Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My New Year's Wish List

It is time for me to post my New Year's wish list for 2010. While I truly hope that many of them come true, I will not be holding my breath waiting for my wishes to happen.

New Contract: I hope that we will see a new contract that gives us the "City pattern" which is for two years at 4% per year, minus the 0.58% owed to the City for getting back the two days before Labor Day. More importantly, this contract shall not allow for any "givebacks". Under Randi Weingarten's helm we have already gave up too much and any "giveback" is one "giveback" too many. I also recommend that we keep PERB out of the negotiations since going to PERB can provide cover to include "givebacks" in any future contract. Therefore, to ensure a contract with no "givebacks", don't go to PERB!

ATRs: The union must demand that all excessed teachers in the subject area be placed before a Principal can hire "newbie teachers". This simple and fair procedure will eliminate the ATR problem and allow the DOE to hire "newbie teachers" when a real shortage exists. No waivers or exemptions can or should be allowed as was done this year.

Teacher Control: We need to regain control of the classroom and stop using the "one-size-fits-all" methods like the "Workshop Model" that do not work well with many of our urban population and just results in skyrocketing teacher incompetence charges. Moreover, the disciplinary codes against teachers have resulted in more and more teachers being charged with misconduct when there was no misconduct. No wonder we have overcrowded "rubber rooms".
We really need to let teachers control their classrooms to ensure a safe and learning environment. Teaching scared using a program that does not work and with a threefold increase in paperwork over the years is not conducive for real classroom learning. Finally, even the students know that they can get a teacher in trouble by simply making up a story and having his or her friend agree.

Teacher Respect: It is time for our union leaders to organize the 80,000 strong teachers into a potent force by demanding teacher respect from the DOE and their anti-teachers leaders at Tweed. This can be done by the union actively going after the more abusive Principals, known as PINI Principals. Instead of writing about them in the New York Teacher, bring the mainstream media into it. Further, the union can file a PERB complaint against the DOE for allowing a hostile work environment and/or file a lawsuit when serious abuses by the Principal are uncovered. It is difficult for teachers to be respected when the students see how the Administrators abuse them.

Leadership Shakeup: So far Michael Mulgrew has not changed Randi Weingarten's top staff since taking over the UFT presidency. We still have the same failed and out of touch, double pension Randi loyalist in positions of power within the union. It is time that Michael Mulgrew make some real leadership changes and put more involved people into positions that deal directly with the membership.

There are more but let's start with these five issues first and see how it goes and to everybody have a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa Claus And The Department Of Education - How The DOE "Grinch" Terminated Him

In the DOE's never ending quest to bring in "newbie teachers", many of them the two year wonders from "Teach For America" and the "Teaching Fellows" programs. Here is a story about one "Teaching Fellow", a jolly old man named Santa Claus. Santa Claus wanted to make a difference with the children year round, not just Christmas. After carefully reviewing all the possible jobs he felt he could make a difference in, he settled on teaching where he can interact with the children year round (including summer school). However, there was a slight problem, Santa was not certified and the normal certification process takes years. Lucky for Santa, this was Chancellor Joel Klein's DOE and Santa could apply to teach as a "Teaching Fellow" and get his certification while actually teaching, what a deal! Since Santa had no educational experience, he was considered a "newbie teacher" and received $45,530 annually. Santa thought this was great, he could spend his salary on making more and better toys for the children of the world and if he lasts long enough a pension and retiree health benefits for him and his reindeer crew. What a deal!

Unfortunately, for poor old Santa this is Joel Klein's DOE where any student's accusation or administrator's claim is believed and soon poor old Santa was jettisoned out of the classroom and found himself in the Teacher Reassignment Center (TRC), known as the "rubber room". Santa did not know why he was removed from the classroom since the administrator refused to tell him why, despite violating last year's negotiated "rubber room" agreement, his reassignment letter only said he was under investigation for "misconduct". However, there was no specifics to the misconduct accusation.

