

Third, a secondary reason is the reduced budgets to the remaining schools that are not part of the empowerment zone. Yes, I know the DOE said that the extra money the empowerment zone schools comes from the elimination of mid-level district administrators. However, DOE's lack of transparancy makes that claim highly suspect. Many of the non-empowerment schools have suffered budget cuts for this year. The result, more excessed teachers!

Finally, the increased hiring of new teachers, encouraged by DOE with recruitment packages and job fairs, at the expense of the excessed teachers, increased the ATR's.

The result is that there are over 1,000 teachers without their own classrooms.

Why would the DOE have 1,000+ ATR's doing no classroom teaching? Wouldn't it be in their best interest to place these teachers into the classroom by reducing class size? You would think so since lower class sizes would benefit the children and result in higher test scores. However, Mayor Bloomberg & Chancellor Klein are not interested in the children but are looking long-term to the next contract where their goal is to fire these ATR's.

Just think, the Kleinberg people will wail how the teachers' contract forces them to pay over 1000 teachers their full salary, including senority time, and step pay raises, while they are just doing day-to-day substitute teaching. The Daily News, New York Post, & the Sun will have full page editorials demanding the end to tenure for life for the ATR's and even Newsday & the New York Times will ask for contract changes. The result will be a media blitz that puts the union on the defensive with the ultimate goal of putting a time limit on ATR's in finding a full-time teaching job. An example of this is in Chicago where excessed teachers have 18 months to find a job. If not, they are fired!

I don't believe that whichever faction wins the UFT election will agree to an ATR time limit. Yes even gasp Unity! However, unless the UFT becomes pro-active on this issue by bringing up the class size issue, the waste of experienced & talented teachers while hiring untested and clueless people from alternate certification programs, and failing to ensure a quality teacher in every classroom by running an "education on the cheap" program. The union will find itself increasingly on the defensive and the political pressure may result in an ATR time limit and the beginning of the end of teacher tenure. Therefore, it is a must that the UFT come out strong and hard over how Kleinberg has caused the ATR mess.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Randi Does It Again - Recruitment Over Retention

In a New York Post article Randi Weingarten complained that to encourage qualified minorities to join the New York City teacher corps, the city should give bonuses, loan forgiveness, and housing assistance. Here again Randi chooses to ignore the real problem, retention of quality teachers. In response to a somewhat bogus study that showed that minority children respond better to their own kind despite all studies that show an experienced quality teacher is the most important thing to have in the classroom, regardless of race, creed, and religion. Instead of stopping at the colorblind statement, Randi continued on how we need to attract more minorities to enter the teaching profession. At no time did she bring up the retention problem, the most important factor in the successful classroom.

It certainly appears to me that Randi & gang seem more focused on the high and low end of the the teacher memberts in the UFT. Much of the problem with the last contract was Randi's insistance in not selling out the newborns. However, Unity sold out the rest of us. with god awful givebacks. She should have stuck it to the city and see if they can hire a $25,000 per year teacher, instead she chose to screw us. Further, she is trying to enhance the high end members (30+ years in the system) by sweetening their pensions while doing nothing for the 5-20 year teaching veteran.

As a 10 year teacher who is subject to the Unity givebacks and lack of union support for the very teachers that are the backbone of the union, is it any wonder I am anti-Unity? The shocking thing is how clueless many teachers are to the issues and it is this ignorance that must be addressed if our Union is to become responsive to the classroom teacher.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What I Want From My Union

In the past year I have complained about many things that my union, the UFT, has done. Starting with the contract and ending with my attack on the clueless educrats writing articles on Edwize that have nothing to do with the classroom. However, while complaining is a time-honored way to air ones grievances when the powers-to-be are unresponsive to their members, it's time to move ahead and state what I expect from my union leaders.

A Pro-active Approach:

It seems to me that our Union never takes the lead in bringing issues to the media. Instead they seem to respond to attacks in a defensive matter. To the general public it appears that the UFT is more interested in protecting union rights than student learning. While this is not true. Remember the preception is what counts and the DOE is winning the media war.

