Today is the day when Tweed has threatened the principals with reducing their budgets if they do not fill all their teaching vacancies. However, the DOE is eerily quiet on progress to achieve their stated goal to reduce the ATR pool. The Daily News reported on the lack of information about Tweed's progress in reducing the ATR pool other than issuing a vague statement that more ATRs are being hired this week. The question is in this game of "chicken" between the principals and Tweed, who really won? The latest evidence is that it appears that both sides may claim a partial victory but it also seems that the ATRs lost. Wait a second, how could this be? Let me try to explain what I think has happened here.
Exemptions: Many principals who knew how to play the system were able to receive exemptions from hiring ATRs for their vacancies. The last number published by the DOE was 125 exceptions were issued. However, that was more than a month ago. I suspect many more have been issued since then. Didn't the four year clueless wonder Ariel Sachs write how her Principal found all 37 ATRs unacceptable for her vacancy? What makes Ariel Sachs more qualified than the 37 ATRs? My guess is that she is young and makes much less money than the ATRs rejected by her Principal.
Hiring newbie special education teachers: Some principals have already been caught hiring newbie special education teachers to teach mainstream classes by claiming them to be CTT or inclusion classes. If the newbie special education teacher has a multi-subject license, the Principal will claim the teacher is qualified to teach a subject in the middle schools and get around the hiring freeze.
Consolidating classes:, A select group of very savvy principals have found that consolidating classes which increases class sizes and reduces teacher vacancies can free up funds for other school uses. The money can be used for the Principal's pet projects, after school programs, and other per session activities controlled by the Principal. The redistribution of the budget may not benefit the students but certainly helps principals in allocating school funds.
As you can see Tweed wins because they did not rescind the hiring freeze and a few principals reluctantly hired excessed teachers. The principals won as they received exemptions to hire who they pleased or consolidated classes to free up school funds without losing money for vacancies that no longer exist. However, the ATRs lost as there are still more than 1,000 ATRs without a classroom as both the DOE and the principals found or provided ways not to hire them. As for the children? This is and never was about the children. "Children Last" continues.
Under New York State Education Law 3020-a the tenured teacher can elect to have either an open or closed hearing. Both the DOE and UFT (NYSUT) do not want the teacher to have an open hearing because it is in both their interests to keep the hearings secret. I also suspect that the Arbitrator would prefer that the 3020-a hearing being presided over stay closed. The question then becomes why is it in the teacher's advantage to have an open hearing? TAGNYC and Rubber Room Reporter have always recommended that teachers should have an open 3020-a hearing but both never explained the advantages of having an open and public hearing. Therefore, I will try my best to explain why.
First: In the 3020-a hearing room the teacher will be overwhelmed , not to mention shocked, angry, and too busy writing responses and rebuttal notes to the slanderous attack upon his or her character by the DOE lawyer to adequately understand what is happening. The teacher may not pick up the context or ask the NYSUT attorney the proper questions for the NYSUT attorney to respond to the DOE lawyer's character assassination. By having another person to listen and observe in the hearing, the chances of something important slipping through becomes less likely.
Second: By having another set of eyes and ears in the 3020-a hearing, all parties will be more likely to follow the rules and not take liberties at the expense of the teacher who is usually unfamiliar with the process. Remember, the Arbitrator and the two lawyers (DOE & NYSUT) may work together for up to four years and the teacher becomes the outsider in the hearing and this may result in a decision different than if all the participants were strangers to each other.
Third: A sympathetic sounding board that gives the teacher and the NYSUT lawyer another point of view that might not have been considered as they prepared for the teacher's defense.
Fourth: The mere fact that the teacher wants people at the hearing tells both the Arbitrator and DOE lawyer that the teacher has nothing to hide and wants an open and public hearing to air out the allegations. Remember, most, if not all the allegations against the teacher are embellished, twisted, perverted, or not true and these allegations usually cannot stand up to the light of truth. By having an open hearing the light of truth shines that much brighter.
Finally: Remember, the DOE lawyer does not want you to have an open and public hearing and will do just about anything to stop you from having one. That should be the primary reason to have an open and public hearing.
