Monday, October 8, 2012

Something's Changed

Has anyone noticed a common thread between the stories of Patricia Dawson and Tiffany Webb (I've gone to some lengths to make sure her picture isn't posted in that link, btw)?

I see three things worth mentioning.

1. They're both describe as 'highly regarded'. It used to be that the department would only go after the type of professionals who they could describe as bad. This would make it easy for the average guy reading the paper on the way to work in the morning to say to himself 'eh, well..sounds like a bad teacher to me'.

It doesn't look the DOE is making any qualms about going after good, effective professionals anymore. They just don't seem to care about how the they or the department as a whole will be perceived. That's a shift. They're going after the good ones now. That's a real big shift.

2. Both cases associated with the internet. Webb's pictures had been circulating the internet for years (without her consent long after she stopped modeling). Dawson's comments came across Facebook (not just the internet, but that ubiquitous social network).

It's looking pretty clear that the DOE is is paranoid beyond reason about the effect the internet may have when it comes to their employees. While on one level, this may be a perfectly genuine concern (how does an institution as big as this grapple with the effects of inter connectivity?), it has to be pointed out that they are using their equivalent of their criminal prosecution arm in order to address this dilemma.  That's abuse (imagine Mubarak turning to his one of his police forces to address the internet (Oh, wait, you can't. it already happened)). That's simple abuse.

But why are they paranoid about anything that comes across the internet?Well,  if you ask fellow blogger The Assailed Teacher, it's because the department desperately wants to establish guidelines concerning employees and the internet that they simply can't establish through the normal process writing of rules (because some of the rules they might want to create would cross the line of limiting speech that would otherwise be free).

His reasoning -which I have to say I agree with-is that in order to establish these guidelines, they have to rely on the department's version of judicial precedent -which partially comes from the decisions from 3020A hearings. Essentially, there are almost no guidelines for charging anyone and getting them to a 3020A hearing (where Ms. Dawson landed). At the end of that hearing, if the arbitrator issues findings that the act was wrong (such as Ms. Dawson's comment on Facebook), then the department wins -even if the employee isn't fired.

Speech is limited, but the rule is established. I hate to say this, but I agree with the reasoning -and with the explanation.

(PS) 3. more thing worth mentioning. Ms. Dawson's story is an example of what happens when the DOE charges someone WITH tenure. Ms. Webb's story? Well that's what happens when they charge someone withOUT tenure. In case you can't see the difference, let me explain it: Ms. Dawson still has her job with the DOE. Ms. Webb does not -and she is 100% innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

Something's changed here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Chancellor's Email to Teachers

In case you missed the chancellor's email to staff today, here it is. I  liked the part where he invited us to be in touch the great work we're doing. I'm SO going to take him up on that

Dear Colleagues,

As we begin the 2012-13 school year, I would like to welcome you back from summer break and wish you the best in the year ahead. I talk often about the importance of high expectations, so as we get ready to kick off this year I want to briefly share what I expect from you and what you can expect from me.

Simply put, I believe that all of our students have a right to a high-quality education, one that builds their academic skills and behaviors so they graduate from high school with the ability to think critically, use evidence to support their arguments, apply what they have learned to solve real-world problems, and demonstrate resilience in the face of obstacles.

Each school year—and each school day —is a chance to fulfill our students’ rights to become ready for college and careers. This opportunity is also an intricate challenge, one that makes significant demands on us as educators and that at the same time promises deep rewards. Delivering on this challenge begins with high expectations and a refusal to make excuses. Having faith in students’ abilities will not, by itself, guarantee high levels of student achievement, but it is an integral part of the equation. For the sake of our students and the future of our city, we must rise to meet this challenge.

Of course, as we all know, student achievement is not possible without strong instruction. This school year marks the next step in our multi-year transition to the Common Core standards. We are asking students to do more writing, to read a balance of fiction and non-fiction, and to solve real-world math problems. We are asking teachers to provide multiple points of entry so that all students, including those with disabilities and English Language Learners, can access these more rigorous standards. We are asking school leaders to provide educators with feedback and guidance. These expectations come with support: we will continue to make a wide variety of professional development resources available, including through networks, centrally offered trainings, and online tools like the Common Core Library.

Tomorrow marks the first school day this year in which we can shape the future of our 1.1 million students. I will be visiting a school in each of our five boroughs, and over the course of the school year you can expect to see and hear from me regularly. Please be in touch to share the great work you are engaging in and to let us know how we can best support you in your efforts.