An example of this is the UFT failure to bring up the DOE attack on the large traditional high schools by dumping the 8+ students, special education students, and discipline problems into the schools while exempting the small schools from getting these students. Another example is the failure of the UFT to alert the media of the DOE policy that forces the schools to take back violent, overaged students released from jail so that they can terrorize the student population, rather than finding alternate settings for them.

A pro-active union is a must if we are to combat the DOE attack on the schools.

Retention Issues:

The biggest problem facing the teaching profession is that 50% of the teachers are gone by their third year. This plays well into the hands of the City and DOE since these teachers make less money, don't have pensions, and are unaware of union protections. Presently, our union works hand-in-hand to further the DOE policy by amending our contract to provide subsidies for the new teachers. The union needs to focus not on the new teachers but retaining the existing staff. Its no secret that quality teaching is associated with the 5-20 year veteran teacher and this is the group the union needs to support. Children first means a quality teacher in the classroom and retaining these teachers should be a top prority for the union.

Class Size:

Its no secret that class size is one of the two most important factors in student learning, the quality teacher being the other. The union must insist that a cap of no more than 25 students per class be part of the next contract. Can you imagine the outrage by the public if after the UFT media blitz the City refuses to lower class sizes? What happened to children first?

Competitive Salaries:

To get quality teachers you must have competitive salaries. Even after the last contract, the city teacher salaries are 15-20% lower than the average salaries in the suburbs. In fact our salaries are 10% lower than the Yonkers teachers! That is outrageous! The city is in it's best financial shape ever with a 5.5 billlion dollar surplus and an ever-climbing stock market. The union must, at a mimimum, insist on a restructuring of the teacher salary scale that rewards the mid-career quality teacher and an increase to the average surburban salary.

Under no circumstances should the union go to PERB or accept the pattern. Any official that proposes this should be voted out of office.

No More Givebacks:

Under no circumstances should our negotiators allow givebacks of any kind. That includes ATR tine limits, more teaching time, and extra work. In fact, this contract should include takebacks such as the two days before Labor Day, and grievable LIF.

Student Discipline:

Every year the DOE weakens the student discipline code and the union plays dead as it is rammed through. The result is that a parent can appeal to a non-school administrator to reverse a student suspension. The union must demand that a strict student discipline code be enforced and approved by the union.

City/DOE match on TDA (403b) Plan:

A 100% company match up to 3% of a person's salary would be a good starting point as a way to improve teacher retirement. Further, a commitment by the city to increase the percentage used for pension purposes from 1.67 to 2.0 for the 5-20 year veterans.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Social Promotion To The Large High Schools

Previously, I commented on the Department of Education's (DOE) policy of promoting "not ready for promotion" eighth graders (8+ students) to the large traditional high schools as they mistakenly believe that the size of the school will solve the problem. I pointed out that that the best environment for these 8+ students would be a school dedicated for these students and self-contained small classes similiar to Special Education classes. However, this would cost money and in the Kleinberg tradition of education on the cheap and children last politics, its easier to dump these s 8+ students into the large high schools. For Tweed this is a win-win proposition. First, you don't have to spend any more money on these 8+ students for programs that are necessary for them to succeed. Second, it advances the Tweed ambition of showing that the large schools are academically inferior to the small schools as these 8+ students terrorize their classmates and their inclusion lowers the academic level of the school.

Yes, I understand that it is not in the best interest of the middle schools to have 16 year old boys preying on 12 year old girls or bullying the student body. However, dumping them into a setting that almost ensures their droppimg out before they graduate, is certainly not the answer. The only thing this accomplices is the next generation of criminals and poverty wage workers. Even Wal-Mart won't hire them! For the skeptics that don't believe this does not go on I will give you a couple of examples.

I spoke to a middle school teacher who informed me that she was required to write the exit projects for five 8+ students who refused to write it. When she balked at doing student work her principal informed her that I don't need these students terrorizing the students in the school. She did the exit project and all five were sent to the large high school close to the school.

In another case a student with over 125 absences and had assulted a female classmate in the middle school was passed along to one of the large high schools where within two weeks he and a friend were allegedly involved in assulting another student which resulted in that student being sent to the hospital. What was Tweed's response? Blame the large high school it can't be the child's fault!