Santa found himself surrounded by teachers, most his age, who were squeezed into a room that was to handle half the amount of people and when poor Santa tried to sit down, the site supervisor called the "Warden" summoned him in and read him the "riot act" and placed him at a different table with a broken plastic chair. Eventually, some teachers befriended him and told him to handle it the best he can. He was told by the teachers to call the union representative, known as the "General". Santa Claus called the "General" who told him to keep quiet and don't tell anybody about your case. Santa said how can I tell them about my case when I don't even know my case? The "General" also told him that do not listen to the teachers at the TRC. They give you bad advice and I will see you in my monthly visit to the TRC. Santa was now bewildered, the union representative told him to be quiet and Santa was still clueless on why he was reassigned.

Two months later two men in suits showed up at the TRC and wanted to question poor old Saint Nick about the alleged incidents at his school. The liaison at the TRC told him that he shouldn't speak to these two men because they are from the Special Commissioner of Investigations (SCI) and their job is to "get the teacher" and not to determine the truth. The liaison further told Santa that if you say the wrong thing, they have the power to arrested you and lock you up. However, Santa decided to ignore the liaison and spoke to the two men without union representation. Santa was reassured by the two investigators that if he cooperated fully with them he would be out of the TRC in no time and get back to his career. The lead investigator asked Santa why he called the girls Hoes in his classes. Santa said "I did not call them Hoes, I said ho, ho, ho, when I laugh"The investigator writes Santa's response and the lead investigator ask the next question. Why did you put students on your lap? Santa responded "to find out what they wanted for Christmas. I am Santa Claus and this is what I do". The next question was do you ask the students about their personal lives? Santa responded "of course I need to know if they are naughty or nice". Many students complained that you were stalking them since you seemed to know about their families when no other teacher did that. Santa responded by saying "it is my business to know everything about the children". The SCI investigators thanked Santa for meeting with them and for his candor in explaining the misunderstandings with the students and that he will be out of the TRC quickly.

Santa left the interview room and told the liaison that everything was resolved and I will be back at my school soon. The liaison told him he hoped he was right but very few people who cooperate with SCI are found innocent. Two months later Santa was summoned to a disciplinary meeting at the Superintendent's office where the DOE "Grinch" gave the SCI report to Santa Claus and his union representative. The SCI report found Santa Claus guilty of sexual misconduct and recommended his termination. The SCI report findings were as follows:

  • Verbal sexual abuse - calling female students Hoes
  • Sexual harassment - asking them about their personal lives (naughty or nice).
  • Sexual touching - putting children on his lap.
  • Stalking - following the students around and looking into their families.

To twist the knife even further, SCI is sending their investigation report to the District Attorney for possible criminal prosecution.

Two weeks later the "Warden" called in Santa Claus and handed him a one page letter that said the DOE "Grinch" has terminated Santa Claus for inappropriate behavior as a teacher and since you are not tenured, the DOE has the right to fire you. Have better success in your next career. SCI did keep their promise and Santa Claus is no longer at the TRC. Yes, even Santa Claus could never survive in today's DOE under the true "Grinch", Chancellor Joel Klein and his non educator cronies who impose rules on teachers that don't seem to apply to them.

Last year I wrote about how the DOE was able to get rid of a tenured Santa Claus Here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Response To Mayor Bloomberg's Speech On "Rubber Room" Overcrowding, the ATR Crises, And Tenue. Part 3: Tenure

This is the last part of my responses on Mayor Bloomberg's Washington D.C. speech on the "rubber room', ATRs. and tenure. In my previous responses I discussed what Mayor Mike and Chancellor Klein wants to obtain from teachers in exchange for the "City pattern" despite no other union agreeing to "givebacks" for the same "City pattern" Their demands are to fire all "rubber room" teachers, give ATRs a one year time limit, and as for tenure? They want none. What Bloomberg and Klein want is what no self-respecting union can never allow.