The stakes are high. One in 50 American children is educated here in New York City. We are in a position of unparalleled responsibility and promise. All of our students are important, no matter where they live or their life circumstances. I am confident in our ability to serve our students and their families, and I wish you the very best in your endeavors this school year.


Dennis M. Walcott

Monday, August 20, 2012

The ARIS Self-Assessments

Lord knows that ARIS has its shortcomings. There are too many to list or even consider.  I don't want to disappoint anyone with a lack of cynicism,  but I am one to think that if we do great work, the bastards will leave us alone (or at least look like schmucks if they come after us). To that end, there is one area in ARIS that actually has some potential benefit. It's called the "Teacher Competencies Self Assessment"  ("Learn" tab/ "Self Assessments" sub tab "Teacher Competencies").

It's a self-assessment designed around Charlotte Danielson's Framework For Effective Teaching. It gives teachers a chance to grade themselves along the Danielson rubric in the same manner a supervisor might do so in the future (same areas. Same rubric). Using the self-assessment, a teacher can decide for him or herself just how well (s)he would score on each part of the observation rubric. At the end of the self-assessment, the teacher gets a check list identifying what level of competency the teacher thinks he or she has.

I just want to give you three reasons why you should consider taking the self-assessment.

  1. It's a good way to shake off the summer cobwebs and get your brain ready for teaching. All of us have the shake the cobwebs at some point. While I used to wait until the first few days of actual teaching, I've found that if I get this process over with in the final days of August, the transition into a work-life is much easier. I'm much more easy going as I prep and the kids have a more engaging time with my first few lessons.
  2. It'll help prepare you for possible agreement on the upcoming teacher evals. While most folks think the new system won't kick in until the next Mayor gets here, there is still an outside chance that the city and the UFT will come to agreement (thanks in large part to the Governor's promise to withhold state aid for all districts that don't reach agreement by next January). IF (and it's a big if) this happens mid-year, the eval process for many of us might change -in the middle of the year! That would be chaos for any teacher who wasn't well versed in the Danielson observation rubric (and if you have a bad supervisor, not knowing about Danielson might make you extremely vulnerable to unfair observations). Taking this assessment might get you ready for that possibility (maybe even more ready than your AP or P is).  When you're done with the assessment, you can print the results and keep it in a file in your classroom (ever ready to show a supervisor that you've been thinking about this stuff in detail).
  3. It'll help any teacher who's keen on improvement. Most of the outstandingly good teachers I've worked alongside aren't into the whole improvement thing. While I don't think there's anything wrong with not embracing the whole "I  must always improve" mantra, I have to admit that I do and there are things in this rubric from which almost every teacher can glean understanding to help them improve. While the need for improvement may not be worth giving up part of your summer for a whole course, a few minutes taking this self-assessment may not be so bad.
So if you're ready to start thinking about work again, the self assessment tool in ARIS isn't such a bad place to start

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Authentic What?

If we do great work, the bastards will leave us alone.

Alright, they won't. But when they come for us, they'll look like real schmucks to the whole world! So as I begin prepping for September, here are just a few questions I have about my students' experiences in my class:

1) If we want our students in a professional environment, why are we asking them craft "A Letter To The Editor" or "A Letter Home From ..." in history class? Why not simulate a professional environment assignment, like "Write a memo addressing .." Or "Write out a formal email to ..."?

2) If we want 10th graders to learn geography, why not have them use Excel to create a chart showing data like population of temperature?

3) If we have them create Powerpoint, why aren't the rubrics very tight and reflective of good Powerpoints (few words, reliance on the oral presentation and not the slidesshow, use of advanced animations that would wow an audience in a professional setting)?

4) If we want them in an environment of peer review, why aren't we having them do a homework on a blog and making them grade each other? At least having them peer grade their homework (I need to write about this at a later point in time)

5) When did social studies teachers stop doing formal, in-class debates?

Friday, August 3, 2012

My Kid; the Born Teacher

I just wanted to share this completely true story. 

So I'm sitting in the theater with my four year old 15 minutes before the movie -Ice Age 4- is about to start  I'm eating popcorn, drinking soda and watching my daughter look around the theater. Suddenly, and almost out of nowhere, she proclaims a new rule.

"Dad. No more popcorn until the movie starts, ok?"

Huh? I didn't want to hear to that. There was nothing else to do until the movie started and the popcorn was all nice and warm and buttery. Besides, she's four! So I did what most adults do -I ignored her and kept eating.

After a few moments of this I heard her voice again "Um, dad. I said no more popcorn until the movie starts". Apparently, my kid was serious.