I only mentioned two examples However, I'm sure there are many such stories throught the city schools and I would like to hear your experiences dealing with the 8+ students.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Why Don't Quality Teachers Go To The Small Schools?

In an Edwize article a comment by the respected Peter Goodman of Unity (yes I do respect his opinon - unlike the rest of the Unity hacks) stated that the small schools would have welcomed any of these excessed teachers if they only showed up for an interview? That left the unaware of why wouldn't an experienced quality teacher interview in a small school that would welcome them with open arms? Well, if I have one problem with Peter, it is his bias in pushing small schools and ignore the problems with many of them. Including their inability to attract experienced quality teachers. Therefore, after talking with a few excessed teachers who did interview at small schools, I decided to come up with a hypothetical interview of an excessed Chemistry teacher at the 350 student small school called The School of Environmental Justice.

School: Why do you want a position at our school?

Teacher: I want to teach in a classroom, not being a day-to-day sub in my home school.

School: Why?

Teacher: I fell embarrassed and my self-esteem has suffered in working in a school that no
longer can use me as a classroom teacher. It's difficult to face my ex students as a sub.

School: What did you teach in your school?

Teacher: Chemistry, AP Chemistry, AP Environmental Science.

School: Have you taught Living Environment, Earth Science, & Physics?

Teacher: Not recently, and I have never taught Physics.

School: In our school we have no money for AP courses and you will be required to teach all four
Regents science courses.

Teacher: You mean four preps?

School Yes.

Teacher: Will lab preparation be my professional assignment?

School: Yes, but in our school the teachers must do an administrative assignment as well.

Teacher: Like what?

School: Hallway duty, cafeteria patrol, or policing the bathrooms.

Teacher: Are there any other duties you expect me to do?

School? Yes, we expect you to volunteer for Saturday instruction and help in our after school

Teacher: Will I get paid for the extra work?

School: Sorry, we don't have the funds to pay the teachers anything extra.

Teacher: Let me get this straight. I must teach four different Regents science courses, volunteer to teach on Saturday for free, do a professional and administrative assignment, and help out in the after school program?

School: Yes, and by the way, you will become a team leader and spend an occasional lunch with your group of students. See, we can only afford one guidance officer and the teachers must do double duty.

Teacher: Thank you for the interview but I think I will stay at my school as an ATR until a real teaching position becomes available.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

When Tweed Attacks

On the first day of students my school received an unpleasent surprise, a boatload of NYPD's finest showed up at the school. What were they doing at my school? Our halls are clear of students during classroom instrunction, our student population have not participated in crimes that would put us into the impact school category, we have improved our Math & English statistics under NCLB, and our school saftey scores were the highest(best) ever. Our school safety scores have almost always been near the top for all NYC high schools! Why the police?

Well, it seems my school is on the Tweed radar screen because the school refused the Tweed offer of putting cameras in the hallways, entrances, and lockerooms (big brother). Further, Tweed has already proposed that my school be reorganized into small schools, which was defeated and rejected by the banding together of the teachers, administrators, students, and community leaders. Finally, Tweed took a beating on dumping many students who were not selected by the small schools that replaced the closing down of other large high schools on selected high schools in Queens including my school.

What was Tweed to do? How can they punish a large traditional high school that dares to fight the mighty powers of Tweed? First, Tweed reversed course and not only stopped dumping excess students into my school but limited the amount of students entering our school. This resulted in a budget reduction and caused the excessing of five teachers ---more about them later. Second, Tweed apparently pressured our principal (or so he claims) to use precious budget money to pay for non-educators to teach us how to keep in touch of our feelings. Finally, Tweed authorized the NYPD to flood our non-dangerous school with police officers. Does Tweed really think that armed police in our school is going to increase learning in the classroom? I think not!

