Wednesday, June 19, 2013

All Documents Have Been Graded For This RIB

That's the message that teachers across the city have been getting when they access regents exams in a vain attempt to scores them for students.

Look, for three full days, we have have not been unable to access these exams because the private, for-profit company that has been asked to scan and present the exams to us for grading has not been able to do their job. We've sat in these rooms for this time accomplishing nothing (a particular pet peeve of mine) because our department struck a deal with some company that couldn't even deliver on their end of the bargain. This screw up is jeopardizing the graduation expectations of high school seniors all across the city and I'm sure that several hundred family vacations are currently hanging in the balance (with the potential for summer school still alive for many teens who would otherwise know their scores by now).

This whole time we at our schools (grading along the time honored tradition) would have been finished with this task, or would have been very close to finished, by now and none of this would be happening.

You see, we would have delivered, as we have for decades now. They didn't. 

And who will they turn to to fix their screw up? Why us, of course!

The DOE, as rumor would have it, has decided to offer us all per session (DOE-speak for overtime) on Thursday and Friday evenings -and all day on Saturday, as well as all day Sunday- to make up for this train wreck. Yep.

We're in this fiasco because the department had decided -astoundingly!- that it was us who could not be trusted to produce accurate results for our own students! That's right. They concocted this system as a way to keep us and our professional judgement at bay with regard to assessing our own students at our own schools. We're here because we weren't trusted to act as professionals. 

People who read this blog know that I really don't complain and I really don't gripe. Maybe I'll throw out the occasional piece of sarcasm, but wining isn't something I really do. But as you read the blogs and Ed. news sites tonight figuring out exactly what is causing this mess, and as you go into your grading 'hub' tomorrow wondering if it will continue for yet another day and wondering when you will find out how well your students performed on their* state tests  I'd like to you to remember just one thing:

We're here at these grading hubs experiencing this fiasco because they said that they could not trust us to be professional!

And ain't that a hoot!?

*(they being the same Ed Reformers who contracted and created this crummy regents grading system)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Anonymous Commenter Talks Union and Family History

It's not often that I get comments. And less often that I share them. I recently sparred with an anonymous commenter about why I went public with that MORE thing I wrote about last weekend. Just when I thought that I had won the contest, he (I think it's a he) pasted this story into my comments section. It's certainly worth the read, so pull up a chair and take some time from your evening (or morning) to read about the importance of being a part of union from the perspective of A. Nonymous.

My grandpa and grandma lived in a large Jewish community in the Lower East Side of New York City. Grandpa was a union organizer, I’m not sure what type of factory he worked at, at one point it may have been a furrier and other times it was the garment center. He never identified himself by his job title, he always called him self a union-man. I think he had a position like shop steward, or delegate, but in his words he a “union organizer”. I know he led many protests, strikes, rallies, picket lines, and famous marches down Broadway. The only thing he ever discussed was unionism, politics, and Jewish matters.

Grandpa would stand on the corner of Delancey and Essex and argue all day long. They would argue how to organize, who had the worst boss, best union, and which politician was best for workers. They debated loudly all day and all night. Some were claiming communism was better then socialism, others socialism better than communism. The Alta kakas (old Jewish Folk) all called themselves something different; some were Trotskyites, other revolutionaries, some anarchists, communists, socialists, Marxists. My grandpa never told me what he was, other than a union-man, of course, but I once asked Grandma “who is Mr. Marx:, she laughed and said “he was a Jew”, that was it in grandma’s book,. I never understood the difference, I would just listen to them argue and argue, eventually the debate would stop with some one cracking a joke, they would all laugh and go back to talking how best to defend workers rights and make their unions stronger. Today we cal it “busting chops”, but it always works to calm down a tense situation. I asked grandpa “why do you fight all the time?” , he said it was good they fought, “we’re in America” Grandpa said, “in the old country we wouldn’t be allowed to do this, now we have different views, but we’re all union men and that’s what counts”

I asked Grandma why they always argued she answered “its what they do, its healthy, its helps them get out their ideas and learn from each other”, I said “if they fight so much why do they stay friends” Grandma answered “because they’re in the union together”. That’s it conversation was over.

We would go to synagogue every Saturday and high hold day (Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah), but it was never about God or prayers it was always about discussing unions and politics. Grandpa loved God and Judaism; he just loved unions and politics more. Of course Grandpa and friends would stand on the steps and argue before the service, after service, during service every time the rabbi would yell at them. Grandpa then would go back to the corner and argue some more. There were always two groups, the loud rabble-rouser type, like Grandpa, and the intellectual types, who were not so loud, but always referred to some book or article or the torah or haftarah and had it all memorized. The loud people weren’t always right and the intellectuals were sometimes wrong, but that was the fun of watching them all go at it. It must be fate that today his grandson is a union delegate that is a rabble rouser, who works along side a chapter leader who is an intellectual that knows the contract as well as Grandpa’s union friends knew the Torah. Grandpa must have arranged this

They would also have a comment or disagreement about every article in every paper, both Yiddish and English. Everyone would read, and everyone would fight, of course any situation can be diffused can be with quick witty joke, where everybody would laugh and then go back to organizing the next union event. Grandpa would love the blogs today, they’re informative, they’re funny, and they have a place to comment back. I could see grandpa now typing away on his ipad, yelling at some blogger he disagreed with, or send out an angry email to some list serve. Grandpa would be in paradise with blogging and emails, a place where he can instantaneously express himself and have, thousands read it, and he may have never left the house. The bloggers today have a way of presenting poignant arguments that use humor that would have been greatly appreciated by the old union men and women on the Lower East side.

Grandpa thought everyday, every place was a chance to organize, he would go to a store and ask the clerk “why don’t you form a union I’ll help you”. I was always excited at how grandpa would speak to anybody with such authority. I always knew I wanted to be like him. Some of the Jewish men would not speak to the “gentiles” on Mulberry Street, they were Italian and Catholic, very strange to this community. Grandpa would have none of it, he said “lets go talk to them and find out what unions they’re in”, soon enough grandpa had made new friends and new connection and of course new people to argue with. They would march down Broadway and strike in support of each other. I would join the marches and Grandpa would say “We have to be louder than them”, they would compete who had the largest banner and brought out the most people. God-forbid you missed a union march, my grandfather and everyone else would yell and yell at you, you would be too embarrassed to leave your house. Grandpa and his friends would warn the man and his wife that missing a union event was the worst sin in the world and they would be thrown out of the union if it happened again. No matter how sick or tired you were in that union march, it was a shanda (shameful act) to miss one.