Bloomberg and Klein want to use student test scores to determine tenure and the right for principals to layoff teachers as they please rather than seniority. Both proposals require State legislative action to occur and the State teachers union (NYSUT) will never allow this to happen. Moreover, I do anticipate our own union (UFT) will never agree to these outrageous demands anyway. In fact, even the ATR one year time limit is a backdoor attack on tenure and a further reason that our local and State unions will not give one inch on anything that affects tenure.

Any changes to tenure is non-negotiable even if some well meaning bloggers think it is okay to strengthen tenure provisions. I might even agree with a blogger that a strengthened tenure process for "newbie teachers", with reasonable benchmarks, might actually work better than allowing principals to make tenure decisions based upon their likes or dislikes. However, any change to the tenure process, no matter how well meaning and fair, put the tenure issue on a slippery slope for more and significant erosion of teacher tenure rights. Remember, Tweed not only wants to reduce retiree health benefits and pension costs but to encourage senior teachers to resign by making the classroom an unceasingly hostile work environment. Therefore, there should be no retreat on the tenure issue. The same goes for the seniority issue where many principals would jettison senior teachers in a moment if they could pick or choose who gets laid off. For the DOE and their principals it is not what is best for the students it is about their control and budget or I know it as "education on the cheap".

When it comes to the tenure issue, I agree with our union that this issue is non-negotiable and no change in the tenure process is possible since it will lead for demands for further and more serious attacks on teacher tenure in future contracts.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Response To Mayor Bloomberg's Speech On The "Rubber Room" Overcrowding, The ATR Crises, And Tenure Part 2: The ATR Crises

The ATR crises was created by Chancellor Joel Klein and his non-educator cronies in a futile attempt to force highly paid senior teachers out of the system. I would like to say our union played no part in the ATR crises but they did when they not only gave up the seniority transfer system but allowed the DOE to ignore excessed teachers and encourage principals to hire lower paid "newbie teachers" who had no classroom experience instead. In fact, I complained years ago that our union actually encouraged the recruitment over retention policy by the DOE by buying into new teacher initiatives such as subsidized mortgages and apartments for the "newbie teachers". By contrast, no such programs were available to experienced teachers who struggled to provide their families with affordable housing and a decent salary in our high cost of living region. In fact, the terrible 2005 contract gave the most benefit to the "newbie teachers" by dramatically raising their salaries at the expense of the experienced teacher. However, the legacy of the 2005 contract was an explosion of ATRs, many of them senior teachers with a long resume of outstanding service.

Since 2003 Bloomberg and Klein have started a crusade to try to close schools and replace them with smaller themed or charter schools and this tactic has been very successful. It does not matter that the new schools opened by the DOE do not show any significant progress once the carefully screened first two student classes leave these schools. When the small schools are required to accept ELL, special education, and "at risk" students, the phony academic progress in the first two years of the school's existence disappears. The long-term result of the school closing crusade is an ever increasing excessed teacher population called ATRs. Presently, there are over 1,300 ATRs and with 20 more schools closing next year and with a 1.5% budget reduction starting in February as well as an additional 2.5% budget reduction next school year(excluding any State education cuts) look for the ATR figure to rise above the 2,000 person mark. Bloomberg & Klein's solution to the ATR crises? Fire them after being an ATR for one school year if they cannot get a permanent classroom position.

Every time the union tries to strike an agreement with the DOE on the ATR problem, the DOE seems to simply ignore the agreement and very few ATRs are given an actual classroom position. Interestingly, there were 1,354 ATRs and 586 vacancies in mid-October with the DOE already granting 125 exemptions. However, despite the deadline passing as of October 31, 2009 the DOE has refused to release how many vacancies were given exemptions and how many ATRs were hired for the vacancies. The only information that was leaked out was that 14 schools had their vacancies taken away from their budget. It will interesting to see when Gotham Schools obtain the numbers and how many vacancies received an exemption. I do suspect that our union does know what happened to the vacancies based upon comments by acting President, Mike (call me Michael) Mulgrew but are not prepared to release them.

