Sunday, December 29, 2013

About Fariña: Just One Quick Note

Ednotes says that the NYTimes says that Carnen Fariña will be the next chancellor.

Fun fact: As a retired educator, Ms. Fariña is capped: She's not permitted to make more than a certain amount of money from a public institution per year. It's no big deal, actually. It just means that her appointment will require a waiver from NYSED.

What's worth mentioning is that our new chancellor will be the fifth in a row to require some type of waiver from the state in order to be appointed to the position (following Walcott, Black, Klein and Levy).

But there is one major difference between her and the others. (I've never worked in a system with a real educator in charge. Hmm... I wonder what that's like.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The New Chancellor (or What To Expect When You're Not Expecting Much)

Well another Friday has come and gone without an announcement as to who the next chancellor will be. Given that we won't have word until next Monday or even Tuesday, I thought it would be a good time to lay out the possible scenarios about how the pick might shape up and how that next pick may or may not bring actual change the DOE.

Scenario 1: "Sellout!" The fear is that the new mayor will sell us all out and pick a true-blue ed reformer as the next chancellor. That's not very likely. While the reformers would love to have sway over the next leadership (a $24 billion budget directed by one man has a tendency of doing that to people), the truth is that no spottings of Ed Reformers in NYC have been seen as of late. The rumors that Washington is pressuring BDB or that the pro-charter lobby in NYS is doing the same, are probably true, but meaningless. New York City has been the epicenter of reform and the reformers would not like to see it let go. But the fact is that NYC also has the largest contingent of activated, angry stakeholders in the nation. Those people vote and they know how to get on TV and in the papers. Now that we'll have an actual politician in office, he'll be inclined to listen to those people a little more and  I can't think of a reformer in the world who would want the job of chancellor without a mayor who will give them carte blanche to do whatever they want. Truth is, a sellout is probably not going to happen.

Scenario 2: "Farina or Cashin Hit the Ground Running"  It's not very likely, but there is the possibility that the next chancellor has known he or she has had the job for several weeks and has been quietly assembling the team that will be put into place when she (or he) goes in. If that's the case, and if the pick is either Cashin or Farina, then they'd be in a position to hit the ground running in January. They each have years worth of relationships and are the only two who would be able to assemble a team rather quickly if they wanted to (stress; if they wanted to. I can't think of any reason why anyone would want to rush into a job like this. Can you?).  If, on the other hand, the next chancellor knows he or she is it and it's not Farina or Cashin? Well, then there will be no hitting the ground running at all. Instead, there will be a slow, months long transition into however the DOE 2.0 will look.

Scenario 3: "Chancellor Shael" If no announcement is made, or if the announcement calls for a deferred start for the new chancellor, then look for DC Shael Suransky to assume control over at Tweed. Most folks don't realize that he was already acting chancellor once in his career. That's right! After Cathie Black departed, Shael was the chancellor for ten whole days, making Dennis Walcott the fourth chancellor (not third) under Michael R. Bloomberg. Suransky might be there for a week, or he might be there for several months as the 'new' chancellor begins to establish him or herself. If he is, don't count on much changing in the near future (Shael once called for standardized exams once every 12 weeks for NYC students!). Instead, pin your hopes on the more distant future.

Scenario 4: "New Chancellor; Old Leadership Staff". This is probably the scenario that will occur: If the new chancellor is announced on Monday or Tuesday, then he or she will probably be going in with a very small group of people loyal to him or herself. As he or she gets set up (it takes time to review policy and to review budgets (which are more important than policy as they dictate actual policy). It also takes time to review and interview staff. All the while, it is the nation's largest school district and it has to be run), the old staff will be humming right along with the old policies -and the old mindset. If the old leadership staff is in place, don't look for any big changes over at Tweed this winter. Whatsmore, if the old leadership staff is in place, and with the political need to a get money from Albany for the pre-K plan, don't look for much (not even the UFT contract) to be done anytime until Spring at the earliest. Even if there will be big changes at Tweed, try to imagine the process of turning a large cargo ship around 180 degrees. It's a slow process that takes a very very long time. Those hoping for drastic changes at Tweed should be warned: It will take an established chancellor years to sift through what the previous leadership team has been up to and perhaps years more to begin making needed changes. Did you expect the networks to immediately go away? Or the lawyers to stop running key parts of the system? Did you expect the $4 billion in consultants to start going to unionized men and women across the city, the way they were before Bloomberg? Or fair funding to just vanish? Fat chance. Replacing the old leadership staff with a new one will take months all by itself. Then the new chancellor can begin thinking about making his or her mark. During that time is budget season for both the city and the state -and it will be de Blasio's first budget. Not much gets done during budget season (Late January to mid May/early June). If there are big changes (and that's actually a big if) they won't come until the next fiscal cycle (after July 1).

Conclusion: "The Plane Will Be Built After We Take Off. Please Sit Down and Enjoy the Ride"  The bottom like here is that the politics since the election (or whatever is to blame for slowing the process of selecting a new chancellor down to glacier like speed) have squandered a chance to really shake things up down there at Tweed. A new, empowered chancellor who was announced early would have been able to make some strong changes by the end of January. But a late announcement chancellor has no such luck. He or she will be able to do little more than assemble a team after the appointment then begin planning -for next September- when any possible shakeups may occur.The de Blasio plane down at Tweed will be built as it's flying. Any impact that will have on clusters, networks, districts or schools -or children- won't be felt for months.

As RBE at Perdido Street School concluded yesterday: Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Open Letter to Our Next Mayor: Hurry Up Already!!

Dear Mayor-elect de Blasio,

Congratulations on your victory last month! You may be interested to know that I was rooting for you since before you were a front-runner. After twelve years of rule by a one-percenter, your campaign of liberal populism inspired me into hoping that New York could have mayor that actually understood the people he governed. Seeing your victory was like a breath of fresh air and I hope you govern as you promised; bearing the other half (or 46%) in mind.
Why? well, because I think you know that New York's poverty problem won't go without New Yorkers coming together to address it! I think you get -really get- that forging one city out of the two we currently have will take an 'all-in' approach from its residents, and I sort of think you're the guy who can convince those residents to go all-in. You look like a uniter and that's just what NYC needs.
And I know you know that our city's problems won't go away until its schools become a place of support for children and until those schools are seen as only one part of the problem of addressing poverty. As you know, those schools have become obsessed with accountability over the past twelve years. That obsession has led our whole system into dissaray. And whenever the public discussion turns to the topic of education, the conversation becomes so polarized that it actually has damaging effects on those who depend on public education the most.

I'm sure you're aware that teachers across the city are demoralized. We are not the problem. And I'm sure you're aware that charter schools have been given too much leeway -for political (as opposed to pedagogical) reasons. They are not the solution. And I'm very sure  you're aware that children are the only reason any of us have a job. Yet, nine times out of ten, they are not the topic of discussion! Can you believe that?
Common sense tells us that there are bad teachers just as there are good (even great) charters and that students needs to be involved in every discussion we have. Applying still more common sense, one could easily see that focusing only on teachers or only on charters -or only on standardized tests- will not bring the discussion back to students.

It will also not bring order to a chaotic school system and the most cantankerous group of stakeholders the country has ever seen. We need to get to a place where we can all talk about the child again. We need to talk about the child -the whole child- and nothing but the child.  But while we need to do that while considering respect for teacher, school leaders, support staff and parents, we also need to be honest and we all need to solutions-driven as we have that discussion.
And yet we can't do that if we don't know who the next school leader is! We need a uniter, so guys like me can feel safe enough to stop being a partisan and start being a participant again. But we need one with sharp elbows. We need a recognized leader, so everyone can accept that the person who is united us actually has their bona fides. But we need one who will listen. We need someone who can challenge the system, so that it can move toward a supportive structure while maintaining its commitment to accountability. But we need one who will make this system's hard working employees feel the reward that civil service's greatest endeavor brings.

But if any of that is going to happen, we need to hit the ground running on 1/1/14!! It's been almost a month and a half since you've won. I'm writing to ask if you would please hurry  and pick a chancellor. That person, whoever he or she is, will need as much time as possible to put a leadership team together and right the ship down there at the Tweed Courthouse.