Grandpa would talk to anyone regardless of color, religion, or background, as long as you were union it was fine by him. He spoke a lot about how poorly the government treated black people, he always said, “ the way our people were treated over there (meaning the old country) are the way black people are treated over here”, “this” grandpa said “must not be allowed”. He was very upset at the images he saw on TV, as were the other Jewish union workers. They reached out to Black churches and asked how they can help. They donated to Black rights organizations and had joint meetings with civil rights leaders. I asked Grandma why is Grandpa involved in this, “she said we’re Jewish, we can’t sit by and watch, do you remember what happened to our people, never forget” and that was that. Jewish leaders would march side by side with Martin Luther King, Rabbi Hershel, Rabbi Prinz, and the union leaders that created committees to support the civil rights movement. Today such a thing would be called social justice unionism, grandma and gradpa called it “the right thing to do”. They never saw supporting civil rights as separate from union rights, it was one in the same for them; human rights!

I questioned my grandparents as to why they seemed to be the only ones talking to Italians, Irish, Black, Hispanic, and all types of people, Grandma answered, “Your grandpa and dad fought for this country so people could be what ever they want to be, Grandpa only cares if they support the unions, if they do, then they’re good in our book” and as usual that ended the conversation. Today grandma would be called progressive or liberal, I’m not sure she would understand those terms. She would just tell me “In this country you are allowed to be, think, or say what you want, that’s why we Jewish people like it here, and it should be the same for everyone”. Grandma was ahead of her times and I’m sure she would be happy to see the rights Gays, African-Americans, and women have achieved. Grandma and Grandpa never cared what people believed in or what the looked like, they saw everyone as working class and “in the same boat” as grandma would say “and the boat will sink like the Titanic if we don’t stay together” she always said. I never thought this was radical it just made sense.

Grandpa got older; the factory jobs left, and with it the union jobs. They moved to Coney Island and he became a democratic party organizer, walking the boardwalk talking to everyone. He had to over come being a New York Giants fan in the borough that supported the Dodgers, but even with that “impairment” people gravitated towards him.

Grandma would make friends with her neighbors who were Italian, Irish  and Black. They would form life-long relationships. This would make things easier for her, as compared to others in her generation, when my mom re-married to a Greek man, who Greek-orthodox, and later when my brother brought home a Paksistani-Muslim that he latered married, grandma accepted it all. At first grandma was a bit upset, because of the whole Israeli-Arab thing, and my family were and still are Zionists, but soon my mom and grandma realized my sister-n-laws family was no different than our, we’re all good people. My grandma or grandpa weren’t around to see the rest of the family grow, but I’m sure they would be happy that we’re Jewish, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Pakistani, Muslim, Catholic, and Greek-orthodox. We celebrate Easter and Passover and Ramadan, and we all are able to laugh about our differences

Grandpa had passed by the time the Crown Heights riots had happened, but grandma was visibly upset about how “our two peoples who are so closely can possible become so separate”. She would feel better knowing that I’m involved in fighting for equality of opportunity and conditions for all peoples. Grandpa would be so happy that my union group is old and young, black and white, and everything in between. He would probably argue with everyone, tell us all why they are wrong, and then laugh with everyone and go back to organizing.

Both my grandparents and parents would never allow me to label anyone or stereotype, if I said “those Italians”, they would yell at me saying :” people have names use it”. When the younger children came home and shared what they learned in American history class about the times in the 1950’s called McCarthyism, grandma would come to tears and grandpa would say “don’t bring it up”. Obviously this wasn’t a good time for my family.

My grandparents didn’t see me achieve my dreams. Today I’m a teacher, a union delegate, and an organizer myself. The proudest days of my life were being hired to be a teacher and being named vice-presidential candidate of MORE for UFT. I know they were watching from heaven and proud of me. I know they love that I’m part of group that is so diverse where we stand for union rights and human rights. They always said, “Jews have to always fight for the rights of others, because we’re lucky to finally have some”. They would approve that my group is dedicated to unionism and social justice.

I regret they didn’t live to see my name of that UFT ballot; it gave me so much pride to tell everyone I was the UFT Vice presidential candidate. I only wish I could have told them.  I even told my students about it-as I teach Participation in government and always stress the civic participation part. My favorite day out of the entire election was the last period I taught duringFriday after the election, I walked in a bit late into class as I was have a discussion on union matters with my principal, I walked into a standing ovation, I asked “my kids’ why they were applauding me, they said “you finished second, we’re proud of you” –they must have Googled the election results. I was shocked and it was the closest I ever came to crying in front of the class.

Today I continue to try to be a union leader, I see past any differences as grandpa did because as he would say “we’re all in this together, unions”, and grandma would like my caucus because we defend the right of people to “be whatever they want to be”. Im the last of dying breed in Brooklyn, I was Born, raised, and teach here. I am the product of the public school and CUNY system. I have a deep Brooklyn accent that the new people who have since moved into Brooklyn, seem to look down on it. People mistake my accent for being dumb or naive. My friends and I wear crosses or chai’s, have tattoos, and all have hard old-school Brooklyn accents. Although the new Brooklynites call themselves progressive, I get the feeling they see themselves as better than me. I’m working class and they’re what Grandma would have called a “limousine liberal” they slap the Obama sticker on the back of their hybrid but as grandma would say “you talk the talk, but can you walk the walk”. My answer is no. Its unfortunate we’re losing our working class identity, I don’t think grandpa would approve of UFT being called a “union of professionals” he would probably say “your a union, that’s it”. The loss of union strength was deeply disturbing to all my family, but they would have faith since me and my brother are such strong union activists.

I’m happy to be in MORE, I learn a lot by being here, and it makes me a better person and a better teacher. I am 10000 percent sure, Grandma and Grandpa would be very happy with MORE, grandpa would most certainly like the politics and arguing, grandma would like that people are who they are.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

About MORE: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Yesterday, I aired some of MORE's laundry on here. The airing was a response to a decision they made to shut down one of their lists. Because the decision appeared to be made suddenly, and because the list was also shut down suddenly (very shortly after after their announcement was made), I posted the message (along with my response and my goodbye).