The ATR population are dominated by senior teachers who in many cases were not selected by the small schools replacing the closing large school. The reasons are simple, it is about control and the budget, it is not what is best for the children. Many of the new small schools have an inexperienced Principal and a teaching staff of nontenured teachers who may or may not last the school year and more than half of them will not be teaching in the school five years down the road. I call this "children last" because if Bloomberg and Klein really cared about the children, they would demand that the principals hire experienced teachers, with good classroom management skills, a quality teacher, and would require the principals to hire what is best for the students not what is best for them.

Solving the ATR crises is very easy. The DOE must hire excessed teachers in the subject area before "newbie teachers" are hired, no exemptions, waivers, or other excuses. Once this simple measure is implemented, the problem will disappear and the DOE can save 120 million dollars a year. A win-win situation for everybody. Except for the insecure and vindictive Principal and his/her Tweed allies.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Response To Mayor Bloomberg's Speech On How To Solve the "Rubber Room" Overcrowding, The ATR Crises, & Tenure. Part 1: The "Rubber Room" Problem

We all know how Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein wants to solve the "rubber room" overcrowding, the ATR crises, and make tenure more difficult. However, their idea is quite different than our union or mine for instance. According to Michael Best, the head of DOE legal services, all teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct will be taken off payroll until their hearings and if found innocent, will get their jobs back. Of course that is unrealistic and violates the State's "due process" law. Therefore, in this post I will tell you how to eliminate the "rubber room" overcrowding back to the pre Bloomberg/Klein era when only teachers subject to criminal or serious sexual issues were removed. During the days before Bloomberg and Klein the amount of teachers removed ranged from 80 to 100 teachers, now the figure is between 600 and 700, a sevenfold increase and costing the DOE 60 million dollars annually.

Presently, a teacher just needs to piss off a Principal to find that teacher removed to the "rubber room". Since the Principal only has the removed teacher on her budget for sixty days after his removal and if the teacher is older and makes a high salary the temptation to remove the teacher is very real. Even teachers who are subject to OSI and SCI investigations have frivolous charges filed as both investigative agencies start the investigation with the presumption of teacher guilt and the teacher is not given a fair investigation and any innocent or defensive action is interpreted as "proof of guilt". Therefore, to stop the abuse of both the corrupt investigative process and the release of the vast majority of the "rubber room" teachers, I propose the following process.

First, any teacher who is not arrested for criminal or sexual issues could only be removed from his or her assignment after a three person mediation panel, paid for by both the DOE and UFT, interviews the major players, including the accused teacher to determine the seriousness of the charges. If the three person panel agrees that the charges are both real and serious. Then and only then can the DOE remove the teacher from the school. If the three person panel decides that the charges have been embellished, distorted, perverted, or false and does not raise to the level of serious. The Principal can only give the teacher a letter to his or her file. This would limit the "rubber rooms" to the serious cases.

Second, to ensure a fair investigation, a UFT assigned investigator will work with the DOE investigative agencies to determine the extend of the alleged teacher misconduct. The UFT assigned investigator will sit in on all witness interviews and will write their own report. If the UFT assigned investigator report is at odds with the DOE investigation report, both reports will be given to the three member panel as evidence for determining the level of seriousness of the charge and the removal of the teacher to the "rubber room".

Finally, the three member panel can also recommend action be taken for administrative misconduct when it is discovered that the charges against the teacher are bogus, discriminatory, or greatly exaggerated. Fines against the administrators can be issued when the three member panel determines such administrative misconduct.

While some of you may disagree on my recommendations. It is certainly a first step to bring real sanity into the "rubber room" process.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Michael Mulgrew, You Talk A Good Game. However, I Am Still Waiting For Real Action By The Union

I was impressed with the tone of our acting President's letter to his members and his responses to Michael Bloomberg's onslaught against the teachers union. However, all talk and no action has been the legacy of our past President which has resulted in Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein riding roughshod over the teachers union this decade.