Do you want a system of support? The person who gets the job will need enough time to get ready. Do you want a teaching core -the finest in the nation- who is treated with respect? The person who gets the job will need enough time to get ready. Do you want to end the polarized atmosphere from among the stakeholders (like me) and give us all a chance to get back on the same page? The person who gets the job will need enough time to get ready. Do you want a local government that will stop thinking about different ways of telling the world we have great schools and start thinking about what those great schools do? The person who gets the job will need enough time to get ready.
In short, Mr. Mayor-elect: Tick-tock! We're all waiting to see exactly what the next page in NYC's history is with regard to its schools. Time is getting short and we'd all like you to hurry it up.
Thanks for reading,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

On Ednotes: A MUST READ From a NYC Principal

How does Norm Scott get a hold of this stuff!!?!?!

This time, he found an email from a NYC principal written to Earnst Logan (his union president), Michael Mulgrew (mine) and the DOE number 2, Shael Suransky.

The email destroys the Danielson based observation process and sets the record straight about what teaching really is.

If my principal didn't rock, I'd ask to work for this guy. He really seems to get it.

Click the link and read over on Ednotes.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

John King Goes One Round With the Straw Man -And Wins!!

I'd like to congratulate NYSED Commissioner John King on finally winning one! He's been getting bruised so bad by New York suburban parents and educators for so long that I was starting to feel sorry for him! Last night's forum in Brooklyn, where he was applauded by people who support the Common Core, must have made him feel much better.
In fact, the supporters who turned out in favor of the Common Core helped King look like he is the champion of equal rights in New York! Now supporting him means supporting the Common Core and with it, equal rights for education in New York. But if you oppose him (like parents all across New York's urban and suburban areas have been for months now), then you must be opposing the Common Core -and that means you oppose equal rights and you oppose equal opportunity. Shame on you.

 King has now juxtaposed himself between angry "white" parents in the suburbs and accepting "black" parents in the city as the official guy who cares and is willing to 'take it on the chin' for what he knows is right. It is the most brilliant political move -and slick playing of the race card- that I can remember seeing in a very long time.

Thing is, is a false argument. Parents in the suburbs never were angry over the Common Core. They were angry over the rollout of the Common Core and of the high stakes tests that King is fast becoming associated with.

You see, the rollout of the Common Core has lead to hastily drafted curricula that do not serve students very well in their present form. Those curricula will need to be improved.  The rollout had also lead to an assumption that students of all grades can just snap their fingers and be CC ready with no phase-in from the school system at all. That's bogus. The standards are phased in so that you cannot easily be successful in grade 5 unless you have been able to demonstrate CC understanding in grades k-4.   Finally, supporters have demonstrated no interest in tweeking or improving the standards at all -even though they don't, in their current form, work for every subject and for every grade. This rigid embrace has lead to some zealous interpretations of the standards that dismisses the notions that they can be improved.

And yet, Mr. King would like to test students along the standards anyway. Although no student currently attending school has had an opportunity to interact with the standards for more than a year, Mr. King has insisted that student promotion (by proxy) and teacher and principal evaluation scores (by statute) be linked to new tests that are based on the Common Core (and which assume the students who take them had been learning at the Common Core level the whole while). These super-charged high stakes tests have united parents from across New York State in protest to Mr. King and his policies. People are angry -so angry that they have decided that their only recourse is to take to the streets.
Yet they're not actually protesting the Common Core themselves. Listen carefully to the activists and you'll hear a clear message: Poor implementation  and terribly destructive tests. The idea of 'Common Core' protests are shorthand for these very real concerns.

But those concerns didn't stop Mr. King from fighting the straw man out in Brooklyn last night! They sent special buses for the E4E  and StudentsFirst crowd. They let them in the room early, then they let them have at it (see here)  They pretended it was all about the Common Core and allowed his supporters -charter school activists, E4E members and others specifically associated with one side of (the polarized) edreform movement- to praise the standards, while ignoring the very things about the Common Core that are making everyone across the state very very angry.  This made it seem as though anyone who appears to be against the Common Core actually wants low expectations for under privileged students.

Great job, Mr. King. You kicked the straw man's a$$ last night. Your sham argument seemed to pay off. Everyone is talking about high expectations. No one is talking about poor tests, poor curriculum or a rollout that is far less than competent.

It's based on a lie. You've driven a wedge between stakeholders. You've pitted race against race and taxpayers against taxpayers. Most importantly, you've set the notion of honest discussion and discourse about education in New York State in a backwards motion -something I thought was only possible in New York City under Michael Bloomberg.

But hey, you got the "W". That's all that counts for you, isn't it?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Accountability vs. Support: Here Is One Example of How Things Need To Change

the second part of my Gotham piece has been delayed by a death in my extended family and my school's QR. It's still forthcoming. In the meantime enjoy my rant.

(Disclaimer: This is not a rant about doing extra work on a weekend. It's a rant about what's wrong with the current NYCDOE (as evidenced by the fact that I'm doing extra work on a weekend). Read on...)

Every six weeks, high school teachers compile their grades for report cards. While the method has changed during the Bloomberg years (we used to fill out bubble sheets. Now we use Excel to complete the grades and email them in. Soon, we'll be doing them online), the basic structure of grades has remained the same. Most of us are expected to score students on a numeric system, rounding each grade up or down to the nearest 5th point (55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, so on and so forth). This is the end of the second marking period of our Fall semester. We received our grade reports and were given the Thanksgiving Weekend to complete them.

We are also responsible to leave comments with each student (we're expected to leave two comments for students who didn't achieve a passing grade). It is important to note that, over the fourteen years that I have (proudly) been teaching in New York City's schools, these comments (and their corresponding numbers that I have been asked to enter) have not changed. It's been one of the few things that have remained exactly the same in this system

 Until now, of course. Someone down at the Tweed Courthouse has decided that now (in the middle of a semester where many teachers are giving up time from their holiday weekend to complete grades and during a year where Danielson and Common Core are in full on implementation) is the time to update the comments.

And it's not just and update. They have completely re-formatted both the comments and the way we find those comments such that every teacher who sits down with them has to spend even more time learning the new codes and finding a brand new set of comments to leave that both satisfy our school's policy and our responsibility to leave effective feedback. Sure, the old comments were a little antiquated and could have used updating. But dropping this on teachers in the middle of a semester, as opposed to September at the beginning of a school year (and dropping it on us during a holiday weekend) makes a tough job even more difficult.

 I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I don't complain for the sake of complaining. If I raise an issue with something here, it's because I believe it points to a larger issue that should be addressed. Dropping something like this on classroom teachers in the middle of a holiday weekend is yet another example of what's wrong with current district leadership: It's a good idea, that has been rolled out in the absolute wrong way. It's a way of keeping everyone -teachers, students and parents- accountable except for the managers who think of the ideas and expect them to be implemented. It fails to gives employees the proper support - which in this case, is simply time and the courtesy of an announcement- that is needed to get the job done.

The ideas of accountability and support are pretty important. For years,  DOE leadership has been obsessed with holding us accountable. Yet, as their critics often charge,  the leaders have consistently failed to consider the right types of support  needed in order to achieve the accountability they seek. For example, current school funding (call "Fair Funding") has prevented extra monies from flowing to schools who serve the students with highest needs. The results of that?  Schools who serve students of higher needs perform worse on indicators like school Progress Reports and they receive lower letter grades. (File this one under 'Duh'. The Queens schools with the lowest Special Education Students (Students With Disabilities) and ESL ("L") populations received the highest grades: A whopping ten received an "A" (two received a "B"). Yet in the schools who serve the highest populations of SWDs and Ls; zero received an "A", only four received a "B" and four were given a "C", (oh, and and one "F"!). Just to underline the point I'm making: These schools are held accountable, yet are not given the proper supports needed to achieve that accountability (and when they fail to reach that accountabiliy, they're closed).

