Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's May (And Man, Am I Tired)!

Some Quick Math About Yesterday's MORE Post

If the $32.8 million figure from this MORE post is accurate -and if New York City really did try to fire 4.6 times the amount of teachers that the rest of New York State combined did- then the city spent $26.94 million dollars on hearing officer fees alone, while the rest of the state combined spent only $5.86.

(at least I think: x+4.6x=32.8 , right?)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stuff My Third Grade Teacher Taught Me

Just reflecting on Mr. Cadella's valuable social lessons which I was taught way way back in 1979. I know it was a different age, but these were lessons powerful lessons and  I'm glad I learned them before Mr. C passed away.

  • "Having a discussion over disagreements isn't in-fighting, you idiot!"
  • "Not talking about things that make you uncomfortable is stupid, you idiot!"
  • "Only idiots make excuses. I'm sorry, what was your excuse again?"
  • "You're not the only one who earned their way into the third grade, you idiot!"
  • "It's not the umps' fault if you're the one and swung and missed, you idiot!"
  • "Don't be a jerk to someone who's trying be your friend, you idiot!"
  • "If you think you have all the answers here, then you're an even bigger idiot then I thought, you idiot!"
  • "No, moron, your friends won't always like the same board games as you. Are you going to stop hanging out with them, idiot?"
  • "Do your homework before you question me, you idiot!"
Yeah, ol' Mr. C would probably be wrapped up on charges and fired if he taught today. But 30 years ago, he was the perfect example of effective. Of course, that was back in a different age.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Two Quick Things About The Union Election

Just two quick things that I felt were significant about yesterday's vote count:

1. Based on a quick count it looks like only 13% of working teachers voted to re-elect the union's leadership. The overwhelming majority didn't vote. Of those that did, the roughly 65 or 70 percent (another quick count) who did vote represent a lower percentage than years past. A MORE member made the point last night that their base is eroding and I think I agree.

2. More retirees voted than did active teachers (retirees vote for Unity in really high numbers). Not only did leadership make sure their vote counted for a higher percentage this year, they were also able to turn out their vote like, well, like gangbusters.

The rumor is that even the Unity members who observed the vote count were embarrassed to see how the low turnout was.

Congratulations to President Mulgrew on his Re-election.

Yep. It's just a quick note to acknowledge and congratulate the Unity Caucus on their reelection yesterday. I may not agree with everything they do, but as they'll be leading my union over the next few years, I thought a quick congrats was in order.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I Was Mistaken (But They're Still Snake Oil Salesmen!)

Yesterday's post featured some news about John King wanting to include student attendance in the standardized assessment portion of the (still!) upcoming APPR agreement.

(Quick recap for the newcomers: Between 20 and 40 percent of your (our) APPR score will be based on how well our students do on state tests. But it isn't as easy as to determine which students pass and which ones fail. The state has purchased a formula that determines how much actual value we have added to that student, as measured on standardized tests (I swear, I can never write or say that last part with a straight face). Using this formula, the state will set a target goal for each of our students, then we'll be measured in accordance with how many of our students met that goal. Got it?)

Now yesterday's rant was based on a tweet from a reporter who seemed to attend a meeting at NYSED. During that meeting, NYSED proposed that it include student attendance in the formula that determines how much value we will be expected to add to our students. That reporter published his full story today and, as it turns out, I wasn't quite right.

You see the state does, in fact, want to include student attendance in the VA formula for standardized exams, but only equal to the amount of time that student actually attended school. Says Geoff Decker:
Students with low attendance will also be counted, but only by the same rate at which they attended school, according to the proposal
So you see, it's not all that bad! They have developed a formula that can measure exactly how much value we have added to a student with low attendance during the several days that he or she had actually been able to attend school! I feel much better now, how about you?

Hey, wait a minute; how come they have developed a formula for measuring exactly much value we have added to a student with low attendance during the several days that he or she had actually been able to come    to school, but they haven't figured out a way to design a proper test?  Or  a way to get that kid to school in the first place!?

There are three kinds of people in this education world of ours. There are those who know nothing about value-added at all, those who feel that VA Algorithms can actually measure how much a student can learn with a -one- given teacher and those of us who, after seeing common sense approaches be abandoned in favor of junk like this, feel that the very idea of an algorithm measuring student achievement is more akin to Voodo than it is science or to education. While the idea of VAM is an interesting concept,  those of us the latter category feel that current crop of people who are presenting this as a way to improve teaching and (eventually) learning are nothing more than snake oil salesmen selling a cure-all that just isn't there.  So when they start talking about including students who may not be in school being included into the formula, I get a little suspicious.

In fact, proposing to use a formula that can account for only those days along term absentee was able to make it school in itself is probably a doenut.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Doenut Of the Week?