That post was seen as an attack (it was not an attack. It was a rebuke. Please see the full post here) but it helped lead to a flurry of emails, telephone calls, text messages, G-Chats within MORE which eventually lead to a review, then a reversal, of their decision. My understanding is that people within MORE who rarely spoke found themselves having long phone conversations last night, explanations about the decision, which weren't initially offered, were offered (in great detail)  and some longer term issues which I thought would never be addressed, were suddenly put on the table. 

So today, on the newly recreated MORE planning listserv, this message was sent. I posting it her (with permission from a Steering Committee member) with the hope that everyone who read yesterday's post will read this one.  

Dear Friends,
We are sorry for the way we handled the closing down of this list serve. It was done in a hasty, non-democratic fashion and we apologize sincerely. It was never our intent to offend anyone or make you think you no longer count in MORE. It was a mistake to send out an email on a list and then immediately close that list to all discussion. For that we apologize, we are very sorry. This list has already been reactivated and you will get advance notice to any changes
Steering committee made the decision to change from a planning list to a discussion list in order to involve MORE people. It is not fair to our membership to have an internal list where certain conversations go on that others are not privy to. This planning list as it currently stands consists of people who came to MORE at the beginning and are not really active anymore, as well as others who are very active.  There was no real process for getting on the list other than "if you were doing work it made sense for you to be on it." Not very democratic, but obviously nothing malicious, and now we are more organized and need a clearer process.
The discussion list will be the same as the old planning list, open for all discourse and debate, and in fact we encourage it, as long as it's in a respectful tone.There will be an internal steering list to hammer out the minutia of setting up meeting dates, conference calls, and approve press releases and/or statements. We are doing this so as not to bombard people's emails which seems to be the case, therefore much of the correspondence goes unread by so many. If membership feels, including all of us on this list, that all emails ought to be transparent we can arrange that too. The steering committee was democratically elected and is only a 6 month term, so there is always room for change.
There needs to be room for discussion of differences that exists among the members of MORE and we all must work harder to ensure this discussion continues to happen.
We have formed committees in order to organize the work of MORE and involve as many UFTers as possible in the work of the union. See below for the list and contact info (from the weekly update) of our committees: 
The high stakes testing committee was formed to challenge the high stakes testing regime that it is destroying our public school system, and is at the heart of the assault on teachers and students alike.
The newsletter committee exists to give us a publication we can get into our members boxes because there are so many great writers in MORE and every great change is led by it's literary heroes, including a change in UFT leadership. This is a trusted and tried way of educating, organizing, and mobilizing.
The chapter organizing committee was initiated because it was felt that after the election we must help people by building strong chapters, or as in we say in old trade unionism "organize the shop first". In order for MORE to gain victory we will need chapter leaders, delegates, and organizers who can protect their own in schools.
We began the contract committee because we all know that when a new mayor steps in, municipal worker contracts will be the first order of business. MORE must have a vision ready to deliver, because we all know in the past (and most recently with evals) leadership is ready to give away the farm and concede on anything. MORE must be prepared to lead the conversation on what a good contract entails and a vote no campaign is necessary.
The media committee is in charge of putting out content for our blogs, statements, producing videos,and responding to press requests. There have been many great contributors so far and we always need more. Our blog and social media has brought us great notoriety and after watching the events in Occupy, the Arab Spring, and Union protests through-out Europe, we all can agree in the importance of twitter, facebook, and blogging in bringing about great change of any kind.
If there is something you feel passionately about that is not covered by these committees, by all means start one up and we will offer all our platforms to help you promote it or join one of these committees. MORE needs all the help it can get.
Hopefully we have set the record straight. There will be an open, transparent, email list where all discourse and debate is welcome by all members of MORE. We deeply regret the move yesterday to close the list, sorry, and we hope everyone here continues to be active on the email list and with one of the committees
In Solidarity, 
The MORE Steering Committee
Just three thoughts to share about this. 1) I believe every word of it. It's in line with everything I've heard  and read about the issue yesterday. 2)  It takes a commitment to integrity to publicly acknowledge your mistakes. These folks deserve a lot of credit for sending this out and for sending it out so quick. 3) This wasn't an email that was just put together by one person who felt bad for me or others.  I've been reading emails from MORE people for some time now and I am able to identify the writing styles of no less than three different  people from their steering committee in this message. This acknowledgment of  the foul up seems to be the result of a group effort. So kuods to MORE. That says something about the integrity of people within that group.

Post Script (but a very important one): I also pointed a finger at steering committee members who are part of the International Socialists Organization. In my post, I wrote that these people seemed to be taking over MORE. I shouldn't have gone there and, in fact, I should address two things about that tact: 1) It was, apparently, factually inaccurate. After my post, it was brought to my attention that only three people on that committee belong to the ISO. 2) It was a very misplaced label. A more appropriate label would might have sounded more like 'people from the left' or 'the 'social justice' crowd within MORE'. The ISO person who spoke with me today was, rightfully, upset at that salvo. In fact, as my therapist always says, labels are something you want to stay away from in general anyway. And so I apologize for it. 

That reference, however, opens up a whole can of worms that is just too big for me to understand or deal with. The issue of how a union caucus addresses something called Social Justice Unionism, as opposed to Trade Unionism, has been talked about from the outside quite often. You can see some examples of some smart people trying to address this underlying issue  here (and here and here and here (and here on Ednotes)).  Unfortunately, that discussion hasn't been so robust within MORE itself. Meanwhile, I have observed that the differences, having not being addressed directly, tend to materialize from time to time in the form cognitive dissonance, or grumblings, or disagreement over an issue that is being addressed or, like my take on their move yesterday, misplaced suspicions of some very well intentioned and well-meaning people. 