This business of dropping a whole new system of comments (a required task for teachers) right in the middle of a semester -during a holiday weekend and with no announcement at all!- is just another symptom of this approach. They want to hold people accountable without even considering the supports needed to achieve that accountability (in this case, it's new specific comments, without regard to proper time or introduction). It's one of the many many things that need to be changed with regard to the leadership of this district and I hope the new chancellor identifies and addresses it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

About John King: A Quick Look At This Blogroll

I know I have to publish the second part of the GS evaluation piece, but I wanted to take a moment to pose a quick question:

Do you think NYSED Commissioner John King is in a bit of trouble? Almost every blog on this blogger's roll suggests that he very well may well be. 

The reformers' big mistake -their overreach really- was taking the problems of urban education issues and dropping them straight in the laps of suburban school districts. Suburban parents (and districts) are not happy to have been dragged into the 'ed wars', where curriculum, tests and teacher evaluations are thought to be main tools in combating poverty. There isn't as much poverty in the suburbs and education stakeholders feel that its going fairly well there. 'So if it ain't broke here' a suburban parent asked me last summer 'then why fix it?'.

Poor Commissioner King took all that frustration right on the chin last week . I don't blame him for canceling the rest of the meetings. I'd cancel too.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Should Gotham Schools Be Taken Off Of My Reader? (Part 1 of 2)

There have been a lot of attacks lauched at the edu website over the last few months. The most noticeable is a satirical blog entitled "Gotham Charter Schools" (see here). While I myself have not been above pointing out that website's deficiencies (see here for one example), I have to say that I have been more concerned with another question: Does the website even hold value anymore? By that, I mean the type of value that someone like me (a public school teacher) can take from visiting their pages? While my habit of visiting it daily says "yes", my experiences with their articles and linkbacks have been saying "no" more and more as of late. I'm finally up to asking myself this question: Is it time to just say goodbye and take them off my reader?

GothamSchools "crawls" by the 'Way Back Machine'. The amount of crawls performed correspond to web traffic and Google searches and is the best "quick" way to gather how busy a website has been over time

I don't want to simply attack. That's really not what I do, anyway. Instead, I want to give the question, and the previously awesome website, the full airing I think they deserve. I also want to help inform my fellow edu bloggers as to whether they should be angry with, upset at or have just plain understanding for what the folks over there have to go through -have to put themselves through, really- in order to have to publish. So this question is going to take two posts. 

so buckle up. Part One  is a quick history lesson ...

It's no secret that the way we get our information these days is becoming a process that is getting more and more narrow. When Ronald Reagan's FCC disposed of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 , he let us fall off of a very big hook: He told us that it was ok to stop listening to views that contrasted with our own opinion and  to pay no mind to people with whom we disagreed.

For those who may not know, the Fairness Doctrine was a fairly important FCC policy which news organizations followed during the Golden Age of Journalism ('49 - '87). It said that two things: 1) Controversial topics in American had to be covered and 2) When covering any topic, major positions, representing contrasting views needed to be represented in the news organizations' publication. For the newspapers, this usually meant that both sides of a given position had to have their coverage on their pages. For radio and TV, this tended to mean equal time be given to both perspectives of a given topic. 

This was done with the thinking that the audience would hear both sides and make up their mind for themselves. It all boiled down to a Jeffersonian commitment that journalists had  in helping a create a well informed citizenry.

These days, as Gotham schools own a mission statement once revealed, the journalistic institutions that many middle aged adults have grown up with are collapsing. Without the Fairness Doctrine, yet with the continuing need to raise money (either through profit or institutional donations) that is the lifeblood of professional journalism in America, news organizations have been left to themselves to earn whatever viewership will keep the money coming in.

The new trend of amateur journalists -the bloggers- haven't made this any easier. Readers tend to read opinions that appeal to their opinions. "Old World" news outfits must compete more and more against this backdrop of the new 'social' media that are banging around the echo chamber.

 For the overwhelming majority of news organizations in America, the response to this has been to attempt to draw as many viewers that will gain as many advertising (or donation) dollars as possible (this is why you and I see more of Snooki in a pair of high heels then we do our own president during 6:30 News hours: She looks better than 'O, and she doesn't numb our brains by making us all think too hard).  This reality has turned professional news organizations, once the solitary  beacon of information for the entire adult nation, into almost complete slaves of their viewers' whims.

As a consequence, whatever  the viewer wants, or says (s)he wants, is what the news organizations have shown or discussed. As the news outlets have tried to gain an edge, and attract more viewers, they have experimented by showing or revealing news that will attract one particular type of reader or viewer. And the viewers? Well, they have swarmed to some news outlets expecting to see one type of news, and to other outlets expecting to see a different type. If they do not see what they expect, they tend to drift away to another outlet that will discuss what they do expect (this is sort of where I am with regard to my big question: should I take them off my readers). 

It's this mentality -and it's best to think of it as a swarm mentality- that has led innovative online news organizations to create news outlets which are intended attract a particular swarm of readers. CNET, for instance, covers only information about technology. Gawker, covers only shocking news and gossip that would interest urbanite New Yorkers. This trend of journalism around one topic or issue (specifically an entire news outlet which provides news only around a specific issue), is a relatively new one, but a relatively feudal one as well -where instead of one organization with the ability to provide news around all topics, several dozen smaller organizations spring up and are able only to provide information about smaller 'local' topics. 

While it will probably be around for a while, this feudal journalism holds a a few wonderful promises. For instance, it makes no bones about what it is and about which viewers or readers it is trying to attract. That's a good thing, because these new smaller, news outlets, organized around single issue to topic, are  therefore free to cover whatever they want, within the parameters of what they have set for themselves in their mission statements and other internal decisions they make. That means they can develop a true expertise and flip almost anyone off who doesn't like what they have to say. That type of journalistic feedom is good for us. 

This was the promise for a brand new website,, in 2008. Gotham was a test as to whether issues based journalism could  carve out a niche for itself over the topic of public education. As they're original statement of purpose read on their "About" page back then:
GothamSchools is an independent news source about the New York City public schools.
We seek to correct an unfortunate confluence of events: The movement to improve urban schools is reaching a peak of energy while the journalism industry is crumbling. That means that both the achievements and challenges of the movement risk escaping the healthy scrutiny of a vibrant press corps.
(note, they have since changed this statement of purpose to something completely different further leading to my big question)

In addition to a new hopeful outlook, GS also held the promise of not being profit driven. Overhead and salaries were provided through large donations from institutions who cares about their topic of education.

Yet, despite collecting and disseminating the best list of edu news stories on a daily basis,  the endeavor seemed rocky right from the start. These issues based journalists seemed rather close to the educational leaders yet rather distant from actual educators. Their staff came off as snooty right in their own comments section and began replies with sentence starters like "A close read of this article might show you that ...". One year into the gig, they were being called schils by anyone involved in education who didn't seem to agree with them (only partly because they weren't liked and because there were times when the staff came off like a bunch of jerks, but also because of who funded them)

That said, their open comments section and their commitment to gathering and sharing information from Twitter and the blogs, was brand new -and it showed their commitment to the democratic process of discussion (which is what their website says they seek to "host") around education. Gotham Schools connected readers to bloggers like Norm Scott Leonie Haimson and a host of other edu bloggers, for the first time. Their "Community" section not only connected readers with edu wonks and players in the edu scene , but also to teachers like Arthur Goldstein, who can explain the pedagogue's perspective about as good as anyone I've ever read.  They weren't even above publishing a post from an anonymous blog -as long as it was intelligent and talked about education in New York. It's important to note: that had never been done before! Jefferson once said that "Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government". Well I'm here to tell you, relative to what we had before GS, we were all plenty well informed!

All in all they, while tilting heavily toward the power brokers of education in New York City (the Bloombergs, the Klein's and anyone else who held power at Tweed and City Hall), they did let voices in. Some may say those voices were marginalized. Others may say they were just outnumbered on the pages of their site. But no one can claim that they didn't let new voices -voices that had previously had no place- into the public discussion of education. A complaint like that would be just plain absurd.

And man, was 2009 - 2012  the time to have "discussions" about edu in New York, or what!

Soon, as the recession hit and  the mayor changed the tone and policies for his third term, Gotham demonstrated to viewers and competitors alike that education in New York could be a hot button topic that generated a fairly large swarm of viewers. And other news organizations soon followed this pattern in an attempt to attract the 'swarm' of people hungry for edu news. But more on that in the second post.