But she's also four years old and in my home, she is not the boss of me. Feeling a little indignant, I  grabbed another piece from the bucket and took a bite. Then comes the voice again. "Dad, last time, no more popcorn until the movie starts".

Ok, reset. This kid is four years old and telling ME no? If there is such a thing as angrily ignoring someone, I did it. But this time, in order to avoid confrontation, I waited until her head was turned before I ate another piece of popcorn.

Her response was to turn her head and look at me -long and hard- just to make sure that she had my full  attention before proclaiming; "Daaad, I've got my eye on you".

And then she kept staring.

It was a weird moment. She just kept starting at me (and I, at her). This kid is four years old and she was staring at me to make sure I didn't do something that I really wanted to do. And here I was -staring back.

A few silently intense moments like this passed before I -the forty year old educated man- reacted like a small child. I grabbed a fist full of popcorn, and stared at her as I took a big obnoxious bite -like I was  taking a bite of an apple. And then got right in her face while I munched on the whole thing.

It was a knee-jerk reaction, and regrettably, a very sincere one. One that, in hindsight, probably wasn't my finest hour as a parent, but I wanted to let her know that this is what I think of being told "no" by someone who doesn't have the right to tell me no.

Teachers face moments like these all the time as we manage our classrooms. Students, like adults, don't like to be told what to do.  They certainly don't like to be told "no". And they absolutely don't like being told "no" when they can't recognize any other (worthy) thing to do.

Hell, I'm forty and I still fell this way. But teachers avoid confrontations (like mine) by engaging students within the classroom experience that we offer (our lesson's activity or activities) and then managing their behavior toward the activity.

 In this context, "managing behavior" becomes a very small component of student engagement. That's why they are two different areas of the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching (that's the framework upon which our observations and teaching artifacts will be based if NYC ever agrees to the new teacher evaluation system).

And, apparently, my four year old daughter figured this all out.

Because instead of slapping the popcorn out of my hand, or lecturing me a little more, my child completely changed tact. She gently rubbed my ear, gave me a little kiss on my cheek and said, "It's ok, da-da. Look. Just read what's on the screen to me, ok? Because I don't know all the words"

I then proceeded to read the movie trivia questions and answers to her out loud. As I did, I wasn't able to eat any popcorn (because I can't read out loud with food in my mouth). And my daughter just kept rubbing my ear while I did (in an awesome sign of trust, she even let me keep the popcorn on my lap!) Before long, the lights dimmed, the trailers began and she actually fed me my first piece.

Apparently, engaging someone in an activity in order to achieve the desired behavior is a somewhat natural thing.

My kid, the born teacher.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Goodbye 'Master Teachers'. We Hardly Ever Knew You

Do you remember last year, when the DOE sent out letters and emails inviting teachers to apply for Master Teacher positions at the restart and transformation schools? A lot has happened since then. When the DOE & UFT couldn't agree on an evaluation system for these schools, SED pulled the plug on the Federal Improvement Grants and Bloomberg tried to switch the model to Turnaround (partly as a way to keep the grant money).

We all know the results of that, don't we? Turnaround as it was tried by Bloomberg, was shot down. But what happened to those Master Teachers and Turnaround Teachers? Check out the letter the DOE sent them this week; they're under the bus. 

Turnaround and Master Teachers received this: Dear Master Teacher,
We are writing to update you on the status of the Master and Turnaround Teacher program for the next school year. As you may know, these positions will not continue for the 2012- 2013 school year and we wanted to ensure that you have clear information on your next steps for the coming year.
The UFT and DOE have agreed that Master and Turnaround Teachers will take their rightful place in seniority order on the school’s Table of Organization as a regular teacher unless one of the following options apply and you choose to exercise it:
· If there is a vacancy in your license area at your prior school, you will have a right to return to that the vacancy until school opening only; it is the teacher’s choice whether or not to take this option.
· If you and your current principal agree, then you may go into excess rather than staying at the school. Master and Turnaround Teachers going into excess may choose to go into excess in the current district or the district of their prior school. Decisions must be made by August 7, 2012.
· All Master Teachers and Turnaround Teachers will be invited to join the central Lead Teacher pool. Teachers in the central Lead Teacher pool may apply for and be selected into available Lead Teacher positions citywide through August 7, 2012.
· Consistent with the rights of all teachers, Master Teachers and Turnaround Teachers may seek a position at a new school via the Open Market through August 7, 2012.
To facilitate your transition, we ask that you indicate your preferences for next year by completing this short survey by August 1, 2012. Should you not respond to the survey, you will assume a position in your current school’s Table of Organization.