Like any healthy organization, MORE has some issues that they will, eventually, have to address.  But those issues are way too big for me to understand or want to deal with or even want to be near as they're being dealt with. So while I wait for people who might be identified as the 'social justice' wing be more willing to have that larger discussion,  and as I wait for people who might be identified as the Trade Union wing figure out how to open their mouth and speak up when  it counts (when an issue is actually being discussed), I'm still going to be a former member of MORE (sorry folks: I already have a job that consumes all of my time and thoughts and it's way more fun than union stuff.). But (taking the advice of one MORE person who was kind enough to send me an email today) I'll be listening, and I hope to see those issues resolved sometime soon. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

ISO In the House! (My email to Brian Jones)

Back in MArch when the blogger Chaz accused MORE (the union caucus) of moving to the left, I thought he was, well nuts. Chaz' conclusion, that this cool little caucus had been taklen over by the left (and byleft, I mean members of the Internation Socialists Organization (ISO)) may have been correct after all.
Just today, I receievd an email on the MORE listserv from Brian Jones. Here's the email:

Dear planning listserv,

Thank you for serving as the volunteer planning committee. Your work has gotten MORE to where it is today!

We now have a several committees up and running, including a steering committee.

The steering committee decided to take several steps to streamline our use of email and to create a more transparent and democratic use of email.

For those reasons, we voted to terminate this listserv, and move its various discussions into the committees and to the discussion listserv.

For general discussion and debate of important issues, please use the MORE discussion listserv.

Since some people have complained about receiving too many emails, we will be re-starting that listserv very soon. Stay tuned for an email that gives you the opportunity to re-subscribe.

We are also starting a separate news listserv for articles and other news items. Stay tuned for the email to subscribe to that listserv as well.

We will continue to maintain a discussion listserv for chapter leaders and delegates ONLY. This listserv is for discussing school-based organizing issues. If you are already on this listserv, then you will remain on it. If you would like to join that listserv, send an email to:

For concrete work and decision-making (drafting leaflets, etc.) please use your respective committees.

You can contact any of the committees directly with the following email addresses:


The Steering Committee makes proposals for MORE's general membership meeting agendas, and makes decisions for MORE between membership meetings.

The Media Committee handles social media, the blog, press releases, and the production of most leaflets.

The Newsletter Committee produces the MORE newsletter (launching this fall).

The Testing Committee works on challenging high stakes standardized testing.

The Chapter Building Committee deals with the ins and outs of school-based organizing.

The Contract Committee is looking carefully at our upcoming contract to help MORE develop a strategy for a contract campaign.

Feel free to send any questions about these changes to me.

for the MORE Steering Committee
I have been a little concerned about an agenda that didn't put teachers (and parents and students) first for sometime now. With this concern, I've observed that the voice of one full wing of the caucs (the Trade Uniosts or teachers' rights people) has been lessened and and the other wing (the International Socialists of the World(!)) has been on the increase. That big uber committee, Steering, is overwhelming influenced by the 'ISO crowd. So shutting down the 'plan' list in favor of the larger list (which is never used, and which I was actually never added to anyway) was more a way of lessening the democratic structure (and containing disucsion within the several committees) than it was a way of increasing democratic structure. I understood it as the socialist crowd saying "hey; we've pretty got control of this steering committee now, so we're going to go ahead and shut down other vehicles for communication. Thanks and have a nice day"

So I quit. I never was much of a union person anyway. And I sent the list this  reply:

This isn't, in my opinion, anywhere near the transparency that I was assured would exist when I joined MORE. It sounds more like you nice folks in steering are containing much of the discussions to committees, then allowing the general listserv to continue. Moreover, it sounds, very much Brian, that the decision (which wasn't discussed anywhere outside of steering?) wasn't as democratic as I have come to expect, and have experienced, MORE to be.
For those reasons, and because I'm not comfortable with what appears to be an ISO agenda (at the direct cost of a Trade Unionist agenda) asserting itself, I'm going to go ahead and say goodbye to MORE. I wish you well, I just don't wish to work with you.
Now before you go taking to the keyboard like a, well, a warrior, I'd like to point out that a single brick bat was delivered in this entire email (which is quite a feat for an edu blogger), so I expect a response in kind which would include, and would be limited to, such messages as "ok" "be well" or even no response at all (preferably the latter).
Thanks very much and be well
Johnnie Doenuts
Thing is, it got bounced. MORE had already shut down that list before anyone could express any opnion abotu it at all! No discussin there. No democracy.

Now I know the decision to shut down the planning list wasn't unanumous. It surely wasn't discussed with the general membership, including a lot of folks who have been workign very hard for the organization. We all just got this email today, you see and ..poof! The list was shut down. So I have to quit publicly!

Dear  Brian and MORE (including the folks who I adore),
Please accept this cordial goodbye.
Good luck with that whole 'democratic' thing.

MORE to come ;)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

January 1st 2014: The Day After No Future

Many thanks to my guest blogger, Kevin Kearns (a very intelligent New York City teacher and fellow MOREista) for hashing out these thoughts about what pre-conditions the UFT should set for their mayoral endorsement. I've been follower of Kevin on Twitter for sometime now and have found him as informed an intelligent as anyone out there (as you're about to see with this terrific piece of writing).

By: Kevin Kearns (@KFrancisKearns)