So, to review, journalism collapses, then feudalizes around topics that they hope viewers might find interesting and find a niche for itself, and lets in new voices.  

It was really important to place the gothamschools story in that context. I'll publish the rest in a few more days.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Long Overdue Adieu

Happens 89 days from today.

And if you have to ask what that means, then you just don't know Mayor Michael R Bloomberg of New York ;)

One Great Big Pair of ....

So, de Blasio have a speech to the one percent today. He's way ahead in the polls and may in fact sail to victory. So did he placate New York's wealthy business class  to help ensure his victory?


Instead, he told them that he would fight for mandatory paid sick days, end the free ride for the real estate sector and fight for the working class.


And what about labor unions?

"In remarks that lasted 30 minutes, Mr. de Blasio, who is the city’s public advocate, paid tribute to labor unions as a guarantor of economic security, and he said he would find a way to restore their place in the political sphere"

Now there is a big difference between labor unions and public sector unions. Labor unions, for instance, gave money to organizations who work for anti teacher union groups during the last recession (and I know of one sheet metal workers union who actively told its members that teachers in NYC deserved to be fired back in 2010 (to the dismay of a nephew of mine who is a member). So, teachers,  you shouldn't go thinking that we're going to be getting that raise just yet.

But the fact that this guy came in and told 800 of the biggest businessmen in New York that unions, who take money from their bottom line, would have a seat at his table leads me to one ultimate conclusion: This guy's got one great big pair of bologna sandwiches!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Teachers; Talk To Your Students-Turned-Teachers About TFA Before It's Too Late

I have a completely unrelated Fun Fact about Breaking Bad at the end of this post if you promise to read the whole thing (but you have to promise to read it!). 

One of the greatest joys any teacher can experience is learning that one of his or her former students has grown up to be a teacher. Some teachers will pretend to not care about an event like this. Others may boast about it until the day they die (or retire). But each teacher feels a bit of pride when he or she learns that his style in classroom has inspired, or at very least to help inspire, someone to grow up and to be a teacher.

Yet one of the worst things that can happen to a teacher (who is also an edu-blogger) is to have this joyful moment dashed by learning that the student-turned-colleague is now a member of Teach for America.

What a frikin' bummer.

For those of you who don't know, TFA is the organization  (run by Wendy Kopp) that drafts some of the nation's better off college grads and convinces them to become teachers for a few years. After the two years are up, TFA-ers, as they're known,  typically move on to other things. Some edu folks give it two, even three, thumbs up for sending qualified teachers into high needs schools. Others blame it for leading the way to establish a generation of "drive-by" teachers who stay for a few years then move on. This constant shuffling of NEWB teachers creates the reality of perpetually leaving at-risk students in the hands of inexperienced teachers. It has become so commonplace, that it was recently satirized by the Onion in a brilliant manner (the article was a point-counter point. the point being entitled "My Year Volunteering as a Teacher Helped Educate a New Generation of Underprivileged Kids"  while the counterpoint was entitled "Can We Please, Just once, Have a Real Teacher?" )

As controversial as the organization is, I've never written about them on this or any blog. This has been for three reasons. 1) Smarter people than I, who are tuned into the national scene, have been calling out the group for years.2)  My concerns, really my two passions as a writer, have been the actual act of teaching (which the the greatest act of expression a human being can commit) and writing in defense of teachers here in New York City who have had to endure our district's reforms (some of which actually constitute abuses in the workplace). 3) I've never had to actually deal with the TFA Juggernaut! Their existence on this Earth has never crossed my path, so why bother?

But now they've taken this bright, happy, impressionable young student -who worked her butt off from middle school to earn a degree from one of the SUNY's best Universities- and turned her into a TFA drone. I'm so upset I can barely keep writing.

Ok, I'm ready to continue.

You see, it  happened so quickly, I could barely stop it. First,there was the Facebook status that declared she'd be a teacher starting in September. This was such an awesome kid (when she was a kid) I was so gleeful! That was followed by a flurry of phone calls and emails back and forth about how to approach it. Surprisingly, the amount of communications faded in a very rapid manner. But when I did hear from her,  there were rumblings (warning signs, in hindsight that I really should have paid attention to) about TFA seeking to take her every waking moment. Finally, the communications (in the form of emails only) faded almost altogether. The second to last time I heard from her, she was asking advice about how to "deal with" these "older teachers" who thought they knew everything. That hit my radar as an 'uh-oh', but I chalked it up to the stress of a first year teacher in her first six weeks.The last time I heard from her was deeply troubling. She sent out a short email -a reply really to one I had sent checking in on how things were going. The reply read 'It would be going great if I weren't treated like a know-nothing kid by these older adults". And the next thing I knew, she "liked" TFA on Facebook and sent a status about how older teachers don't know as much as they think and about how they should stop giving her answers that she doesn't need.

Oh, the humanity.

While the status was clearly not a message meant for me (I so don't nag or harass people, it's not even funny), it was clear that it was a message for someone. That made it clear to me that someone else was concerned about her falling to TFA.

Thank goodness someone saw the warning signs, because I surely didn't.

Perhaps the status was in response to concerns asserted by one of her other teachers. This student was taught by career teachers, not TFAers. Career teachers loathe drive-by teaching because we know what it does to this profession. That's not to say we loathe the drive-by teachers. They're just out of college and they do not fully understand the destabilizing effect the presence of so many of them has. But we, experienced teachers, know that the teaching  isn't as good. The knowledge isn't as vast or as deep. And the the presence of TFAers has the effect of costing career teachers their job (while that last assertion might sound like stretch, I'd like to remind you that laid off Chicago teachers were recently replaced with TFA recruits). This establishes a possible endless cycle of students being taught by non career teachers.

Come to think of it, this is the case with all TFA recruits, isn't it? They are taught by career teachers in well-heeled schools, both public and private (my student-turned-teacher went to schools that were on the list of 50 best public schools in the city for years at a time), yet they rob, as a matter of happenstance, that very opportunity from the same students they espouse to help. (And again the recruits themselves are certainly very well-meaning, so it brings me no pleasure to say this). Honestly, has any teacher stood on the shoulders of their *TFA* teacher and come into the profession? Ha! I laugh at the very thought.

Anyway, it's too late for my student. Kopp and the drones have her now. She doesn't know it yet, but she's become part of the 'drive-by' crowd and she'll either lose interest or just be too burned out to stick around long enough to get really good and actually be able to help to any students. I've missed my chance. I screwed up and I let one go to the dark side.

But let this serve as a cautionary tale to any teacher who has the pleasure of hearing that one his or students has decided to become a public high school teacher: Talk to your students about TFA before its' too late.

Because once it's too late, it's too late.

Ok, I promised a Breaking Bad fun fact. (And there is a spoiler alert here if you're catching up on Netflix). You know how everyone associated with Heisenberg (except Jesse of course) dies in the last episode? Pundits are starting to call this almost Shakespearean in its tragedy (see here). I think it's a little more than almost, but that's for an offline conversation. Well, guess what. The character Walter White died on his 52nd birthday.  Know who else died on their 52nd birthday? William Shakespeare. yep.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Moral Character Does Count, But ...

A quick look at Gotham Schools this morning shows me that a teacher, who was caught bringing twenty bags of heroin with him into a courthouse for jury duty, was reinstated this past week. The DOE had successfully fired him. They followed the due process rules and left it up to an independent arbitrator to decide, who decided to fire him. He appealed in court and a judge reinstated him.

I don't know all the facts of this case and haven't read the judge's ruling. Having said that, and using very broad strokes,  I don't think, generally speaking, that a person who is caught in possession of that quantity of drugs should be a school teacher.  It's not that I find the use of drugs repulsive. I do not (although I do not use them and do not condone their use at all). For reasons that are either right or wrong, society has deemed their possession and use illegal. Teachers, who are there to prepare youngsters for society,  should be seen as models of it. That's not to say I sit in any kind of moral judgment of people who use them. I do not do that either. If you want to break the law and use drugs, then, who am I to stop you? Just try not to do it as a teacher, ok? Sorry, but there is an opportunity cost for entering this profession and living the life of Kerouac is one of them (love his books. Glad he never taught high school).