Over the last decade we have given up some of our "due process" rights in disciplinary hearings, seniority transfers, the right to file grievances, classroom independence, gave up a professional period, and the increase in the school day for a 43% increase in pay. This averages out to be a 4.3% annual increase for the decade which is below the decade inflation rate of 4.5%. Is it any wonder that I am suspicious of all the rhetoric that comes out from our union President? If Mike (call me Michael) Mulgrew wants me to support the current union leadership, here is the actions I expect him to implement.

  • File PERB complaints against the PINI principals that the New York Teacher complains about but does nothing to stop it. The DOE will wary of wasting money defending these undependable and vindictive principals and take steps to stop the abuse.
  • Start an age discrimination lawsuit against the City and Tweed that has resulted in the ATR crises and overcrowded "rubber rooms".
  • Require independent and fair investigations of alleged teacher misconduct. This is especially true for Chapter Leaders. Presently, the investigations process is biased against the teacher and this must change.
  • Demand and obtain takebacks and no more givebacks in the next contract. Some of the takebacks should include but not be limited to: Allowing grievances for letters to the file, elimination of circular six, and no hiring of teachers until excessed teachers in the subject area are placed.
Mr. Mulgrew if you want my vote, then let's see some concrete action. Nothing less will do.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bloomberg & Klein's "Final Solution" - The Extermination Of The Large Traditional High Schools

There is no longer any pretense on what Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein wants to do with the large traditional high schools in New York City. They have targeted them for extermination and use the space for small and possible charter schools. In turn, there will be hundreds of additional ATRs added to the ATR ranks, many of them senior teachers as the replacement schools only hire the young, cheap, and nontenured teachers. The media rags, the New York Post & Daily News will rant about the over 200 million dollars the DOE must pay for the over 2,000 ATRs and demand a time limit. Meanwhile, our union will remain defensive and hunker down and hope the bad press will go away.

What about the children? Bloomberg & Klein do not care about the children. For them it is "education on the cheap" and "blame the teacher" for the administrative mismanagement of the schools. Since I am familiar with Queens, let's see how Tweed caused this mess in the first place and the falling of the dominoes associated with the closing of the large traditional high schools..

Years ago under Joel Klein's tenure, Tweed closed down four large traditional high schools in southern Queens. August Martin, Far Rockaway, Springfield Gardens, and Franklin K. Lane . The small schools that replaced these closed schools were allowed to exclude English Language Learners and Special education students for the first couple of years, Moreover, the schools worked hard to discourage level one students with behavioral or attendance problems from selecting their schools by claiming to the parents that their school could not provide the services to help their child and that the large traditional high school would be a better choice. The result was that schools like Beach Channel high school received an influx of these low achieving students once slated to go to Far Rockaway high school. The same happened to Jamaica high school as these very same low achieving students from Springfield Gardens & August Martin high schools ended up at Jamaica high school. The result was a destabilization of both schools who are now slated for closing. Now what happens to these low achieving students who would normally go to both schools? Well if I was a staff member of John Adams, Richmond Hill, Martin Van Buren, and Hillcrest high schools, look for your schools to be destabilized and slated for closing in the next year or two and be welcomed to the ever expanding ATR ranks.

It is time for our union to stand up for these schools and fight tooth and nail to stop Tweed from closing these or any other schools without "just cause" and organize political and parent support to get rid of Chancellor Joel Klein and his non-educators at Tweed who are destroying the New York City Public School System. We are supposed to be a powerful union. How about using this power for once?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Shame On Tweed For Closing Down Jamaica High School - Shame, Shame, Shame

It has finally happened! Chancellor Joel Klein and his non-educator flunkies at Tweed have finally succeeded in destroying one of the great schools in New York City with a century long history, Jamaica High School. It was as recently as 1985 that the Federal Department Of Education ranked Jamaica High School the #1 secondary school in the nation. Yesterday the DOE formally announced the closing of Jamaica High School after they setup the school for failure. Under Joel Klein's awful stewardship and his anti-large school stance, the school suffered from terrible decision making by past and present school leaders in and out of the school that resulted in an exodus of both quality students & teachers, poor and inept leadership at the school, starved it for funds, was treated as an "impact school" by the City in 2005, found itself unfairly placed on the State's "most dangerous schools list" in 2007, and encouraged students to transfer out of the school or discouraged perspective students from selecting the school in the first place. The result was a school that was underpopulated while having large class sizes and only receiving the bottom feeders of the student body.