I've been meaning to start this new series called Doenut Of the Week for a while now. Today is as good a day as any. You see, each week, I'd like to recognize one reform-minded person for committing or suggesting an act that is so ridiculously silly that it would be laughable were the idea nugatory. With that in mind, here is one Tweet worth sharing that may well last to the first award.

 Geoff Decker from Gotham Schools (@GDeckernews) saw some proposed changes to the state's APPR value added formula. Decker's tweet highlights one of the proposals:

"Another big change to measuring student learning: high mobility and truant students will be in. Previous model tossed them out of equation"

Nice! They are thinking about counting those students that urban teachers could never get to come to school in the first place against that teachers' APPR score when it comes to standardize exams. (I'm so psyched).

While it's way too early to get mad at this (it may not make it through the approval process at all. Heck, I may have even read it wrong!), the mere fact that it's being discussed means that the first Doenut Of the Week might very well go to Commissioner John King of NYSED 'For perseverance in establishing the principle that teachers be fired if they can't get their students to school sufficient to pass a test'

Then again, it's only Monday. Something better may come along ;D

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Trivial Afterthought About "Merrow's Bomb"

Many of us have been waiting for this for a long time. There is absolutely nothing I'd be able to say that would constitute a contribution to the profound national discussion that is about to take place (I did, however, bring plenty of popcorn). 

But, as the edreformers of the world begin their decline from credibility, it may be a good idea to just remind you of a rather trivial matter: Both Michelle Rhee and Beverly Hall come out of New York City's schools.

Rhee's The New Teacher Project was and is headquartered in Brooklyn and worked closely with the DOE

Hall was in charge of city high schools (among other things) back when the BOE was headquartered in, well in Brooklyn, actually.

Both from Brooklyn. 
Man, those two should have drank the water. They might not have turned out so bad!

Gloria Brandman Responds to Being Called a Liar

Thanks to Gloria Brandman for reading the tripe I post here on doenuts. Thanks too for graciously providing a thoughtful response to the comments section of this post. She's gone to lengths to set the record straight about this matter before. Apparently, some people will say whatever they want, truth be damned.  I've pasted her response to the anonymous commenter below:

I was very surprised when I received the final report of the School Governance committee in the mail because it stated that the plan had received unanimous approvalI emailed Carmen and Emil to clarify that I hadn't supported it at the March 7th meeting when there had been a vote.  Joan S and I voted NO.  At the following meeting on March 12th, the final documents were presented for approval. However, since this was the same night as Parent /Teacher Conferences in the Elementary schools, many of the committee members (including myself) were not present.  Therefore it was impossible to correct the report stating that there was unanimous support. Why would a committee that had been meeting for weeks have the last meeting to finalize its work on a day when so many of the members could not attend?

At the fiasco March 20th  DA, a member got up and stated that I must be lying because according to this member, I said I voted NO at the March 12 meeting and I also said I was not at the March 12th meeting.

NO, that clearly was NOT what I said.  The chairs of the committee knew that was not what I said. They also knew that the vote had taken place at the March 7th meeting, not March 12th.  I was not allowed a point of personal privilege to clarify this distortion and both of the chairs of the committee remained silent on this point as well.

So let’s be clear here. My integrity is intact. Anyone who calls me a liar anonymously is the individual with the questionable integrity.

As a long time, proud UFT member, I have absolutely no reason to invent reasons for critiquing the leadership of my union. UNITY’s UFT leadership does that for itself (doenut note: She's a got point there! #justsaying). Supporting Mayoral Control clearly has been a mistake. Giving up our seniority transfer rights has led to the horrible ATR pool of members forced to go from school to school every week. Allowing high stake test scores to be part of teacher evaluations is not in the best interests of teachers or students. And when the new evaluation system is put into place, it will be good-bye to fair teacher tenure protections as we now know them. Our union agreed to merit pay in the form of school-wide bonus plans despite studies documenting that merit pay fails to improve student achievement. Lawsuits and arbitration settlements can be important tools in fighting against the DOE’s irresponsible policies but without strong and organized school chapters, (which we do not now have) legal victories are temporary or weak at best. And finally, as our country’s educational policies have morphed into a plan to privatize public education, the union leadership has consistently tried to be part of that plan rather than fight for what’s best for teachers and  students. Active support for RTTT and Common Core are two examples of national policies that have jeopardized our schools, unions and communities.

School Governance that allows for powerful decision making capacity to come from the school communities themselves is the only way to fight against these policies and to create the schools we want for our children. Mayoral Control, no matter how it is tweaked, does not allow this to happen.
Democracy has to start in our own union hall. Attacking a long time member who has consistently fought teachers and students is not the way to go about it. Some of my UNITY colleagues may not agree with my view on how our union should be run, but it would be hard to find anyone to dispute my honesty, and my hard and consistent work supporting the members at my school as Chapter Leader and before that the Educator Evaluators as a delegate. And I have successfully brought many members out for rallies, marches and PEP meetings to fight the attacks on our schools.
A full discussion about the merits of the final governance plan may have been fruitful (even though we know it would have been approved anyway) but attacking a member at the March 20th DA only served to make our union hall look small and petty, and even less democratic than usual.