For weeks, one of the biggest topics of discussion on twitter and the blogs has been the UFT endorsement for the mayoral primary.  At this point, everyone knows that the UFT is announcing an endorsement on June 16th and all signs point to Bill Thompson.  While many of us believe Thompson is a poor choice due to his connection with Merryl Tisch, I am starting to second guess that notion due to the rise of Anthony Weiner.  The prospect of a Weiner/Quinn runoff is a very real, and downright scary, possibility, and Thompson would be far more likely to ease up on the Bloomberg reforms than either of the two.  For months I have said that Liu is the best candidate, and on principal I do believe he deserves the UFT endorsement.  He is the most labor friendly and the most progressive, and if we really believe we can “make a winner” then he should be our guy.  If you are not going to endorse the candidate who you believe is the best, why endorse at all?  Still, Liu’s chances of making a runoff even with the UFT endorsement are very slim, and if the UFT wants to pick a winner he is not the best choice, DeBlasio is.  He is the second most labor friendly/progressive and with a hard enough push could make it into a runoff.  However, endorsing Liu, DeBlasio, Thompson, or Albanese could all be for naught if a) they can’t win the race, b) they really are just pandering to us c) if elected they won’t follow through on many of their promises.  Maybe it is time for the UFT to stop talking about an endorsement of a candidate and really push what is most important: The issues that affect their members and the students in NYC.
The other week a few of us, including the primary writer of this blog, debated the possible Thompson endorsement on twitter when DOENUTS brought up a crucial point  “we've all come to hate Bloomberg so much that not many people are thinking about what we want.”  DOENUTS is right, the biggest lie I have heard every week since January 1st 2010 is “Just ____ days till Bloomberg is out and all of this gets better…”  Some teachers rightfully fear Quinn or Lhota, but assume everyone else will be better, but when you ask them “better how?” or “who is better?” they never seem to have the answer.  While there are many things that the new mayor will have to fix, many will be out of his/her control.  Fortunately the three biggest issues are completely in their control. If I were leading the UFT, I would refuse to endorse any of these candidates if they won’t agree on these major points.
  1. An immediate and permanent moratorium on school closings/colocations.
    School closures have been by far the biggest crime of the reform movement, and right now it seems that the only way they will ever be stopped in NYC is with a mayor who imposes an immediate moratorium.  Even CTU, who really upped the ante on union activism, was unable to stop Rahm Emanuel from the largest wave of school closures in the history of this country.  Our next mayor must agree not only to a temporary moratorium on school closures (as some candidates called for this year), but a permanent moratorium on school closures.  It has become quite clear over the years that the students who are disproportionately affected by school closures are students who are poor, and of color.  Students who are in phase out schools lose valuable services, and are denied access to many courses and after school programs as budgets shrink.  School closures have also created a culture of fear among teachers in New York City.  I worked in a school that was threatened with some form of closure for four years in a row, and this was constantly used as fuel for administrators to overburden and attack teachers.  Many great neighborhood schools were eventually lost, and large comprehensive High Schools are not almost non-existent.  The School closure policy has led to many other issues, such as co-locations that create “separate and unequal” atmospheres in buildings, and an ATR crises that has gone on far too long.  No candidate wants to touch the issue of the ATRs, and the UFT doesn’t want to bring it up either, but this problem would not even exist if we had not allowed the Bloomberg administration to close well over 100 schools in 12 years.  If I were Michael Mulgrew, I would not even consider endorsing any candidate that did not agree to a permanent school closure moratorium.  
  1. A complete end to mayoral control.  
    We all know that there is no way the next mayor will agree with the UFT on everything, and to be fair they shouldn’t.  The mayor should do what is in the best interest of all stakeholders (teachers/parents/students) and although most of the time our interests are the same, sometimes they are not.  The problem is, under our current system the mayor has power to do whatever he/she wants even when thousands of teachers, parents, and students come out in protest.  With the mayors ability to choose the chancellor and make any changes to education policy through the PEP there is almost no democracy in our schools.  It is time we give our schools back to the communities that they belong to.  Until parents, students, and teachers have a real voice in the process, our education system will never be fair.  Amending mayoral control does not go far enough; we need to abolish mayoral control.  No candidate has called for this, and the UFT has not called for it either.  I have seen parents, teachers, and students, literally in tears, begging the Panel for Education Policy to go against the mayor’s wishes and save their schools, yet not once has a single mayoral appointed voted against a DOE policy ever.  When the stakeholders become completely disenfranchised all hope to work together to fix our schools is lost.  
  1. A fair contract with no givebacks and back pay.
    In a way this last one is a bit comical.  We cannot have a contract with no givebacks, since we just gave up a ton of rights last weekend, without a new contract.  For several years UFT members have gone without a raise.  Now with the new mess imposed on us by State Commissioner King, every teacher in New York City just got a massive increase in work load and a loss of tenure as we know it.  What do we have to show for it?  Nothing.  If teachers are going to work much longer hours, and with the cost of living only going up and up, it is time for us to get the raises we have waited five years for.  Teacher morale has gotten lower and lower every year under Bloomberg, and the only way to begin fixing this is with a fair contract. 

January 1 2013 does present our first and maybe last real opportunity to turn back the tide of the education reform movement before the damage really is irreversible.  The UFT has a chance to really enact change and I am glad they are choosing to take that chance and not sit this race out.  However, if we want to make the most of this chance we need to make sure the candidates are willing to take a tough stance on these crucial issues, even if it means they will be attacked in our local tabloid newspapers, or by groups like Students First, and DEFER.  We need to stop thinking about life after Bloomberg, as an automatic better life with a brighter future.  It will only be a brighter future if we fight to make it one.  We cannot miss this chance and allow any candidate to continue these reforms, because I am not sure our school system can handle another four years of the status-quo without completely collapsing.  

-Kevin Kearns

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Way it Should Be Done

With David Steiner looking on, a former principal and CFN person made the following comments to Hunter College graduates about the job of teaching (here)

"It's the hardest and most important job in the world, but when it's done right, you change the world one child at a time"

The words were said just after the speaker had taken a poll from the graduates as to whether or not they felt the CommonCore was a good idea for students (not many said yes) and whether or not they felt the new teacher evaluation system would improve the profession (virtually no one said yes).  Dr. Steiner is an ardent advocate for both.

Principals and district leaders tend to care about the future of their careers, so moving in this direction with a keynote speech during a commencement ceremony for teachers was a pretty gutsy move.

In fact, the speech was so darn good that Gotham Schools ran a piece about it (see here). If you were to read only the piece, you might come away with the conclusion that having people like Nate Dudley in the system is a breath of fresh air. During a time when the city has worked hard to move its focus away from teaching and toward management in the public schools, you might think there is hope yet that the department might once more be filled with seasoned practitioners of education, as opposed to the typical Tweed-sponsored leadership academy grads that we're  currently  reading  about  in  the  newspapers.  Then again, if you read this blog, you might also cast a critical eye to a notion like that.

I certainly understand that notion.  It's easy to come away from the last five years and feel that virtually everyone who has gone into leadership shouldn't be leading.  The hard thing to do is to consider whether or not good leaders really are out there and to consider whether or not the person sitting across the table from you is one of them.

I make no bones about being a defender of my colleagues (in fact, I sometimes brag about how  impossible it is for me to turn a critical eye to teachers at all). I have, however, no problem whatsoever in turning that very critical eye to education leaders! I've been in this system for twelve years and I've seen enough principals (9 in all) up close (2 altogether) to know what a good one looks like and what the many not so good ones look like as well. So when I say that Dudley is one of the good ones (something I've said here and in the Twittersphere before), it is the result of an informed and objective opinion. The video of the Hunter College speech showing a seasoned, gutsy leader who is knowledgeable about the new aspects of our system, yet wise enough to approach them with a careful manner so as not to hurt the profession is an accurate depiction of that leader. They guy's the real deal and we in the classroom need more like him.