The closing of Jamaica High School was no great surprise to many who watched helplessly as Tweed dismantled the school step by step. I previously wrote about what the DOE was doing to the school Here, Here, Here, Here, and Here. Still, it was shocking that Tweed ignores the community and student body and goes on their merry way to destroy the traditional large high schools while lobbying for small or Charter schools to replace them. How ridiculous is it that nearby schools like Francis Lewis is bursting at the seams while Jamaica High School can't attract enough students to fill the school.

Despite repeated pleas by the community to allocate the necessary funds to help the school, Tweed instead placed a specialized school in the building in 2008 and made no effort to encourage students in nearby overcrowded schools to transfer to Jamaica. Furthermore, Tweed penalized Jamaica High School by cutting their budget and starving the school for funds.

Jamaica High School was one of the great high schools in the nation and because of Mayor Mike and Chancellor Klein, a 117 year history of accomplishment will disappear. The closing of Jamaica High School is a great loss for the City's culture and community pride. Shame on Tweed for what they are doing. Shame, shame, shame.

P.S. Where will the "at risk"students go with Jamaica High School closing? How about Thomas Edison, Martin Van Buren, Hillcrest, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, John Adams, & John Bowne? Yes these schools will be next in the slowly spreading plaque of destroying the large high schools in Queens.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Bloomberg & Klein Declares War On Teachers - When Will Our Union Fight Back?

For all you teachers who were waiting for the 8% raises in the next contract, dream on. It is now very obvious that Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein will not give us a contract without some outrageous "givebacks" that the union will never allow. This means do not look for a contract anytime soon. While some union officials think that the UFT's decision to explore the PERB option is just a ploy to give the City and the union political cover to approve the "City Pattern", which is two 4% raises (minus the 0.58% for the two days before Labor Day) without any "givebacks", I do not think this is the case. As recently as a couple of months ago both the Sargent's Benevolent Union and the Teamsters local 237, along wih other unions, agreed to this "City Pattern" during the height of the City's budget crises and we should be no different. However, it appears that Bloomberg is looking to break the power of the teachers union by demanding "givebacks" and will not negotiate a fair contract without winning some of them.

I previously explained why we should not agree to any "givebacks". I now also believe that our union should not agree to PERB mediation since the default is the"City Pattern" and we will be forced to allow "givebacks" to achieve the raises. Therefore, it is best to force the City to come to terms without PERB mediation and if the City refuses to do that then charge the City with "bad faith" bargaining and ask permission to strike. Moreover, the union needs to fight back and file PERB complaints against administrative abuses which will force Tweed to defend their vindictive administrators time and again. In time, Tweed will wary of defending abusive principals and the City will eventually "cry uncle" as they will be forced to layoff newbie teachers and spend 160 million dollars yearly paying ATRs and "rubber room" teachers who were unfairly denied a classroom position.

Time is on our side, not the City's. It is the City that is wasting upwards of a billion dollars on non-classroom positions, high-priced consultants, and dubious educational programs. If Bloomberg & Klein wants a fight. They are fighting with one hand tied behind their back. We should oblige them and if we stick together, we will win in the end. We can knockout Bloomberg/Klein and their media supporters by aggressively fighting back with our own advertising blitz by showing them solutions such as lower class sizes, smaller central bureaucracy, and programs that help the classroom. Finally, at the Delegate Assembly, Michael Mulgrew must draw a line in the sand and commit to never allow a time limit on the ATRs, and ensure due process for teachers in the "rubber rooms". In this total war with Bloomberg and Klein, no retreat is possible.