Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Tote, A Charter Rally and A Guiding Principle

My grandmother is 84 years old. She likes to go the dollar store and buy little things here and there for the people she knows. She bought me this tote last winter from her local Dollar Tree. She saw that it said "teacher" and I'm sure she thought it looked nice so she decided to pick one up. The Dollar Tree is one of those companies that is willing to buy retail junk that did not exactly fly off the shelves at other places, then sell it to customers at the grand old price of a dollar. She knows I don't use tote bags but, for a dollar, this 100% canvas model seemed to be quite a deal to my grandmother.

I immediately recognized the slogan on the front of the bag. It is the name for one of the many Charter School rallies that occur in the city every Fall and Winter. This particular rally was hosted by a pro charter group called Families for Excellent Schools. The rally took place in Folly Square back in October of 2015 and asked teachers to stand for school equality. It happened on a Wednesday. I think I missed it. I think it was because I, along with the rest of the NYCDoE was probably bringing school equality where it counts on a Wednesday -in school- but I could be wrong -and I digress.

The next day, The New York Daily News ran a piece about the rally entitled "1,000 NYC charter school teachers to rally for educational equality".

"Team Possible" over at Families For Excellent Schools must have ordered more than 1,000 totes, because this one found its way to a shelf in a Dollar Tree store out in suburban New York.

Charters come under attack all the time for bringing market-based values to the public education world. I've never shared in the attacks, because I think there are good charters out there, but I have always felt cautious whenever I saw the guiding principles of American Capitalism creeping their way into the last great public trust -education- there is. There are highly paid charter leaders and for-profit charter leaders in the world. There are even charter leaders who own the buildings that are rented to charter schools, thus making a sizable profit for themselves. Though not all bad, charters are not all good either and common sense leads anyone to be a bit cautious.

There is no doubt that Families for Excellent Schools purchased these totes for a rally back on 10/21/2015. Heck, the name of the rally is right there on the tote! I'm sure some were distributed to participants. But the guiding for-profit principles are pretty obvious when you realize that the tote bags that weren't' distributed for free at the rally, and weren't given out to students or to parents or even to passers by on the street, were actually sold to an after market retailer, who, in-turn sold them for a profit.

It looks like someone in the organization devoted time and resources away from "possible" and toward reaching out to companies to hock some wares in an attempt to recoup monies spent for a public relations event. Or maybe not. Perhaps someone allowed to happen. This, frankly, is much the same to me but some folks would find that different.

Meanwhile, "Why", critics would ask, "might groups like Families for Excellent Schools, the folks who sold us on possible, not be the best fit for education?" It may be because their mindset, which is focused on results and on bottom line, leads them to sell their junk to a dollar store when they can't get enough people show up at a rally. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

JUST Like Tammany Hall

        (No cute satire today, folks. Just a rant from a brilliant, very angry dude)

Before the first seniority laws were passed in the city, a person had to know someone within the political patronage system in order to get a job as a civil servant. This included jobs like teaching. Read this Harper's Weekly article from 1901 if you'd like to know how living and working under Tammany Hall, the major political machine that ran city and state politics, was like.

The seniority system was put in place in order to stop all this.  That whole period in history (the Progressive Era) brought a realization that jobs (like teaching) shouldn't simply go to people who had paid a political patronage on some level but should go to those who actually merited the job. There is a long history of the struggle to reach a merit based hiring system, on the state level, here. Respect the written word. Learn your damn history and read it. It is a continual struggle waged for hundreds of years in this state.

When seniority transfers for teachers were abolished in the 2005 contract, there were concerns expressed at my school about how teaching jobs could go back to a political patronage system, where your assignment relied more on who you knew than what you knew.  We were told, by our Unity Chapter Leader, that the guarantee of that not happening -the trade-off of giving up seniority- was that teachers were going to be given an open and free job market where they could search for any teaching job in the city and obtain a position based on their own merit.

That system -the Open Market Hiring System- has been highly criticized as being an empty vessel, where jobs are posted but instead go to political patrons on some level anyway. I have heard of of one school -in Queens- where the son of a one of the school's employees bragged to his grad class about how he had a leg up on an open social studies position because of his mother's position at the school. (Whether or not he was hired, I do not know. I do know that my very qualified friend was not).  I know of another -again in Queens- where a man answered the "how did you get the job here" question with "my mother is an AP at <school XXX> and I got it that way". What precise way that meant, I am not claiming to know (he seemed like a nice fella).