Now before I go losing readers,  I probably should to spend some time showing how that's true and why an analysis of a good leader should matter to folks like you and me, right?

As you're probably aware, there are two different types of building and district leaders. We here usually refer to them as the new generation #edreform leaders, cut from the Michelle Rhee cloth, and old world, traditional leaders -the kind that we used to have before the last decade happened. Another way to understand these two different types of leaders is to understand them in the context of two cmpeting leadership paradigms: That of the manager vs. the practitioner. This subject was recently discussed by a NYS Regent during speech (which, full disclosure, I only caught second-hand and haven't been able to personally read).

As the comparison goes, a manager is someone who is specifically trained in his or her position. They manage your comings and goings in the workplace. They're good with delivering tasks to you and with keeping on you to make sure that those tasks are completed. If they are not completed, the manager is well trained to make sure that you face the consequences of having not completed those tasks to his or her liking. When great changes come, managers are interested only in the actions that need to be performed in order to manage those changes. Managers tend  not to take the 'long view'. This is probably because managers tend to not understand the 'long view'. They don't see this as being part of their job. It's not their role to take value out of the great change. To them, their job is making that change happen.

A practitioner, on the hand, is someone who has developed the skills needed to excel at his or her position over a longer period of time. He or she is someone who may or may not be specifically trained in his or her position, but brings wisdom to the table -itself the result of many many years of experience- that is enough to eclipse any knowledge the manager is able to learn. Practitioners aren't always that good with delivering tasks to you or with staying on top of you to get those tasks completed. Many of their actions or policies are the result of philosophy and aren't task oriented. But, when great change happens, the practitioner looks to see what can usefully be taken from that change as the steps needed to carry it out are performed.

In short, while the manager concerns him/herself with the tasks, the practitioner concerns him/herself with the value and with its effect on the profession.

To be fair, each leader has qualities of both manager and practitioner. But to be honest, our department is overfilled with leaders who have much more of the manager's qualities in them than the practitioner's. While traditionally, education leaders have been practitioners placed in the role of manager, the philosophy of  manager as practitioner has been embraced by Mayor Bloomberg during his entire mayoralty. This is why a non fireman lead the FDNY for so long. This is why a lawyer who didn't win the biggest case of his career became our longest running school's Chancellor.

Tellingly, when he nominated Cathy Black as chancellor, he defended his pick by saying that the job was about being a manager (read: not a practitioner).

This approach almost more than anything, if you ask me, is what has caused so much damage across so many schools in the city. We need more seasoned veterans -practitioners- leading us. Yet all we have are managers. As a result, our system is more task and less purpose.

I'm lucky enough to have sat in a few meetings with Mr. Dudley. I've had a several interactions with him and the video is correct; he's a wise and knowledgeable practitioner of education and pedagogy. As proof, let me offer this brief anecdote:

This past year, he led  a group of young potential school leaders and taught them how to collect low-inference data from Danielson based class observations (As an aside, I was part of the group but I am not a potential school leader! I'm just a dude who has always has a corny fixation with PD and had asked my principal if I could go). Collecting low-inference data -where you go into a teacher's classroom and record (in detail) what you see holding all judgments aside-  is a tough skill to pick up.  During the first meeting, after our observation of a teacher's class had ended and the group had reconvened, someone (not me) pointedly questioned him about how much data could possibly be collected from the short visit that we had just made, and whether any real value about teaching could be taken from this kind of snapshot visit at all.

Now pay careful attention here. A manager, when questioned like this in front of a group will probably jump at the chance to have a confrontation with the person posing the question.  Mr. Dudley, however, balked. Instead, he opted to continue the discussion for several moments, letting the colleague get her point across and then allowed the discussion to move on.  After letting several minutes pass, he recited a 35 word exchange that had occurred during the lesson between the teacher and a student (without error, mind you) that he had noted on his sheet -an exchange that showed great value in proving to the group that the teacher was, in fact, 'effective' and not 'developing'. No one in that group questioned the value of low-inference data (as long as it's taken well) again.

Only a practitioner would have enough experience and wisdom to apply Green's 9th law ('win through your actions, not your words') to a group of teachers during a somewhat awkward moment. But as I look back on every good principal I have ever worked under, the quality of allowing a person to gripe while demonstrating that the gripe is not as accurate as the person had originally thought is a quality that they all shared (to the exclusion of the principals who weren't as good).

This is what makes people like Mr. Dudley so important. The absence of  more practitioners in our system is NYC's missing link. And yet practitioners are rarely celebrated in public. It isn't very often that we get a chance to read about one or see one defending the basic tenets of the profession on YouTube. That's problematic. If this one difference between the type of leaders our system has continues to be overlooked, then our profession will continue to suffer. That's why it is so good that every democratic candidate (except for Quinn) has pledged to put a real educator in charge of the school system come next January. I guess, after so many years of having managers run the city's schools, even the politicians can sense that we  need to fill our schools with seasoned practitioners again. There aren't many people out there who can offer a blue print for what that is.

Look, I'm just a classroom teacher (which is just about the greatest job on the planet, by the way) and good principals and district leaders need people like me a whole lot more than people like me need them. But, to the extent that folks like me do need them, we need seasoned practitioners who can keep the ship steady through the storm and remind us all that it isn't going to sink.

With that in mind, as you prepare for the end of the school year,ask yourself this: Is your principal a manager or a practitioner? Then watch the video of Nate Dudley's keynote at Hunter College and ask yourself if your school would benefit from having someone like him leading it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why Teachers Won't Receive Their Final Scores Until the Following Year

Update: The DOEs own PowerPoint confirms this (look on the fifth slide: "All teachers receive summative rating by September of the following school year")

I'm one of those teachers who actually uses ARIS to help me get a good picture of my students. One piece of evidence I use  is how well students have performed on previous assessments. I teach high school, so one thing I look at is their previous regents scores. As I've written before, those scores are available in an ARIS report. It shows all of the results of recent exams, broken down into item analysis, from the previous term.

Last year, at the end of the year, I found myself feeling quite anxious about how my own students had performed on the Regents exam they took after being in my class. So, I accessed this report, which is public to my school community. I found that, on the very last day of school, the item analysis  for how the students had performed on the regents exams they had taken just taken the week before was not available. I asked around and was informed that they couldn't possibly be ready until after the summer. The following September, they were there.