In a little noticed decision an Arbitrator has dismissed a charge against a teacher who refused a Principal's order to take the Peer-Intervention-Program plus (PIP+). The Arbitrator rightly concluded that since the PIP+ program is voluntary, that the teacher had every right to refuse to take the PIP+ program. The teacher was leery of the PIP+ program and didn't believe the Principal was looking out for the teacher's best interest. Therefore, the teacher wisely chose not to participate in the PIP+ program.
For the uninformed, the PIP+ program is a program that was developed by the infamous Teacher Performance Unit (TPU) made up of retired principals and lawyers that allows the DOE to help document teacher incompetence by bringing in the PIP+ educator as an expert witness for the sole purpose to terminate the teacher in the 3020-a hearing. Because of the newness of the PIP+ program, statistics are hard to come by. However, the best information that is available show that only one in five to one in ten teachers who take the PIP+ program were found competent by the PIP+ educator. Very poor odds indeed. Both Betsy Combier and I have commented about the PIP+ program here, here, and here. The PIP+ program is simply a termination tool for principals to get rid of senior teachers and free up budget restrictions since the teacher, once removed from the school, is off the school's budget after only sixty days.
The union needs to reverse their position on PIP+ and must train their Chapter Leaders to recognize when their principals are targeting teachers for PIP+ and to inform them how to refuse the termination program. The union must stop burying their collective heads in the sand. PIP+ is not a fair or honest program. it is a tool for the DOE to terminate teachers. many of them senior teachers with good records.
Previously, I posted how these non-educators who are clueless of the New York City schools have these idiotic ideas how to fix them. Now we have a once respected journalist, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times who makes a fool of himself as he writes an article that shows his ignorance of the New York City school system and his acceptance of the phony claims of Bloomberg and Klein that the schools are improving and would improve more so if they could only terminate tenured teachers more quickly. What is his solution? Glad you asked. More Charter Schools, no union rules, no teacher tenure. Interestingly, he failed to point out what educators believe are the issues that affects student academics the most. Like small class sizes, adequate school supplies, collaboration between administrators and staff, stringent student discipline codes, modern classrooms with smartboard technology, and most of all, experienced teachers. However, when you are ignorant of the education process, it is easy to blame scapegoats such as the teachers sent to the "rubber room". Mr. Kristof simply follows the script of history when unpleasant facts are presented to you, deflect it by finding a scapegoat to blame it on.
A little history lesson is needed here. When the Black Plague decimated Europe in the 1300s, the leaders simply blamed the "Jews" for bringing the plague onto the people. It didn't matter that Jews were dying too. Just don't let the facts interfere with a good story. When the Joseph Goebbels Nazi propaganda machine would report the same lies over and over again, it soon was accepted as the truth, even by people who should have known better. Now we have Nicolas Kristof believing the Bloomberg and Klein lies of great student achievement when even the media mouthpieces of the New York Post and New York Daily News have now questioned the alleged academic improvements under their leadership. A more intelligent person who understands the phony hype of the New York City school's boast about academic improvement can be found in DianieRavitch's opinion piece in the New York Post.
Fast froward to the present where Nicholas Kriistof has swallowed the lies of Bloomberg and Klein and accepted the now discredited New York State tests while ignoring the baseline federal tests that documented no improvement in academic progress. More ominously, he blames the poor teachers who have been reassigned to the "rubber rooms" throughout New York City as a deterrent for further academic progress and has proclaimed every one of them "guilty". No hearing in front of an independent arbitrator, no acknowledgement that many teachers might be innocent and were railroaded by vindictive administrators. Just like the Jews in the 1300s, according to Nicholas Kristof, being a "rubber room" teacher is guilt enough.
Has it ever occurred to Mr. Kristof that many of the 700 teachers currently in "rubber rooms" throughout the city might be innocent? Don't you think it is strange that before the Bloomberg/Klein administration the "rubber room" averaged 90 teachers on a yearly basis. What accounts for the greater than sevenfold increase? Better investigators? That's a joke read here for the real story about the DOE investigative process. Maybe it is poor screening of teachers? Teachers in the "rubber room" average over 15 years of service. That can't be it. However, the sevenfold increase in "rubber room" teachers is probably attributed to three things. First, the increase in power to the principals who have almost complete authority to remove teachers under false, frivolous, or embellished charges as they see fit. Second, the fact that once removed, the teacher's salary is taken off the school's budget after only sixty days. Third, the fair student funding formula encourages principals to file charges to balance the school's budget and to hire newbie teachers at half the cost. Both Accountable Talk and Rubber Room Reporter talks about this. No Mr. Kristof, the vast majority of the teachers assigned to the "rubber room" are there because of power crazy principals, budgeting constraints, and age discrimination and that is the truth as I see it.