What justification did Tweed use? I cannot be sure but I did hear they took into account our attendance figures, which are lower than the surrounding schools because of our "zero tolerance" policy that does not allow students to walk the halls, hangout in the back stairwells, or sneak into lthe cafeteria. With their only choices to either go to class or not go to school, many of these problem students become truants. The result is a quiet, safe school and an increased absense rate. Reasonable people would take this tradeoff but not the maniacs at Tweed. These are the same educrats (some have no experience in education) that see nothing wrong in sending overaged students from Rikers Island (jail) back to the very schools they terrorized in the first place! In their warped prorities the child is important but the children are not. Tweed also claimed they wanted to see a better graduation rate. How does the police presence increase the gradation rate? are they going to shoot the non-graduates? Will the police fan out from the school and track down the truants and forceabily bring them to school so they can graduate? Obviously, Tweed is trying to punish us for our refusing their generous offer of cameras in the school.

What can be done to stop Tweed from bullying our school? Well the only way to stop a bully is to hit back. In this case the union, PTA, politicians, and media must join together to expose Tweed's revenge on a school that didn't want any part of big brother in the school.

On a side note. All five of the excessed teachers failed to land a position in other schools. These teachers, all excessed because of the budget cut included our very popular ESL coordinator who nobody wanted to see leave. Well, thanks to Joel Klein's intimidation on hiring other school's excessed teachers, all are ATR's and hopefully will land a position before the next contract.

Remember, when Tweed attacks, you fight back!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Defined Benefit Vs. Defined Contribuition Plans - Which Is Better?

Over the last decade there has been an explosion of defined contribution (401k) plans in the business community. In fact the Federal Government switched to the defined contribution plan for it's new employees in the mid 90s. The advantages of the defined contribution plan is it's portability (you can move from job to job) and employer match (free money). However, is it better than a defined benefit plan? Apparently, the answer is a loud no!

A study by a Boston research group on pensions found that the average defined benefit plan outperformed the average defined contribution plan by 1% annually and the average defined benefit pension was 20% greater than the definded contribution plan for the same period of time (20 years). Why such a difference? Because defined benefit plans are run by professional investment companies who are always rebalancing their allocation between stocks, bonds, and cash. On the other hand, the defined contribution plan is controlled by the employee who are either too conservative (money market fund) or too risky (company stock - think of Enron). Furthermore, the definded contribution plan has higher fees than the defined benefit plan and many defined benefit pensions have a COLA adjustment, the defined contribution plans do not. Therefore, it is accurate to say the longer a person works on the job, the greater the difference between the defined benefit pension and the defined contribution pension.

Unfortunantly, the defined benefit pension is under attack. Recently, IBM and Verizon have terminated their defined benefit plans and only about 28% of all companies have a defined benefit plan (1n the 1970's it was 86%). Mayor Bloomberg and the MTA have proposed a Tier V pension which can either be a less generous defined benefit pension or a defined contribution pension. Even the labor-friendly New York Times has jumped on the Tier V pension as a way to save money. While the New York State constitution does not allow for pension changes for existing employees, unless they are pension improvements, new employees may find themselves on the receiving end of a vastly inferior pension plan.

The New York Teachers Retirement System (TRS) provides a defined contribution (403b) plan that suffers from not including an option that should be included in all defined contribution plans. A life cycle fund. Depending on your age and date of expected retirement, the life cycle fund would automatically be rebalanced between stocks, bonds, and cash with little cost to the employee. However, presently the TRS has not proposed any changes to their fund and without a company match, the annuity generated by the 403b plan is inferior to the NYC defined benefit plans that include the life cycle funds.

If the future for new employees is a defined contribution plan then these plans should be low cost, have life cycle or retirement funds, and professional investment advise.

By the way, the fixed income investment return of the TRS 403b plan is 8.25% and this value will not change until June of 2009. If inflation stays between 3-6%, you get a minimum return of 2.25% above the rate of inflation, not a bad deal. I suggest that all teachers put at least 50% of all new money into this fund and take any money you have in Option "B" and switch it to the fixed fund (it takes one year to complete the switch).

Friday, September 01, 2006

Thank You Randi, Joel, & My Clueless Administrators For The Two Most Miserable Days In My Teaching Career

I just spend the two of the most miserable days in my teaching career doing nothing at my school. Instead of recharging my batteries on vacation and preparing for the next school year, I found myself subject to mindless (un)professional development, a principal who spent precious time telling us how great he is, and assistant principals who had a mind-numbing session on bulletin boards, hallway practices, and classroom sharing. We were also exposed to an afternoon of videos of "right to know" that drove most of the teachers bonkers.