But they weren't there in June.

Now Gotham Schools says that 82% of the city's teachers won't be using the state VAM next year (see here), but will be using SLOs. Based on this year's numbers, that's roughly 62,000 employees.

This means that the city will have to compile the scores of two separate assessments (one state and now one local) -assessments that teachers are no longer permitted to score-  and then calculate over 120,000 performance indexes (2 for each of these teachers), convert those indexes into the Danielson score, then combine those scores with subjective scores (60%) that the principals had accumulated through observations throughout the year for each  and every teacher in the system -all within the last few days of the school year. 

I know the DOE much better than that. Both my experience and common sense says that's just not going to happen. There is no way the department will be able to compile and distribute test scores in time.

As a result, teachers will not know their full evaluation score by the end of the year in 2014. We'll probably know our Danielson score, worth 60 points. But we won't know the full score -including the 40 points from both assessment categories until the following September. It's just that simple.

Monday, June 3, 2013

MORE Statement on Eval Plan

This is from the MORE caucus; Those cool UFT people who think that teachers should be, I don't know, supported.

UFT Rank and File Says King’s Evaluation Plan Bad for Teachers, Students

While Micheal Mulgrew launches a campaign to convince the membership that the new teacher evaluation system is designed to help teachers improve and give them a professional voice, Bloomberg is proclaiming victory. The truth of the matter is, this evaluation system is bad for educators and the children they serve: the system requires a tremendous amount of additional work with no compensation, time or otherwise. It will create an even greater climate of fear and effectively ends tenure as we know it; putting all educators who partner with parents to advocate for the best policies for children at risk...

Read the rest below.

MORE Statement on Evaluation Plan | morecaucusnyc

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Just Some Quick Information About How the Scores will be Compiled.

Since writing this piece about the initial press release, I've had an opportunity to look over the full decision. There is way too much to throw up in one blog post, so I'll try to focus on one thing at a time. In this post, I'll focus on how scores are tallied. Here, along with a few screenshots from my iPad are a few things I noticed about how the scores will be compiled. 

Getting from 1 - 4 (HEDI) to actual numbers

We'll all have our Danielson observations, where the administrator will give us scores of 1-4. All those 1s, 2s, 3s and 4s then go back to the main office where they are averaged out and turned into something that will probably be called a Peer Index (PI). From there, it looks like the PIs from each subdomain will be converted into an overall PI, which is then converted into an overall a 100 point score using the conversion chart below. That score is your final score for the 60%. (No student surveys this year. That's for next year, so the score goes up to 60, not 55). 

"Teaching Artifacts"
As you may know, domain four won't be observable in the traditional sense. Because of that, we'll be "allowed" to put time and effort and energy in to create a portfolio like thing of teaching artifacts. Those teaching artifacts (which will apply to anything from Domains 1 and 4) will count for only 25% of those 60 points (a total of 15 points).  The teaching artifacts can be presented to the principal during a mandatory end of the year 'summary conference'. We'll get to present only 8 artifacts and each will have their own individual "score". Domains 2&3 will count for 75% of that score (a total of 45 points).  Here is a screenshot on some examples of what some of those artifacts might be. 

Tallying our final score
I don't know how they'll go from whatever our state assessments will be to the final 100 point score, but Here are the final points, with the corresponding rating, that each final point-based score will fall within. Update: Using number I found in the last appendix of the decision, I came up with different cutoffs for the two local 20. Conesus in the ol' blogosphere seems to point to the fact i was totally wrong, so I'm changing them but keeping the original graphic (if for no other reason than to show you that the decision was, genuinely a bit confusing here). 

State measures 
Ineffective- 0-12 0-2
Developing- 13-14 3-8
Effective- 15-17 9-17
Highly Effective - 18-20 18-20

Local Measures
Ineffective- 0-12 0-2
Developing- 13-14 3-8
Effective- 15-17 9-17
Highly Effective - 18-20 18-20

Other measures (Danielson) (60%) 
Ineffective- 0-38
Developing- 39-44
Effective- 45-54
Highly Effective - 55-60

Total (they all add up)
Ineffective- 0-64
Developing- 65-74
Effective- 79-90
Highly Effective - 91-100


Making Sense Of the New Eval System

Update(and warning): the details of the plan have been released since the writing of this piece, leaving some of it inaccurate (local 20 will be using multiple measures. The state won't be setting SLOs). Apologies (details change everything). Ill be back a bit later to update and explain. I'll be updating like this where I was wrong and explaining like this.

Yesterday's announcement of NYC's new teacher evaluation system doesn't do much to clear the matter up. The details that were released (the full details were never released to the public last night. Only the summary) leaves a lot of questions unanswered that  I (and others) had. It also opens up new questions. The one thing that I can say with confidence is that this evaluation system is so big that it will mean different things to different people. Teachers in different grades, and sometimes different subjects within the same grade, might very well have a different experience with the many indicators that this system brings. Building leaders will see it from a completely different perspective; that of a massively increased workload. And a teacher's experience with the system will be greatly impacted by what type of principal he or she has. What's more, the NYCDOE, the UFT and the press are going to be having a very different conversation in public; that of 'who won?'. As they concern themselves with the circus of who the winners and the losers of yesterday's decision are, the question of what this decision means for teachers is bound to be at least somewhat obfuscated, if not lost entirely.