Stop scapegoating the "rubber room" teachers and start writing about the phony education reformers who spin statistics with their fuzzy math and the abusive principals that now run many of the schools. Only then will you earn my respect that you once had but lost as you pandered to the mob of phony education reformers at the expense of the teachers.
Mr. Kristof, why don't you sit in on a complete 3020-a hearing, from start to finish. You might be "shocked" to see and hear how ridiculous some of the charges are. Stalinist Russian trials are the closest examples of how the DOE lawyer operates at the 3020-a hearing, realizing the weakness of the case against the teacher,the DOE lawyer resorts to character assassination. Little wonder 90% of the teachers end up back in the classroom. However, the collateral damage done to the students when the school cannot replace the teacher with an adequate replacement is real but then again don't let the truth interfere with a good story. Right Nick? Nick, are you there?
Tweed's "children last" program continues as the DOE authorized the firing of 530 school aides while quietly adding to the central bureaucracy by hiring more lawyers and other non-educators. Many of the lawyers are being hired for the sole purpose to prosecute teachers and waste $250,000+ in the mostly vain attempt to terminate teachers through the 3020-a process. Since only 10% of the teachers are actually terminated, the DOE wastes over two million dollars for every ten teachers they file 3020-a charges on in their misguided attempt to go after senior teachers and fails at the task when it comes to termination.
The school aides are the lifeblood of the school system and are poorly paid, averaging $20,000 yearly. Many of the aides suffer with the low salary because of the generous health and welfare benefits that are associated with the position. The school aides, in many cases help run the school and do the most unattractive duties. In my school the school aids do the following:
contacting parents when children don't show up to school
checking student IDs
Clerical work for the Administration
Distributing books and other school supplies
I'm sure there are other duties that I have missed and without the school aides many essential services are delayed or not done which affects the school and the children. The lack of adequate school aides affects the proper operation of the school and weakens the learning environment of the students. Interestingly, The DOE blames the principals and their school budget not on Tweed's money burning no-bid consultant contracts and the fourfold increase in the Accountability Office at headquarters. To the non-educators at Tweed, it doesn't matter that the lawyers and public relations officials hired by them are of no value whatsoever to student academics and waste precious funds that could be used in the schools. "Children first"? Don't make me laugh it is "children last" when it comes to Joel Klein's DOE.
One of the most corrupt process the DOE perpetrates on the teacher is the investigation process when allegations are made against the teacher. In almost all cases the investigation is biased and unfair and assumes the teacher is guilty. The DOE investigation process is to try to substantiate teacher guilt, no matter how frivolous the charges are. Credibility is assumed for the accuser, be it a student or an Administrator, while the teacher is presumed to be not credible. It is not about the truth for these investigators it is to "get the teacher" no matter what it takes. These investigators try their best to get teachers terminated and speaking with them just gives these investigators the tools to hang the teachers on their own words. Let's look at the corrupt DOE investigation process.
Principal's Investigation: This is the least serious and the most corrupt of the investigations if the Principal does not like the teacher. The Principal investigates incidents that OSI and SCI dump back to them since they are not considered serious enough for the two investigative units to waste manpower on. However, the Principal is not an experienced investigator and will intimidate students or staff when doing the investigation. Furthermore, the Principal is prone to ask leading or misdirected questions that lead to erroneous statements. An example would be as follows:
Principal: "Did the teacher threaten to hit you"? Student: "No". Principal": Did you think the teacher could hit you"? Student: "Yes" Principal: So you were scared that the teacher could hit you"? Student: "I guess so".