This is what happens when policy -and the politics that go with it on the local level- shifts twice in two years. good, earnest people wind up having their careers set back at least a bit. This is the business model! And those schools? Still in need of improvement.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

5 Things You May Not Know About the Christine Rubino Case

Here are five things you may not know about the whole Christine Rubino case:

1. Her case set an important PERB precedent that significantly limited the privacy of teachers. Because of this decision, statements that public employees make from their home on Facebook (even only to their 'Facebook friends') are now legally seen as publicly made comments. What we now say on Facebook is just as public as if we were to say it on TV or any other public forum.

2. Her case set another important PERB precedent; one that significantly limited the free speech of teachers: Because of Randi Lowitt's decisions, nothing we say on Facebook -if we reference our job or our students- is protected by the first amendment. Ms. Lowitt referred to this as the "teacher's hat" threshold. If we're discussing something that is a matter of public discussion, yet where our 'teacher's hat' by referencing our students, the first amendment doesnt' protect us.

3. The New York State Supreme Court agrees with the limited privacy and limited speech precedents set by Randi Lowitt's PERB decision. When she 'overturned' Ms. Lowitt's decision last February, Judge Barbara Jaffe did not overturn Randi Lowitt's 'findings' that limit free speech and privacy for teachers. In fact, the only thing she overturned in her decision was the actual punishment. She let the other findings stand.

4. The only 'teachers' rights' issue Ms. Rubino is fighting for with her appeal next month is the right to be fairly penalize for committing an infraction.  She's trying to fight for those First Amendment assertions, but a full fledged fight would take much more money, time and resources than any member of the middle class could possibly afford). All she just wants is to be fairly penalized so that she can get back to work.

5. According to Betsy Combier's 'Parent Advocates' blog -and another person- the students that she had originally vented over with her comments in the first place went on to middle school, where ...wait for it ... they were involved in the blinding of another little boy in the cafeteria. -an incident that shocked the whole city last June. I won't suggest any significance to that whatsoever. You can decide whether there is for yourself.  I just thought it  might be something you that ... may not know about the whole Christine Rubino case.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Another Arbitration Ruling Is Overturned By the Courts

This is becoming a trend!

A district 75 teacher and dean notified the guidance counselor about a student's suicide note instead of notifying the principal. The dean then turned the note over to the father -instead of keeping it with the school.

The DOE charged her with conduct unbecoming of a teacher (3020-a proceedings in DOE parlance).  Yes, you read that correctly. 

She was found guilty of interfering with a DOE investigation (because the note wasn't kept, but was given to the father instead)

The punishment? A $7,000 fine!!

Now outside the DOE, interfering with the police is only punishable by a $1,000 fine. So, naturally, the teacher got a lawyer and she did what more and more teachers are doing with these unfair harsh arbitrator decisions: She sued the DOE.

The decision? The judged agreed! The court ruled that the fine was harsh and excessive and sent it back to the arbitrator for a more humane penalty.

Or should I say human?

A $7,000 fine for giving the note to the father.  When the same charge in court would have brought only a $1,000 fine

Should teachers be held to a legal standard that is even higher than the average citizen?

The answer is clearly no. But  the NYCDOE doesn't seem to think so. And if you want that protection, you'll have to pay for a lawyer and fight for it in court.

Read the court ruling here. It tells the whole sordid tale.

Or read the post from The Assailed Teacher's blog for a more complete picture.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sure, But It's Not a Reorg

Let's review:
1. The DOE has undergone two full bore reorganizations since 2003.
2. In 2010, the DOE underwent what Gotham Schools called a third, although they wouldn't call it that.
3. This year, New York State submitted a NCLB Waiver application that would have NYC schools measure their data and reach AYP along different school districts, as opposed to one continuous school district, the way it is now. See the piece Geoff Decker from Gotham Schools wrote here. Please pay special attention to this passage here
New York City ...  will not be evaluated as one entire district, according to a provision. Instead, each of the city’s 32 districts would be evaluated based on state test scores for its schools
Common sense says that the networks -which run across the whole city, won't fit within the structure of the new accountability system (not that that's definitive. It's NYC, common sense sort of takes a back seat here).

4. This year, after the waiver application piece was published, a few Network leaders surprisingly took jobs as principals -a clear demotion in my opinion. This handsome guy caught wind of it through the rumor mill and published this post suggesting the possibility of another reorganization. It became the most viewed post ever of his blog. He didn't  want to get into what Google Analytic said about how many of those page views came from IP addresses within the NYCDOE (as I recall, teachers were on vacation when this post was published. Administrators (such as network people weren't), but it was a lot.