Now the mayor has said he will appeal the decision and, for the first time in eleven years, I am tempted to agree with him (again, I say that without looking at the specific facts and without knowing the details. I am tempted to agree with him. I have not decided to agree with him. There may well be something within this case that mitigates everything. That's why they have hearing officers and NYS Supreme Court judges who look at details and weigh evidence). But I am only speaking to the general topic as to whether people who are caught in public with twenty bags of heroin should be teachers. I think they should not. It would appear the mayor thinks the same.  Morality counts. And teachers should have a high moral standard.

But, as Huff Post columnist Marc Epstein has written, we are living and working during a period where much of the institutional history of the BOE/DOE has been erased.  It is important to remind anyone who is interested in things like this that the "department" (back when it was "board") use to test the character of people who applied to be a teacher in this city. This was done in order to determine whether or not the applicant possessed the moral standard sufficient enough to be a teacher in the first place. That mark -possessing the moral standard sufficient to be a New York City teacher- is a very high standard to meet and the people who ran education in this city knew it. That's why they vetted every applicant before allowing him or her to stand in front of a classroom (this isn't my observation, by the way. Epstein first made it in a huff post piece. I just can't seem to find the doshgern link!!).

Anyway, were these character tests in place now, would a person who uses heavy drugs have been offered a job as a teacher in the first place? The answer may well be no.  (Traits of heavy drug users can fairly easily be discerned if only one were to asks those questions). 

In addition to keeping heavy drug users out of the classroom, vetting teachers before they are hired would be far more cost effective than this process. Once caught, a drug using  teacher with sensiblenhiring practices, costs the system tens, in some cases hundreds, of thousands of dollars to fire and to keep fired (when you count money for the lawyers, for the hearing officers, for the reporters, for the salary and salary of the sub). That's a lot of money!

And during this time, the department will lob complaints about how tough it is to fire teachers. They may even strengthen firing practices (which they did back in 2007, causing consternation for many innocent teachers who found themselves on the wrong side of a false or jackes up accusation) while continuing to ignore hiring practices which could avoid these headlines in the first place.

Look; morality counts with this job. Allowing users of heavy drugs to teach our students shouldn't happen. But there is a way to avoid these things from happening: Vet the applicants who ask to be my colleagues and help bring that pride back to my profession.

That's right, check their moral character first and we'll just see how many more of these stories (which may have NOTHING to do with this post as I have not read the details!!) appear in the news.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

10 quotes from the new Diane Ravitch book that are backed up by facts

"  the Reformers are putting the nation's children on a train that is headed for a cliff"

This assertion, made it the very beginning of the book, is precisely what ravitch will be attacked for in publishing this. But those who attack will not tell you that this opinion, is shared by the overwhelming majority of education professionals throughout the country. This was not always the case. And reformers had control of their message true media such as newspapers cable and network TV and even the movies. Regular people, practitioners of Education, made up their minds for themselves and those minds share that opinion.

NCLB "  pave the way for federal appropriation and federal tax breaks for charter school construction"

This quote, from the first chapter, was made when discussing the Charter movement against the greater context of No Child Left Behind. There are not many people who doubt it. there may be people who doubt the way it is phrased, but those folks cannot expect everyone to enjoy their point of view and perspective after spending so long creating a polarized atmosphere. Can they?

" investors quickly figured out that there was money to be made in the purchase, leasing & rentals of space to charter schools, and an aggressive for profit charter sector... wherever it was permitted by state law; in states where for profit charters we're not allowed, non-profit charters hired for profit operators to run their schools."

This, again in the first chapter, discusses the rapid expansion of charter schools after the establishment of the race to the top competition.

" ...advocates for this cause seek...  to transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy"

Again, folks from the reform camp may not like to hear it phrased that way. But Rupert Murdoch is on the record as saying that this is a sector of the economy that can yield very high profis. The Prince of the reform movement, Joel Klein, is in fact currently working in the private sector as the head of Amplify. Is there anyone who can get out of the validity of this quote? Seriously?

"  it pays to be on the reform team... When Chicago's teachers went on strike... The national media thought it shocking that the average Chicago teacher was paid $75,000 a a year ... Yet the media are indifferent when charter executives [make] salaries of $300,000 $400,000 $500,000... "

The body of evidence to back up what exactly charter leaders get paid is overwhelming. What may rub the reform people the wrong way, is that these two facts are set next to one another by the nation's leading education historian. Well, tough. If Bill De Blasios's victory in the Democratic primary in New York proved anything, It's that no one really pays attention to Old World Media anymore. And is it any wonder? The fourth state is currently in such a terrible condition as to complain about Miss Crabtree pulling down a decent wage while their own friends pull down very large salaries for running very small school networks. "It pays to be on the reform team." Remember that quote.

" 65 percent [of American students taking an international math test] scored at basic or above in 2000, and 82 percent we're at basic or above in 2011."

In the books fifth chapter, ravitch takes a closer look at those test scores that are always in the newspapers being reported as below average for American students. Using facts, data, and footnotes she concludes that the achievement of American students have been on a steady incline for at least the last 13 years (more, actually. But you'll have to read the book to find out). Reformers would rather people not think this. However, ravitch factually articulates that this is the case: there is no crisis to the extent the Reformers are describing.

" Richard Coley of the Educational Testing Service wrote an overview of the black and white achievement gap over the course of the 20th century and concluded that the period In which the gap narrowed most was the 1970s and 1980s, in response to such things as the segregation, class size reduction, early childhood education... For black families. From that time forward, the gap has wavered up and down without resuming the sharp narrowing of the earlier period."

Why is this passage from chapter 6 important? Because it shows that the black white gap which has been used by the ed reformers to help take over the entire educational political agenda. Their efforts  since the mid 1990s has not had an effect on the achievement gap nearly as well as addressing some of the societal issues that helped create that gap in the first place (you know, the way they did during the 70s and 80s). That is not something they would like you to hear. I guess facts can be pesky?

" ask yet, no entire district has been transformed by private management. We would no more if the reformer took over an entire low-performing district like Newark for Detroit, leaving no children out. But that has not happened."

Some might say that Cami Anderson, of Newark New Jersey, would qualify as a reformer who has taken over an entire district. The fact, however, is that this passage, appearing in chapter 10 of the book, is referring to the almost silver bullet that reformers refer to private management. They point to successes here and there in there privately managed charter schools. But they have not once yet attempted this project management approach for an entire district that service the all of the community's children. And Ravitch is correct.

"...  value-added assessment is bad science. It may even be junk science."

I love this quote! There are two reasons why I love it so. First, it comes after several pages of diane ravitch stop establishing this conclusion with fact. After reading the entire argument, it feels great to be able to listen to the thesis. Second, it uses the phrase " junk science". This phrase was made very popular by New York City's biggest edu-blogger, NYCEducator. It just feels good seeing the term that was made famous by a blogger being used in a book like this. It makes me think that important people read blogs! Just me.

"Careful review of research have concluded that TFA corps members get about the same test score results as other new and uncertified teachers"

She points this  gains in math, but the assertion is footnoted on page 137. Go check it yourself.

At this point I would like to refer you to the entire chapter about Michelle Rhee. If this book has more quotes Breaking Bad, this chapter is the "Ozimandias" episode. There are just too many cool quotes to pick one.

"  in the area of NCLB,  it was dangerous to enroll the students who have a hard time sitting still... They might pull down the schools test scores. Future orders what the students for whom charters were first invented"

Reformers might say this does not exist. The press may say it is somewhat controversial. Buy here, Ravitch calls a spade a spade:  charters select, both before and after student admission. From chapter 16, "The Contradiction of Charters".

"When k12 wanted to open a statewide online school on Virginia, it ... made generous campaign contributions of $55,000 to the Republican governor".

I read this and I ask myself 'hey self,  why would anyone need to pay a government to open a school!?!?'  and then I remember my favorite Haiku

"Oh! This is about making cash!
Not educating
Unless it makes some cash"

OK, I can't write Haiku. Big deal.