The Principal then directs the student to write a statement that he felt threatened by the teacher with physical harm. Therefore, the teacher is removed and is charged with A-420 (corporal punishment). You think that can't happen? Think again, it happens every day as principals target teachers they do not like or want in their school. You can find my take of A-420 (corporal punishment)and A-421 (verbal abuse) here. Because the DOE lawyers know about the poor interviewing skills by the Principal, they usually try to settle with the teacher for a fine and a course or two rather than presenting the case to the 3020-a Arbitrator.
Office Of Special Investigations: (OSI) Occasionally, the allegations of corporal punishment or verbal abuse is serious enough that OSI will do the investigation. The first question the OSI investigator asks the Principal is: "How do you feel about the teacher"? If the Principal does not like the teacher, the OSI investigator will substantiate the most frivolous of incidents as serious and ask for the teacher's removal. An example of this can be found in Betsy Combier's blog here and here where the OSI investigator, Dennis Boyle, lied when he substantiated the phony corporal punishment charges on teacher Glenn Storman. A subset of OSI is the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) and they investigate discrimination, gender bias, or sexual orientation issues. Usually the only time they give a fair investigation is when it is teacher vs. teacher.
Special Commissioner Of Investigations: (SCI) The most serious investigation is by SCI who have the ability to arrest the teacher. SCI is called in when allegations of a criminal or sexual nature is reported. The SCI investigators are semi-independent of the DOE. However, they are paid by the DOE and are listed in the DOE payroll by the City here. While, few teachers are actually arrested, these ex-police officers can show up unannounced at the teacher's residence, school, or vehicle hoping to get the teacher to talk. More about SCI can be found here and is required reading. The SCI investigators assume teacher guilt and will go to great lengths to substantiate teacher guilt. An example of how far SCI will go is the case of Teddy Smith where the SCI investigator substantiated the impossible. In other words he lied! You can find the shocking details here and on Betsy Combier's blog.
The Union Position On Investigations: The UFT position on investigations are as follows:
Meet with the Principal and a union representative (usually the Chapter Leader) about the findings of the Principal's investigation. Answer questions and follow the lead of the union representative in crafting your response.
Meet with the OSI investigator and a union representative (usually a retired union member, sometimes the District Representative) and answer the questions simply and directly unless the union representative tells you otherwise.
Never speak to an SCI investigator without a UFT supplied lawyer. If you are a tenured teacher, your lawyer will tell SCI not to contact you again and you will never talk to them under any circumstances.
My Position On Investigations: Give only simple yes/no answers to the Principal about the allegations leveled against you. If you choose to explain the allegation, make sure it is what you will also say in front of the 3020-a Arbitrator. Any inconsistency in statements by you can lead to termination. Remember they can lie but you can't!
As for both OSI and SCI? "Do not talk to them at all"! These investigators are out to get the teacher, truth and justice are irrelevant. Therefore, any defense you mount can and will be used against you by the investigators. Furthermore, the more you say the greater the chance you will give the investigators the ammunition they need to get you. Again, "do not talk to investigators"!
What the union must do to ensure fair and impartial investigations: Once a Principal calls in one of the investigative units, the union, by contract, will provide an independent investigator who will join the investigation and be allowed to ask any witnesses the same questions the DOE investigators ask. If the independent investigator agrees with the DOE investigators that the charges are serious and true enough for the teacher to be removed. then 3020-a charges can be issued. However, if the independent investigator disagrees with the DOE investigator, the teacher cannot be removed from the classroom and no 3020-a charges can be filed. However, a mediation panel can be used to determine a lesser penalty, if any, for the teacher. Of course the mediation panel should have no ties either to the DOE or the UFT .
In no case can a Principal be allowed to remove a teacher when the investigative units have dumped the allegations back to the Principal. The maximum punishment the Principal can do is to give the teacher a letter to the file as a result of the accusation.
Until a fair and independent investigation procedure is put in place, teachers are just target practice for the DOE firing squad.
