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!!!!"