5. Rumors in June about network people being afraid that an ax was coming sometime within the month of July. Three rumors in all, but all through the one same 'friend', so no one published anything about it. I really don't care that much about it, because their reorg doesn't have much to do with my job, but the romors now bare mentioning because ...

6. ... just yesterday,  Francesco Portelos   observed network people (with UFT protections) entering the ATR, which Norm Scott published on his blog (here)

But wait, there's more! some of the network people took to Scott's comment section. One of them revealed what I believe to be the mother of hints as to what exactly is happening within the networks:
This all stems from NY State's lack of recognition of the network structure and only recognizing districts 
So the comment obviously points to the NCLB waiver (not recognizing the NYCDOE's (controversial) move away from geographic districts and to these networks) as the reason for THIS ALL happening.

But would a few UFT people entering the ATR from the networks constitute THIS ALL?

It seems absolutely clear to me that something more is coming, that that commenter at least feels that something more is coming is only backed up by a few very powerful hints: 1)measurement by district (dissing the networks) 2) some leaders jumping ship (to take on very difficult schools) 3) people already being placed in excess.

Sure, but it's not a reorg,

And they're not keeping it secret because they want to avoid giving too much opportunity to community leaders who have been locked out of the process for over ten years.

And I don't have a belly and Santa Claus is real and, oh, by the way, the city really wants to sell the Brooklyn Bridge (I know how to contact the broker).

The only thing that would upset me about a re org like this would be a democratic government hiding it from a city filled with stakeholders. Other than that, I truly don't care, but the writing is so clearly on the wall at this point. There IS a reorg coming and the DOE/city WANTS to keep it from public discussion.

That guy should have done a post called "things that make you go 'duh'"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's Important To Remember

That while there is a war on teaching, there is, in fact, a process happening in our society where the 'better half' is  able to provide opportunities for their children that 'other half' is not.

 This David brooks piece says it all. It's called an opportunity gap. And while the piece speaks more about society's commitment to the underclass, and less about schools', the points he raises have obvious wide reaching effects on our profession, our work and our students.

It's also important to remember that virtually everyone involved in education from a care-giver perspective is from the better half.

And maybe it's important to note that not much is being done about it as long as this polarizing debate within our profession rages on.

Well, I'm off take my daughter swim lessons, then gymnastics and her private pre-school's summer program!

Take care.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Few Notes About the Word Cloud

It's actually called a tag cloud. Read about it here. I'm not going to bother explaining why I made sure some names were larger than others. I'm not being snarky. I just don't think it matters. Instead, I just wanted to briefly describe some of the names most folks may not be familiar with. If there's a name that isn't described, you'll have to Google it. Some of the names are so obvious I don't think I should have to describe them -yeah, I'm totally being snarky (sorry! I"m usually not!!).

Anyway, in case you didn't know:

Socrates - Was the first teacher in the western world. Also the first one to be put to death (for teaching)
Plato - Established the gymnasia
Aristotle - Listen, he taught Alexander the Great. What more needs to be said?
St. Thomas Aquinas - Established Catholic School education
Mao Ze-dong - It's a little known fact that, as a general, Mao made sure his army taught Chinese peasants how to read and how to use better farming techniques. That's right, he created the first successful education system where the underclass became literate and had an occupational skill. He would have made a good Chancellor. That puts him on my list.
Bishop Mclaughlin - As the head of NYC's Archdiocese, he forcefully demanded equal public education for the city's underclass citizens (at the time, a social status occupied by his Catholic parishioners). He wasn't the last angry person to rail the establishment, but he sure was the first.
Jon Stewart Mill - Toward the end of his career, he argued for a publicly supported, compulsory education for all -a fairly debatable topic during his period of time.
Burke Noted how public education strengthens our social culture
Pestalozzi -He was a precursors to Dewey and Montessori. He wrote about how children should learn through activity (It's always an Italian who thinks of these great ideas. Hey, did you know the Helicopter, Hand-glider and Submarine were all invented by Italians too? mhmm!).
Hutchins _Thank him for the 'Chicago Model' -the idea that a liberal education should be taught and that learning should be measured by testing (somewhere, some psychometrician is thanking this guy for inventing their science). He would love NYS Regents Exams and VAM.

You can't have this word cloud, but you can have one just like it (here)

Friday, July 6, 2012

First Post

What does one say on a first post. Well. I'm me and this is my new blog.
More to come I guess.