Friday, April 5, 2013

MORE After the Election

Losing elections for such a long period of time has got to be a hard thing to tolerate. I guess that's why some folks forget what a good, strong union can do to protect it's members and wind up falling into the trap of talking about things that really don't matter that much to regular union members in a direct sense.  People  get silly during elections. They say dumb things and care about even dumber things. But, hey, that's the nature of elections. So I tolerate it.

Having not been jaded by time, and having a very strong understanding of what I'd like my union to do to protect me and why I joined the MORE caucus, I have to confess: I could personally care less who my union caucus endorses for mayor. Being a member of that caucus, I will, if asked, happily draft the endorsement statement (and go through the million and one edits that the democratic process of the MORE planning committee gives to it's writers so that it may be finished)  with a full and free heart.

(But that doesn't mean that I care about it!)

I do care a great deal about what my union can do to improve my working conditions as well as the working conditions of our colleagues and I care about what it can do to bring this whole topic of education back to a strong focus on the students -where it belongs. So after this comic book-like election is over, I'm hoping that MORE -that wonderful new caucus that will continue to grow over the next three years- will focus on the following things:

  • Create strongholds in schools where there is a MORE chapter leader or strong MORE presence This may include collective actions (such as mass letters or telephone calls or even rallies outside of a school) where a principal is abusing his or her teachers or it may mean supporting and celebrating  principals who believe in a cooperative process with their teachers. But it should also include training for the chapter leaders in these schools in how to use their full leverage in negotiating favorable arrangements for their members. It should include trainings on the contract (the entire contract. Not that hub-bub they give you out in New Jersey) and should include having a member from MORE being able to sit next to a chapter leader during or leading up to a level 1 grievance meeting. When I think of collective action, at the school level, those are the kind of things I think of. In three years, I'd like MORE to  to be able to boast that if you're a teacher at a MORE chapter, then each and every member of MORE will have your back during the day to day comings and goings of your school -even if you decide to fight 
(OK, especially if you decide to fight).
  • Bring back the Grapevine Collective Action may also include a weekly MORE update that informs MORE members of the comings and goings of those schools. What tactics are being used by principals? What has been proven to work when negotiating with a principal? What word is there from, say CFN 221? Or District 15? Information is the game changer. This city's teachers have been fragmented and prevented from collecting it. MORE needs to accept the role of being that thread that connects teachers with information across the city.
  • Hire a paralegal The UFT -the one that I loved- use to have one. When teachers were under investigation (and there are thousands of them every year these days) there was a paralegal (her blog is currently on my sidebar. You should check it out). As the wise man once mentioned to me 'why not investigate their investigation?'. I think it's a great idea. I think MORE should look into it. 
  • Train MORE leaders to sit with and help members who are meeting with one of our department's  friendly investigators. Little known secret: If you ever find yourself down at 65 Court meeting with an investigator, you don't have to answer any questions if you don't want. Yet the UFT staffer who sits next to you will advise that you to do so. The rules say that any member of the United Federation of Teachers can assist you. I say MORE should make it it's business to sit with members and to disrupt (within the bounds of procedures and ethics) the process as much as possible. The witch-hunts are only on reprieve. They'll be back in short order.
  • Whistleblow a reporter once joked to me that the only known thing in the Dept. of Education is that there so much that is just not known. Whistleblowers perform an important function in a large system like ours. While they make folks feel a wee bit uncomfortable when they blow that whistle of theirs, the system as a whole is better off with them in play. Our current system tends to punish people who blow the whistle. Why is Portelos in the rubber room? If you ask me, it's because he blew the whistle on his supervisor. Why was David Pakter tried -TWICE? If you ask me, it's because he blew the whistle.  It's just how things are. I think that MORE should pick up that gauntlet and, when it needs to blow that whistle, it should blow as hard as it can. 
By in large, I would love for MORE to focus on the school based, person to person stuff. They're very open and democratic, so I'll be lending my voice within the caucus to push toward those efforts.

And why? Because as a minority caucus, with the high profile that they (ok, we) currently have, this brilliant and special group of people will be, after this election if finally over, in a very unique position to actually strike out and help the teachers who need help -with or without the actual reigns of leadership. That's why.

Monday, April 1, 2013

How Many Tenured Teachers Does New York City Have?

Yeah. That's actually a question I'm asking you! The total number is difficult to find.

I know that one pro-reform website claimed there to be 55,000 tenured teachers back in 2006 (that was before the recession, when the total teaching core was at around 80,000) but how many teachers in New York City have tenure now?

Any comment or email with even an estimate would be much apreciated!