Anyway this quote will be overlooked. But to someone like me, its all the proof I need to know the people are out to make profit off of my life's work. This quote speak to me. It says "  Hey dummy! Wake up! Something pretty messed up is going on here."

" the federal government bet nearly five billion dollars at the Chicago strategy of closing schools and replacing them with new schools would work if applied to the entire nation... not many would consider Chicago and national model of school reform"

Of course, the five billion dollars she is referring to is the race to the top competitive grant. While the transformation model she is referring to was only one part of race to the top, it was the Obama administration who sold the grant as an all-or-nothing opportunity. People from the reform movement, who staunchly supported race to the top cannot have it both ways. They cannot enjoy the benefits of an all-or-nothing grant in 2009,  and then accuse an historian of over blowing facts when she moved from that premise in a history of the grant, the first ever written, in 2013. The assertion is based in rooted in fact period.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

".. Then They Fight You .." Perdido Street On the Post's Review of Ravitch

Perdido Street has a great piece on the hatchet job that the Post has done on the new Diane Ravitch book. His critique of the piece is far better than anything I could have ever articulated and shreds the review from the Post to pieces. One sentiment he expressed that caught my attention the most is this:

"That the Post published an attack on Ravitch that is this personal and this fraudulent just goes to show how much she and her arguments are getting under the skin of the corporate reformers"

They sure are. I'm finishing the Ravitch book now and it is a lucid, fair portrayal of what the reform movement has become and, as Ravitch shows, what it truly was all along. What's more, the book coincides with the contraction of the war on teachers and on public education. It is a contraction that was caused, as Perdido points out, by people like Ravitch.

It's no wonder why the hatchet had been swung: With the disgrace of Rhee and Hall (and, I predict more of these high name reformers) and with "anger" pieces from reformers bring published more and more, there is a sense of desperation in the reform camp that, to even a layman like me watching from a distance, is unmistakable. And now Ravitch is going to release this powerhouse and take all of the air out of the room. The attacks on her makes perfect sense to me.

Gandhi (actually, labor leader  Nicholas Klein in 1914) on struggles like this: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win". 

Ravitch is about to be #winning.

(PS...NO ONE reads newspapers anymore!)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Destroying Schools; A Case Study

This Gotham Schools piece gives us an update on Murry Begtraum High School in Manhattan. Things are bad there. Pretty soon, someone will call for the school to be "closed".

The cycle for how to destroy a school in NYC has never been better recorded than it is currently being recorded at Bergtraum. That cycle is this:

The city shrinks enrollment (which it did last year) . Teachers are excessed because of it (which they were last year at the end of June. Perhaps one of those teachers is the programmer? Or the assistant programmer?)  Regardless, the schedule is thrown into chaos. The Chaos leads to bad press about the school (see above link). The city is now justified to further shrink enrolment for next September on the premise that parents will choose to avoid a school that is in chaos (rather, is in the process of being destroyed by a city agency).  The reduction of enrollment leads to open space at the very minimum and a closing vote at the most. New schools are added.

The destruction of a once great school is complete. The locusts move on.

This cycle has played out over and over again across this city over the past twelve years.

Bergtraum is not the last of the great comprehensive high schools to be experiencing this. I will remind you of Bryant High School in Queens. This process is also playing out in Long Island City High School in the same borough (in a strikingly similar manner with the process in Lower Manhattan).

Those who would rather not support schools that are failing should not confuse them with schools that are being destroyed as a matter of system and of routine.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Visit From Cr. Walcott

'Twas the last day of summer and all through the house
Not a creature was settled, not even the spouse

The Syllabi were printed and stapled with care
With the knowledge that new students soon would be there

The pencils were nestled all snug in their pack
Summer handouts on Common Core stuffed in the sack

And I, watching the Mets with much sorrow and jeer
Had just settled down for my last summer's beer

When out on the lawn there rang such a bell
I sprang from the couch to see 'what the hell?'

Away to the window I flew like a flame,
Tore open the curtain and threw up the pane

When what to my wondering eye should I see?
Was Chancellor Walcott and his main deputies.

More rapid than eagles these coursers, they came and he whistled and shouted and called them by name

"Now, Buher! Now, Gibson! Now, Steinberg! Suransky!
On, Tragale! Frienlander! and Weiner! 'too fancy!

On top of the porch, on top of the wall,
 now drop the tasks in that guy's desk. Drop them all!"

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky

So up to the housetop the coursers, they flew,
With a truckload of work, and the chancellor too-

In  another hot second, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof

As I pulled in my head, and was turning around
Down the chimney the chancellor came with a bound

He was dressed in a suite, from his to head to his foot
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot

A bunch of his tasks he had flung on his back
And then, like a predator, he opened his sack.

His eyes-how they twinkled as he pulled out the tasks!

Of Danielsons, Common Core "What's next?" dare I ask

"Oh, there's SIP, TIP and SESIS for Sp-eds.
And more wonderful TLAs for you" Wallcot said

"You'll need artifacts, records and unit plans, too!"
He knew I was scared, when he leaned in to yell "Boo!!!!"

His serious face, was now lit with a smile
For he knew I'd be working on this for a while.

Then out of his sack came a sight quite grotesque;
A thousand new tasks that he dropped on my desk.

He spoke no more words, but went straight to his work,
And filled up my workspace, then turned when a jerk.

And, laying his fingers aside if his nose,
And, giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his whip, to his team gave a whistle,
And then jetted away, with the sound of a missile!

But I did hear him yell out as he flew out of sight
"The 'Mother of All School Years starts after tonight!!!!"

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ed Reform Gone Wrong: How Teachers Are Required to Engage in Unethical Conduct

Much has been made about the push for higher academic standards across the spectrum of what we consider the reform movement. The Common Core is held up as a prime example of these higher standards. The new teacher evaluations systems, coming online in states all across the country, are another. The embracing of high stakes exams (with a promise that the need to assess will eventually move beyond simple tests and into more acceptable and complex assessments) is yet another.

The reasons for this push from the reform movement are mainly old and familiar. Many students are locked out of opportunities as adults in the complex service-based American economy. Our college readiness rates are painfully low. We leave too many students behind. American students, the reform movement contends, must be better academically prepared. This is what really matters.

This push has led many teachers, principals and school leaders to bemoan about how the job of teaching has changed from building an intelligent well-rounded (and academically prepared) adult to preparing students for a test along the lines of what they claim to be unreasonably high academic standards. Teaching, as the criticism goes, just isn't the same as it used to be. The era of building a child has ended, they claim, and the era of teaching only to academics -and to a test- has arrived.

The 'Ed Reformers' they claim -who are interested only in making profit off of educating our fellow citizens-  are to blame for this destruction. The Ed Reformers' -who don't understand what teaching or learning is about (or who do understand and are just out to destroy)- have this need to make a profit from education that has led the entire profession astray. Their thirst for privatization and profit has turned everything on its head, rendering it almost unrecognizable, and has gravely hurt the teaching profession. That's the claim, anyway.

Full disclosure: As a thirteen year veteran teacher, I subscribe to the opinion that the teaching profession is being gravely hurt by these policy initiatives . But I also cringe whenever this concern is publicly asserted. I do so because I rarely see anything other than commentary or anecdotals to back up the opinion whenever it is expressed . I believe in anecdotal evidence and I a strong subscriber to listening to commentary.  But I also know that the people on the other side will respond with public jeers and snickers and will invoke the children in order to marginalize these very real concerns and discredit the people who express them. This is how their kind always responds to criticism and dissent.

I was just recently reminded of this trait (of discredit critical professionals) when I read this piece by Peter Cunningham, former media relations assistant to USDOE Secretary Arne Duncan. He went to great lengths to discredit Diane Ravitch, who works harder than anyone else in the country to responsibly criticize the Ed. Reform movement under the Obama administration. Apparently, Mr. Cunningham, who is now a privately paid consultant for the very same US Department of Education he once worked for (see his Linkedin profile here) wasn't happy that Dr. Ravitch is about to release a new book which squarely takes aim at the reform movement itself, including the need to spend so many oodles of public money on private consultants (like him).  Views expressed in the book, if well received, might possibly change public opinion and threaten to bring policy changes that may effect the bottom line of his very own company; Cunningham Associates.