You might ask. "How about working on the classrooms?" Well my school administrators didn't program time in for this in our very busy two days of mindless nothingness. But Randi said the two days were to fix-up the classroom? Well, tell that to the administrators because they didn't seem to care what Randi said. What follows is my two days of misery.

Thursday, August 31st started off with coffee & bagels as the principal spoke about how our school improved their Math & English scores over last year. Clap, clap, clap. Next he introduced teachers who came back from sabbaticals and informed the staff of the teachers he excessed. We did not lose any teachers to transfer using the open market system. Note; teachers don't usually leave large traditional high schools in Queens for smaller schools despite the best efforts of Kleinberg to make the smaller schools attractive. See my August 24th blog. Next, he informed us how he single-handedly fought the Tweed educrats on adding cameras, security officers, and a police presence in our school I thought it was a total effort between parents, students, teachers and some administrators? What do I know. Finally, he finished it up with how we should all work together and collaborate on issues that affect the school and that we are one big family. Boy was I getting sick of this phoney. My principal is a "cya person" and will stab you in the back if that is what his Tweed masters want.

Next, it was off to our department meeting for the rest of the morning where we discussed what should go on our bulletin boards. Should it be student work, or posters? What can go on the walls? Can student work be put on the hallway walls? Thankfully, the session ended for lunch as the assistant principal was explaining how three teachers can share one room.

The afternoon session consisted of two videos on the "right to know" what chemicals are being used in the school and what the procedures are to inform medical personnel. However, our right to know apparently does not include knowing if our students have Communicable diseases. We are forbbiden to know if a child is HIV positive, another reason why a teacher should not break up fights. By the time the videos were finished it was time to go home.

Friday, September 1st we are back to coffee & bagels and another speech by the principal. Charitably, he limited it to a half hour. However, he had a wonderful surprise for his teaching staff, a day-long professional development session. Of course, despite his statements that he wants to collaborate with the teachers, he didn't ask for teacher input or comment on the type or necessity of professional development. By the way the administrators were exempt from the professional development sessions. The professional development consisted of
non-educators telling us how we should be in touch with our feelings. What a wonderful waste of time and money. Yes, he used his budget to pay for this rather than saving the money for before/after school tutoring. This professional development was to extend to the end of the day but a revolt by the teaching staff truncated it to 1:50 pm. This allowed the teachers one hour to fix up their rooms!

Didn't Randi say that the two days before Labor Day will be used for teachers to fix-up their classrooms? Well I took a look at the contract and under section 6C it states that "part of the time on the days before Labor Day will be allocated to classroom preparation. " The question is what does part mean? Half a day, 2 hours, 10 minutes? Another, poor job by Randi and her lawyer friends that did not specify what part of a day means. Does giving us one hour on the second day meet the definition as part of a day? What about not having any time on day one? What are the penalties for non-compliance of the contract by the administrators? I suspect there will be no consequences for the administrators for violating the contract. Can you imagine if you refused to go to the professional development session? Yes, you would be charged with insubordination and at the very least receive a letter to the file and maybe even being removed from the school!

My miserable day ended with my assistant principal (who I have a good relationship with) coming into my room and asking me if I finished the Earth Science lab booklet. My response was "you must be kidding" I informed him that had I not been required to go to the professional development session, I would have been finished. He left my room and told me that I forced him to find a common lab paper to hand out next week. My heart bleds.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Joel Klein who does not understand the law of diminishing returns and thinks quantity means quality. Joel, more time in the classroom does not mean better grades if you overwork the teacher & students. I would also thank Randi Weingarten who first, agreed to the two days before Labor Day that ruined many a planned vacation and second, lied to us about how the two days were to be used. Finally, I would like to thank my school administrators who time and again fail to practice what they preach and use limited funds for professional development that nobody wanted.

Before I forget, I want to give special thanks to Randi & Joel for the precedent-setting 190 day school year.