Because of all of this, talking about the new system this from a universal perspective is sort of a fool's errand.    It's going to make much more sense to take a look at the system from the perspective of one type of professional at a time. I'm going to choose to look at what this means for a tenth grade high school social studies teacher. That type of teacher will be able to earn 100 points for his or her annual performance review. Teachers like that will have to pay attention to:

  • The state test. (20 points) The VAM growth model that is talked about in the press will only effect colleagues who teach grades 4 - 8. For a tenth grade high school social studies teacher, the Regents' Exam in Global History and Geography will be used. So far, it looks like NYSED will distribute SLOs targets. Actually, the NYCDOE will issue those and NYSED is insisting on no controls over how they do it  (how many students should pass, and on what level should they pass). The principal will approve these targets and the teacher will have some input, but if my past experiences are correct, those goals will be initially set by SED NYCDOE (lots to be said about the validity/attainability of those targets, but that's for a future discussion). How well you reach those targets at the end of the year will be that 20% of the overall grade. (For high school teachers, this will remain 20% of the grade, even as it will increase to 25% for people who teach grades 4-8 because the VAM formula doesn't apply.)
  • The Local measures of student growth. (20 points) They're making a sort of big deal about how the local assessment will will determined by a committee, with the principal having the final say. I think that's a distraction. The real meat of this part of the new system is that the school will develop a whole series of measures to determine student growth. These measures might look different from school to school. Might they include multiple measures, like student attendance and growth over scholarship reports? Or might they include only one measure: some type of singular assessment? No one knows,  Since (as of this writing) the actual details haven't been released, there is no way to determine what that menu will be.My guess will be that it will include multiple measures that will include some type of assessment, but that's just a guess. Yeah, boy was I wrong there! By in large, we'll be looking at one single assessment to measure the student growth on the local level but the most important thing here is that each of the measures must come from a NYSED approved menu of options (you can find that menu here. You'll find that all of the options are for-profit vendors). Another option is to use NYC developed Performance Based Assessments. The City has until August 15th of this year (and August 1st of each additional year) to submit them to SED for aproval. It looks as though another option will be to use the state assessments again, with the data examined a different way but, I'm not going to lie, this part (on page 20) was a bit confusing to me.I'll check again sometime in the (way distant) future and update.  (By the way, the real winner here isn't the teacher or the principal, it's NYSED. As they'll be constructing the menu without much input from anyone, they have pretty much predetermined how this whole thing will look. Teachers from other NYS districts, who have already used the system this year, will have abetter sense of how the local 20 will look).

  • Observations and Artifacts (now 55 points 60 points next year, 55 the year afterwill come from class observations and teaching artifacts. This is what most folks sees as the Danielson piece. One observation is formal (with pre and post meetings with supervisor). And, depending on what the teacher chooses, three are informal (that teacher can also choose to have only 6 informal observations). The question I have is; what constitutes an 'informal' observation? Is that the 10 (17) minute drop in? Or is that an undetermined period of time? Yeah. It's at least 15 minutes with no maximum time. I also have objections over the label: Since each of the visits will count toward my count, they are (in fact) all very formal (I wonder if get APPR points for having a good, strong vocabulary). The biggest new piece from this will be the six sub-domains associated with 'Domain Four: Professional Responsibilities". None of these things can be observed and any evidence to 'earn' points might probably be provided by the teacher. For tenth grade social studies teachers, this means proving that he or she is reaching out to parents and building meaningful avenues of communication with them. It means teaching portfolios that provide evidence of student learning and it means a whole new set of paperwork for this high school teacher as he or she proves that accurate records are being kept. We'll see how this plays out, but the incorporation of domain four is pretty big, maybe even a game changer for the high school teacher It (with the artifacts that we present) alone will be worth 15 out of the ovrall 100 points (the observations that pertain to domains 2 and 3 will be worth 45 out of the overall 100 points).
  • Subjective measures 5 points will come from a student survey at the end the year. Now, simmer down.  The survey won't be asking this teachers' students if they love their teacher. The tenth grade social studies teacher will not be needing to bring candy for his or her students to bribe them into liking him (or her). No one, but for teachers who have been through a survey process like this, really gets this component, so let me just put it to you straight: The survey will asking students to provide evidence of whether or not that 10th grade HS teachers used good teaching practices in his or her classroom.  Questions will address issues of 'how were you grouped?' or 'Did the teacher use engaging writing prompts?'. That data will be used to determine whether or not that teacher used Danielson-aligned teaching practices in the classroom. Don't believe everything you're about to read: Danielson is still 60% of the overall grad. Evidence will be provided from three places 1) Classroom observations 2)Teacher artifacts and 3) Student Surveys. Get it? Oh, and it doesn't count until the 2014-15 year. 

All in all, the first year will be chaotic to say the least. The SLOs for the state test will cause great consternation, but won't be something that teachers think about throughout the year. The day to day stuff will be more concerned with areas from whichever local measures the school selects. The 22 domains will be so great and sweeping that teachers and leaders alike will be scratching their collective heads. The increased paperwork will catch a great many high school teachers off guard entirely and the student survey will be nothing less than a bone for all to gnaw on during the school year. In terms of winners and losers? If you have a brilliantly evil principal, who would like nothing more than to get rid of you, then you're a loser. If you have a brilliantly wonderful principal who is deeply interested in getting you improve your practice, then you're a winner, albeit a tired one Everyone else is in the same boat: Either the engines just kicked in or the ship just hit an iceberg and we wont' know for quite some time. Next June may come and folks might be saying 'oh, it's not so bad' or 'omg, they're ruining my profession'.

I mean, they're ruining the profession, but maybe it won't ruin our lives.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Oh, John King, You Slay Me (No, I mean seriously. You're going to get me fired, dude. What's up with that?).

It hasn't been what you'd consider a real good day for NYC teachers. The evaluation decision from NYSED is being applauded by the DOE and the press is noting how it doesn't appear to be a UFT win. Here's my favorite tweet on how the press is seeing things in the first few hours:

And then there's this one:

And here's what Leo Casey, who famously 'set the record straight' a year ago had to say on Twitter:

Yep!!!!!!! That's my union guys. Just change the subject and talk about Charters! Gotta love it. "Hey, my idea just totally ske-ruuued you, but check out this cool graffiti artist!".

Ah. Leo Casey! Ah, humanity!

Anyway, for me, the real proof that this was a UFT loss is in a different place. In his press release, King wrote:

" There are strong measures to help remove ineffective teachers and principals, but let’s be clear: New York is not going to fire its way to academic success. The key to this plan is the training, support and professional development that must be put in place to help teachers and principals improve their practice.”

And yet, as this chart on Gotham School notes, King ignored the union's demand and set aside zero time for teachers to be trained in the new eval system. For me, there's only one thing that can explain  a soundbyte like "The key to this plan is the training"  while providing no actual training in your decision: New York is going to fire its way to academic success.

I'll be out taking the Taxi Driver's road test tomorrow, but will try to be back to publish something on Monday.

Update: Just to be clear, the Mayor and the DOE are spiking the ball because they know that the UFT doesn't play the spin game that way. Mayor Bloomberg and company know they get a free play with tonight. I think the question is, how will the UFT explain this on Monday?