 There are schools in the city -right now- who have sent emails to listervs letting folks know they are hiring but have not placed the positions on the "Open Market".

What is the result of all this? A corrupted system of hiring practices for the city, just like in the days of Tammany Hall.

Now we, in the city classrooms, all know these examples exist. I won't pretend to be bringing you up to speed on something that should be blazingly obvious. This (the last time I checked) is a grown up's world and I'm not here to cry.

But this year's offenses seem particularly egregious. The "Open Market System" for non excessed teachers has been open since April 15th -for three weeks as of this writing. Thus far, the system has posted exactly zero openings anywhere in the city. That's Zero for any teacher on any level anywhere in the city of New York. This is the case for the account I have created and, thus far, the accounts of three other assigned teachers who are looking to change schools.

Zero positions open.


I sent an email to through system's help feature asking why I was prevented from having the opportunity to view the job openings.  The reply I received is below: the start of the Open Market transfer period, there are few vacancies listed in the system. If no vacancies appear in your search results, please check back regularly, as new positions are added daily.

If you are searching for vacancies and do not find any, you may still apply to a school instead of a specific vacancy.

That reference to *few* vacancies ignored my assertion that *zero* vacancies were being shown.

But it's just this last part that is absolutely infuriating. If the world had email during the Tammany Hall days, when patronage was the natural order of things and your merit was rarely considered, I am certain I would have received an email from someone inviting me to apply directly to a school, just like I was invited to a apply here.

A good friend shared the backstory (the real story behind this mess) with me. Apparently, the budget accounts in Galaxy, the principals' online budget system, had not yet been established for the upcoming school year and would not be online until roughly the middle of May. Once that was done, principals could begin -begin- posting the positions they anticipate opening at their schools (if they chose to publicly post the assignments).


Thing is, the opening of this system -the system established to replace seniority as a fair hiring practices for schools- was supposed to happen in April. This was done through a city/UFT agreement (which may or may not have been part of the contract. I honestly don't know). It was agreed on this date for a reason: To give schools and applicants enough time to look around and prepare for interviews and demonstration lessons.  Time is an important component to fairness.

(I can't believe I had to write that down; that sufficient time is important in the process of being fair. Honestly, saying the obvious is so ridiculous.)

Opening that the system in April, then pushing its population of data (the postings for positions) back until May helps to defeat the purpose of having a fair an open hiring system in the first place and it brings us right back to a patronage system, much like the one we had before World War I, when people like William M Tweed and Charlie Murphy decided who worked in this city and where they worked.

I wonder which colleagues reading this -the teachers who are working at desirable, "nice" schools- received their position without knowing at least one person who was already assigned to that school. I congratulate the few who can claim to have received their positions solely through the merit of teaching.

For the rest of you, I'd offer a different congratulations. You are the beneficiaries of a rigged hiring system; one that is corrupted either by its lack of competence or by the agenda driven by its politics. And you are using that corruption to get over on everyone else. Of course, you're no better than anyone else and you know. You just happen to have the 'hookup'. Congrats on having a 'hookup'.

Now as of this writing, this system has been open for three weeks. Not one position has been posted and my union -the same Union that stopped the whole city in 1968 over due process for city employees- has been absolutely silent on this topic. They, obviously, could care less.  The people in the schools posting the assignments could clearly care less. The principals of these schools could clearly care less.

But there is a principle at play here that is larger than any rat scrambling for his or her piece of cheese at a nice school. When I'm not being a smart aleck on a blog, I happen to be (by any metric used thus far) a highly effective teacher. Danielson? HE. Student surveys? HE. Frameworks other than Danielson? HE. Student achievement? Informal colleagues surveys? Outside reviewer visits? HE. HE. HE. The point is that, unless you're an idiot who doesn't know what good teaching is, it's pretty clear that I'm good at what I do.  If I wanted to change schools, I'm sure I could get a job by putting out feelers and seeing which friends knew which principals (Ok. I know I could get a job this way because I say no thanks to two or three each year. Not to brag, but I felt a sudden urge to assert that I'm not coming from a disgruntled place).

 But I shouldn't have to do all of that. You see folks, for the last 100 years, a system has been put in place to measure me (as an applicant) on my merits. It's just not being used.

What will (or won't) my union, including my friends in both dissenting caucus', say next year,  when the positions are placed on the open market even later? Or the one after that?

Or the one after that -when any idea of merit based hiring practices for schools is lost to everyone memory?

Update: It is four hours after initial publication and 92 vacancies have been listed. They were not there at the time of publication. I will continue updates.