While it would be unfair for me to opine that Mr. Cunningham's true stake in this discussion is to advance his own personal profit, it should be pointed out that it was unfair for him to leave the bio  "Former Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach, U.S. Department of Education"  under his byline as he entered this discussion of "Ravitch vs. the Reform Movement". I say this because he left out the fact that he is now a paid consultant. Cunningham Associates is nowhere in his byline. But that's what they do: They level hard and harsh critiques on dissenters without making clear what their stake really is, where they're coming from or how they might personally -financially- benefit from continuing the current policies. This is why I cringe whenever anyone says the profession of teaching has changed for the worse without attempting to offer any proof. Profit making reformers like Mr. Cunningham will take to the public airwaves and simply slay us (smote, I believe, may be a better term) with snickers and jeers and a good dose of discredit.

So, to that end, I have one, small, but provable accusation to make: The current policies require teachers, at least here in New York, to engage in conduct that is simply unethical. (This requirement to commit unethical conduct is what is changing the profession of teaching.)

President Obama's great education legacy is a three legged stool: The Common Core standards, the implementation of new accountability measures (embodied in such things as the new teacher evaluation systems and the new tests that are tied to them) and the new public/private partnershipto support these efforts (something that, at least around my dinner table is referred to as privatization).   The Common Core, as you probably already know, are (very high) academic only standards. They speak to skills (as opposed to content) and are coming with new standardized exams (provided by several for-profit education companies, of course). And here in New York, the new teacher evaluation system will evaluate teachers along the lines of how well their students perform on the exams (academically). The Danielson Framework (used across New York and other parts of the country) is concerned only with academics. The new standardized exams consider only academic achievement. The standards themselves are concerned only with academics.

Yet academics is only one (albeit major) part of our job.

Each teacher in New York must adhere to a specific set of ethics called the New York State Code of Ethics for Educators. This code of ethics is printed on the back of each and every teaching license in New York and, I am told, was once held up as a model for teacher ethics across the country. These ethics are codified into six principles and set a clear path for how a teacher should conduct his or self in the workplace. Conduct yourself along these lines and you're being ethical. Fail to conduct along these lines and you are being unethical. It's fairly cut and dry stuff.

So what does the code of ethics say about an academics only approach? Well principle one says:

Educators promote growth in all students through the integration of intellectual, physical, emotional, social and civic learning   
So every time you choose not to pause your reading assignment to ask little Peter whether he's eaten breakfast or has had a safe night at home, but choose to stay with your pacing calendar so that he can pass that test, you are committing unethical conduct. And yet the new responsibilities of your job to the Common Core and to the Danielson Framework and to the ever-present test require you to not address those things and to stay with the reading assignment. The new responsibilities require you to do something that is unethical. In fact, your continued employment as a teacher requires it.

So if you're a teacher, and you feel that the job of teaching has changed for the worse, you may be absolutely correct. The job is having us all turn away from those aspects that help us build a future adult and is embracing only one instructional aspect. But remember that if you choose to share that concern in a public forum, and if you don't phrase that objection just the right way and don't back it up with some type of fact (feel free to use the word unethical), then you're setting yourself up for jeers and snickers as a way of being discredited (after all, if they can try it on Diane Ravitch, they can surely do it to you).

One last thing. If you're an ed reformer and you're reading this post and you're a little upset; please don't smote me. Principle 6 of this code of ethics  requires educators to

... advocate for fair opportunity for all children
The over-commitment to testing and the for-profit structures that have been put into place to support that commitment, is hurting children and the people who teach them. This post (and others like it on similar blogs) are actually our way of adhering to ethical conduct. I invite you to read all of my professional ethics again linked here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Some Useful Information for High School Teachers About the upcoming Academic Calendar

File this under 'just because I felt like sharing'.

As a high school teacher, I've begun the process of planning for my upcoming academic year. As I got through the Fall term, I noticed a few things that I felt were worth sharing for teachers who are about to do the same. 

1. There are only 86 instructional days during the first (Fall) semester. There are
16 in September
22 in October
17 in November
15 in December and
16 in January
At 181 instructional days (at least) it looks as if like the Spring semester will be longer (by almost three weeks of instructional days!!).

2. Friday, November 8, 2013 is exactly the mid way point of  the semester if you count only instructional days. It's a tad earlier than I expected.

3. June 3, 2014 is a Regents day, so there won't be any high school classes that day. The new CommonCore exams in Math and English will be given that day (you can find the schedule here)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ya! Teachers' Choice Is Back (And Yet, I'm Totally Upset)!

While New York City can afford more than ten million dollars on a three-year contract to McGraw-Hill to electronically monitor grading for high school Regents' Exams (a task that was heretofore done by teaches during the regular school day), the money that teachers are reimbursed to purchase their own supplies has taken a turn upward that should embarrass any common sense observer.

Teachers' Choice, the City Council funded program that reimburses teachers for committing the already humiliating act of purchasing our own supplies, has received its funding allotment for the upcoming school year.

Teachers are to be reimbursed a pitiful amount of $57 for going to the store on their own time to purchase their own supplies for the 2013-2014 academic year. Social Workers, School Psychologists and Guidance Counselors will receive $37 of reimbursements and . School secretaries will receive just $20.

I don't like to be negative our cynical, but it bears mentioning (and repeating) that the priorities here are all out of whack. 'They' have millions to spend on new ways of supervising us, yet only spare change to actually help us do our job.

As my students might say, that's not a good look.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Credit Where Credit Is Due

They are neo-liberal leaning (they are, at times, more concerned with the new public/private sector relationship that comprises much of the current educational reform movement than with presenting a full, find picture). They do have a problem with covering much of the actual educating part of the education discussion in New York. They aren't much concerned with this discussion from the perspective of teachers (or really much of anything from the perspective of teachers for that matter). And they haven't (as of yet) read or wrote anything about Rafe Esquith's new book (which is a pretty quick and easy read, btw).

But did share Esquith's appearance on Leonard Lopate today in their nightly roundup. That's worth mentioning. 

Of course, it was their newest reporter doing so during what appears to be a few vacation weeks, but hey; you take what you can take (erm get) in this world, right?

Maybe someday, they'll observe a class or two (or celebrate (then report on) who the most celebrated teachers are in New York City ("Gotham's Finest Teachers" on their rooftop or something like that. Hmm..)

Baby steps to over coming that ol' bias towards what is really fair.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Celebrating America's Best Teacher (and Why You'll NEVER read About That on

Some time ago, a guy named Steve Brill -a non-teacher, non-education and virtual know-nothing to the entire education discussion in America- wrote a book entitled "Class Warfare". Many of us in the classroom felt it was skewed against teachers and against real pedagogical process in America. But Gotham Schools, widely regarded as the 'must read' website on education in New York City (as close to "The Paper of Record" as  the education discussions can get out here) gave the book wide coverage in a piece entitled  "We Read Steve Brill's Class Warfare So You Don't Have To" (see here). The premise of the piece was that the book was so important that it had to be read and that the writers of GS were helping you by summarizing it. The book was also included in a wide number of Gotham School's published pieces during that period, namely here and here and here and here . In fact, a search for the term "Steve Brill" returns five full pages of entries (you can check it out here)! That's a lot of mentioning of the man who hadn't taught, hadn't lead and hadn't had much, if anything, to do with the education students in America .