Many of the Principals that graduate from the so called "Leadership Academy" have brought down the profession and have worsened morale in the schools they control. However, I must bring up one of these principals that have turned the corner and in his second chance to be a Principal has made my Hall of Fame as he worked hard to become a quality Principal . The Principal is Carleton Gordan who's first assignment after graduating from the "Leadership Academy" was given a Brooklyn school with a challenging population to turn around. Like many of the "Leadership Academy principals" he only made things worse by blaming staff, caused a high teacher turnover rate, and allowed student discipline problems to go unchallenged. He was eventually removed and this might have been the end of his career as a Principal in the New York City schools. However, Mr. Gordan was given a second chance and in 2004 he become Principal of IS 59 in Queens. In the next few years he took the school from confusion to collaboration. He was credited with working with the staff to improve the school culture and morale. Parents, students, and teachers all sang his praises and few teachers left the school.
How respected was the Principal? Teachers would not take a union representative with them to meet with Mr. Jordan (not a good idea by the way). Furthermore, he investigated any allegations in-house and took appropriate action when necessary without calling in the anti-teacher investigative units that could result in unfair teacher removals and a loss of instruction to the students. For him the collaterial damage to students due to a loss of a good teacher was the most important factor not how he felt about the teacher.
A few years ago in a special education high school class a substitute teacher overheard a conversation between two students about a teacher in IS 59. The substitute teacher reported the conversation to the high school Administrator who called in OSI to investigate the teacher. Despite obvious flaws in the investigation, gross inaccuracies of time and place, and Principal Gordan's insistence that they were barking up the wrong tree, the Office of Legal Services sent the teacher to the "rubber room". The investigation ended up with the teacher being arrested and stood trial. After the jury heard all the evidence and inconsistencies, it took the jury a full 22 minutes to acquit the teacher. Yes! You have read it right 22 minutes! The Principal not only testified about the teacher's character, but explained the obvious inaccuracies of the student statements and allegations of the situation. When the prosecutor realized that the Principal was not answering the questions the way he wanted, he asked why the Principal was dong this. The Principal's response was to say "do you want me to lie?This is about the truth right"?
Believe it or not the teacher is still in the "rubber room" facing 3020-a charges on the same incident and one of the DOE's star witnesses against the teacher is? You guessed it Principal Gordan. Good luck DOE you are going to need it.
The DOE claims that they take bullying very seriously and in the newspaperGay City News , claim that they have strengthened the "Respect For All" program. However, the truth is that while the DOE tries to strengthen anti-bullying policies for students they are doing the opposite when it comes to teachers. Under non-educator Joel Klein's tenure, principals, many of them with little or no classroom experience, have been abusing their staffs and bullying them with threats of removal if they complain.
I have spoken to some Chapter Leaders (CLs) about the bullying of staff and they told me that the Principals seem to think they are empowered to do as they please in their schools. For example, one Principal assigned a "newbie teacher" two lunchroom monitor assignments despite the union contract. When the CL confronted the Principal about it he told the CL that the teacher volunteered to do the assignments. Of course this was untrue and when the CL tried to get the "newbie teacher" to grieve it she said that the Principal threatened to fire her (she's untenured) and needed the job. Another CL informed me that she was told that the Principal was not paying teachers to stay after school and participate in a late dismissal bus program that extended the teacher's day an extra 45 minutes. Under the previous Principal this was a per session job and many of the teachers shared the responsibility. However, the old Principal was forced to retire and a "Leadership Academy Principal" took her place. This "Leadership Academy Principal" with less than two years in the classroom, forced untenured teachers to volunteer to work the late dismissal program without compensation. The CL did grieve it but the DOE is delaying hearing the case and in the meantime the program is in effect without compensating the teachers.
Under Joel Klein's tenure, Tweed has always took the administrator's side when they bully the teachers. Tweed is known to find ways to violate teacher rights in the contract. You just need to look at the many grievances the union has to file on the same issues that are clearly stated in the contract. However. our union must be more aggressive in going after Principals that bully and abuse the school staff. That means that the District Reps (DRs) must be given both the authority and the means to intercede with the Principal and let them know that abusing and bullying a staff member is unacceptable and will result in serious consequences if they do not stop it. Presently, many of the DRs seem either not to care or are unable to get bully principals to stop abusing school staff.
Finally, the union collects 140 million dollars from our dues. Some of that money should be spent on independent investigators who are called in by the union when an investigation of a teacher is started. Presently, there is no independent investigation process that is fair to the teacher and without an independent investigation, more and more teachers are subject for removal from the school simply because of an allegation, true or not. More about unfair investigations in my next post.