On a different note; Just this past week, the man who is widely regarded as the finest teacher in the United States released his fifth book -his last four were best-sellers. His name is Rafe Esquith. Mr. Esquith is a 30 year veteran elementary school teacher from, Los Angeles. He has, according to this piece, been commended by the Dalai Lama, President Obama and Queen Elizabeth II (the latter having named him a member of the British Empire).  News of this publication was shared by Valerie Strauss, who writes "The Answer Sheet" blog for the Washington Post (one of the most informed edu writers in the country). It was also shared by Jay Mathews, who writes the "Class Struggle" blog for the same publication (aand is another one of the most informed edu writers in the country). Mr. Mathews, who by the way, discovered Jaime Escalante (the  LA teacher depicted in the movie 'Stand and Deliver". Mathews was the one who made Escalante famous), has written about Mr. Esquith before. In fact, he's mentioned him fifteen times in the past according to this Google Search. And Strauss shared an interesting set of fun facts in her piece about Esquith:
When he goes to China he is so popular he needs security guards to protect him from the crush of the crowds.
*He is the only K-12 teacher to be awarded the president’s National Medal of the Arts.
*Queen Elizabeth made him a member of the British Empire.
*The Dalai Lama gave him the Compassion in Action Award.
*He has turned down requests to have a Hollywood movie made about his work.
*A documentary, “The Atticus Finch of Hobart Elementary,” was made about thefamous Shakespeare program he has run for years at Hobart, where all of his students appear in at least one full-length production a year. The English actor Ian McKellen actually noticed some of Esquith’s young students mouthing the words to a Shakespearean play in which he was performing in Los Angeles.
*He has been given the Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award, Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award, and Disney’s National Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. He’s gotten more awards and honors, but you should have the idea by now.

By almost any measurable standard, a discussion about education in America -including teacher quality and improving teaching- should and must include America's best teacher; Rafe Esquith. There are two logical reasons for this. 1) Because we should all be familiar with the person who is widely seen as 'doing it' on a higher plane than the rest of us. The way every basketball player should know Lebron and every baseball player Derek Jeter, every teacher or would-be teacher and every principal who is interested in high quality teaching- should know Rafe Esquith. People who care about education might have posters of him on the walls of their college dorms. His books should be on the shelves of anyone who claims to care about education. He should be celebrated; everywhere.  2) Because the guy is sharing his stuff! Mr. Esquith isn't just a master teacher. He's also a published author. He doesn't write about high stakes tests and the education reform movement. he writes about teaching. His audience are teachers (and ostensibly anyone interested in high quality teaching) and he's not interested in much else. If you can trust anyone about what truly makes the type of teaching that can change the world, then you should be able to trust your time with one of his books.

A search on for the term "Rafe Esquith" returned just two mentions. One here from 2009 and one here from last week. Both of them were link backs from Mathew's blog (a compliment among bloggers, to be sure, but a superficial one as well). Neither of them represent any real energy or effort from the people at Those are facts. You should accept them as such.

Now you shouldn't view this as an attack on Gotham Schools.  I've interacted with the folks at that website for a few years now. All of them are good, intelligent people with excellent people skills and pedigree degrees. They're ready to engage or to listen (or defend, as was the case with one reporter when I called the site 'neo-lib' leaning) and they represent something fairly important; non-profit journalism. But anyone who seeks to question where their interests lie -with the  edu reform pulse (which is profit minded and has wrought a terrible nightmare on educators across the country) or with education -I mean real education that really can change the lives of millions of children- need only examine where they have expended their energies: The Bloke who cashed in by writing an anti teacher book about education and then vanished back under the rock from which he crawled grabbed GothamSchools' brightest spotlight. Rafe Esquith grabbed one small link back.

Why aren't more people familiar with the best teacher in America? Because the media who write about education write about something different.

**Update: The Gotham Twitter account kindly responded to this post. I have a different read of those links (you can decide for yourself), but it's only fair to say they question that assertion.

They also responded to my inquiry as to whether or not they would bother to read the book:

While I hope they do read the book (and if they say they will they probably really will) it's worth mentioning that they do call attention to what happens in other places around the country quite often. I feel that if they can mention LA here , then they can mention the epitome of pedagogy. Just my little opinion (just my little blog).  Cool that they engaged, though.**

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Show Me the Conversion Chart!

There has been a fair amount of talk about why the 'cut scores' for the testing components of New York City's teacher evaluation  system have been set so high.  Carol Burris has noted that while the testing component cut scores for other districts throughout the state are set to one level, those same scores are set to a higher level in New York City.

Burris notes that for the rest of the state, the cut scores look like this:
Ineffective = 0-2
Developing =3-8
Effective = 9-17
Highly Effective = 18-20
But for New York City, look like this:

Ineffective = 0-12
Developing =13-14
Effective = 15-17
Highly Effective = 18-20
You see the problem? New York City teacher, Burris says, have a more difficult time reaching the effective ranges.

There was a good, constructive piece on Edwize last week in response to this. It explained, from the UFT perspective, why the cut scores on the testing components of New York City's version of the evaluation system are so high. Jackie Bennett, a UFT researcher (who writes in a much more friendly tone than Leo Casey did when he tried to explain the system in his setting the record straight series on Edwize) explains that cut scores are just "numeric conversions" of expressed meaningful results from each subcomponent and that we shouldn't get too wrapped up in them.  The old cut scores (the ones used for every other district) just set up too many scenarios where a teacher might still score an ineffective even he or she earned higher. These new cut scores, says Bennett, are actually the fix to a problem the rest of the state has to face.  As an example, Bennett describes a scenario, where a teacher has 60% of his or her students meet student goals -who would be rated "developing" in either scenario, would earn only 3 points in the other districts' evaluation plan, but a total of 13 in New York  City's evaluation plan. In this scenario, the teacher in New York City would earn more points and be closer to earning his or her way to the 75 needed to be deemed as effective.

There's only one problem with the explanation: It doesn't address this little issue with the labels of "Ineffective" or "Developing" and that will be the difference between a person keeping his or job or losing it.

Bennett's description of how cut scores are just expressions of 'meaningful data' is very accurate but it begs a some obvious questions: What is that 'meaningful data'? And how does it compare with the 'meaningful data' in other districts throughout the state? I mean, if the cut scores are just an expression (of 'meaningful data'), then we really should look at the 'meaningful data', right? If Burris is wrong (and New York City teachers don't have a more difficult time) then the 'meaningful data' will show that we don't have to reach a higher bar in order to avoid being rated 'ineffective'. Right? But if Burris is correct -and New York City teacher do in fact have it more difficult than the rest of the state when its comes to the testing components- then that 'meaningful data', when compared with other districts throughout the state, will reveal that New York City teachers will have to reach a higher bar.

So let me explain some things in the English language for just a moment, ok? The 'meaningful data' that Ms. Bennett refers to is the percentage of students who meet their goals -you know, how many students pass their standardized exams. That's the meaningful data that is eventually expressed in cut scores. That 'meaningful' is converted to a score (from 0-20) on something called a conversion chart. A conversion chart will show the percentage of my students who met their goals and convert it to a score from 0-20. So if, as Burris says, city teachers have a harder time, a high percentage of our students would have to pass these standardized tests (rather, reach our targets) than in other districts.

In either language, the response to Ms. Bennett, who tells me don't worry! must be this: Show me the conversion chart. Show me the chart that converts this meaningful data into an actual score and let's compare it with similar conversion charts from other districts throughout the state.

I searched high and low on the Edwize post and I could not find a comparison of this meaningful data. SO I did what any normal person (who is totally obsessed about keeping my job) would do: I went and found my own. Here is a conversion chart high school teachers of a typical district in New York State (check page 23 of the .pdf document here)

If I worked in this district, 55% of my students would need to meet their local assessment targets in order for me to avoid being rated ineffective for this category. True, I would only earn 3 point toward a possible 100. But, again, this isn't just a number game. This is a label game: (How do we avoid the label of ineffective so that we can continue being employed?).

Well, here is the conversion chart that has been established for New York City high school teachers (see page 171 of the .pdf document (John King's decision) here)

You can see that, in order for me to avoid the 'ineffective' label in New York City, 60% of my students would have to meet their targets. True, I earn more points in New York City if 55% of my students meet targets than I would if I worked in this other district, but the label that gets me fired -Ineffective-  stays with me.

So was Burris correct or Bennett? Well, the last time I checked, 60 was, in fact, higher than 55. Which means it will be more difficult to keep your job in New York City than it will be in other districts throughout the state. Sure, it's not that much higher. But it is higher. Burris is correct.

What advantage does earning more points get me if I'm still going to be rated 'Ineffective' and be lose my job?