Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Problem With Governor Cuomo

But enough about teachers for a moment. How's
 CUOMO doing?
As he tries to convince voters that teachers should be fired for poor results (here via here) and as an historic amount of scandals now plague Albany, it is well worth noting that one -simple- question about Andrew Cuomo has never (ever) been asked: How effective has he been as New York State's governor over the last four years?

What kind of job has he done?

Remember now, he feels teachers should be fired after just two years of not being effective. But what happens when he is held up to this 'get results or get out' approach is something that is actually rather surprising: He hasn't really accomplished much at all as governor!

How well are people doing?

Hosuing: After four years of Andrew Cuomo leading the government, New York State now has the lowest rate of home ownership in the nation. Dead last (behind even Nevada!). A high rate of home ownership is a sign that we're all doing ok. Low rates of home ownership are troubling. But when your state has the lowest rate of home ownership in the nation, things are really bad. Shouldn't someone be held accountable for that?

Income: After four years of Cuomo, median household income has fallen when you account for inflation. Median income when he was elected in 2010 was $55,603 (here). Four years later it has only risen 6% to to $59,308 (here).  Since the average inflation rate during that time has been 8% (here), New Yorkers are actually making less than what they made before ol' Andy came into town. When income is lower, taxes are lower, spending is lower and savings are lower. When incomes are lower, we're all worse off.

What's deeply unsettling is that household income in New York State has dropped 5.8% since its peak in 1989 (when the real Cuomo was in office). This is a long trend, yet Cuomo has mentioned nothing about it at all in four years of leadership. This problem needs to be addressed by a tough leader. But it's as though our leader doesn't care about income at all.

'Ever notice the Bocca Della Verità looks a little like a donut?

How is New York's government doing?

Debt: It was mentioned to me by a friend that New York State is the worlds fifth largest debtor. The government here, the friend asserted, is in more debt than virtually every developing nation on Earth and many developed ones.

New York's debt is actually a fairly well known fact. Thomas Di Nappoli was recently in the Post asserting New York's debt problem. And Richard Ravitch, the man who saved the MTA and one of the ones who helped saved New York back in the 1970s, warned just last year that New York State could well wind up like Detroit if the borrowing doesn't stop. Cuomo, it seems, has continued a process where the state borrows the money it pays into the pension systems. 

Normally, you would think the answer to this would be to lower spending. And the legislature has lowered its spending. Unfortunately,  New York State's debt is continuing to soar! New York's debt is $63.3 billion! The government has mounted $3.5 billion in new debt this year alone! And there is no plan for paying down New York's debt anytime soon. Wouldn't it be nice to have a political leader who had the capacity to come up with a plan to fix this?

Corruption: I'm not going to detail the Scandals in Albany. What more could I say about Scandals that hasn't already been said? They have become such a part of Albany's culture that people are performing satirical acts about them (this one is entitled "I'm So Excited (That I'm Not Indicted)" and it's really really funny).

He won't be living this one down anytime soon
Thing is. this was the one thing he actually promised to fix if he was elected governor. And instead of being fixed, the problem has gotten much much worse. Andy never promised to give a crap about the middle class. He never promised to work hard to expand median income for New Yorkers (does anyone remember when political leaders used to work for that?) and he never promised to expand New York State's homeownership rates. He never even promised to get rid of New York's crippling long term debt. 

But for crying out loud, the guy outwardly promised to clean up the culture of corruption in Albany! And on that -on the one thing he did promise- he couldn't' even deliver!!

Success of his own policies  You may recall the governor would like teacher evaluations to be worth 50% of their overall 'score'. He has claimed that the current system of evaluating teachers is a failure.

He complains that “… Right now we have a 99 percent effective rate for teachers,” he said. “That can’t be when 30 percent of the students are effective.”

What folks don't realize is that he is the one provided the framework around which these 'failed' systems were enacted. If they are failed, as he claims, then it's his failure (see this piece from Philissa Cramer way back in February 2012 when the governor announced the framework!)

Now I'm a New Yorker and I have seen some acts of hubris in my time. But I have never seen an act so shameless as the one where Andrew Cuomo forced an evaluation framework upon 700 school districts and then blamed -wait for it- the school systems for their failure. That takes guts.

But it also takes an act of stupidity.

Which leads me to the problem with Andrew Cuomo. For all of his intelligence, he does some pretty stupid things. For all of his political brilliance, he hasn't been able to find a way to make life better for most New Yorkers. He hasn't worked down New York's debt and secured all of our future. He hasn't figured out a way to increase home ownership or median household income. He hasn't been able to even make a dent on New York' corruption. His problem is that he just isn't effective at what he does.

And ineffective leaders always blame someone else or some other group in order to distract from their failures. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

On The Meaning Of "Honest" and "Honesty"

This reblogging of the burris call for civil disobedience against high stakes testing spurred me to make a comment. That comment (linked to below) was responded to by the blog author in some rather harsh terms. It then helped lead to entirely different blog post addressed to the NAACP (see it here).

"Below is NYCDOEnuts' comment to yesterday's post, and below that is my response." Wrote the blogger.

Of course, he chose not to publish my second comment which responded to his and defended myself and my integrity. He opted instead to create a brand new "comments" policy for his blog, seemingly embedded in the statement, "By the way, DOEnuts, any future comments must include your real name in order to get them posted."

I used to do this all the time with my childhood friends. Whenever being beat at games we were playing, we'd just invent a new rule to help us get a leg up. I liked childhood. I am also glad that I can influence the juxtapositions of my fellow bloggers. I did, however, save the comment I sent for publishing and am posting it here at the end of this post.

The exchange (read the rest over there. I won't waste my space with it) is disconcerting. The blog author ended his initial tirade by saying" Now stop wasting my time with your bullshit and your not-so-subtle accusations."  (Ouch. Wanted: One public space for honest and honorable discourse and discussion where ideas can be freely exchanged.)

And now a quick and rare note from the author of this blog: 

For those who may not know or be intelligent enough to consider, this is a satirical blog. DOEnuts here (and in his Twitter form) is a satirical character. Part (just part) of the satire is that everything he sees is through the lense of a classroom teacher. Everything he does or advocates for (or even laughs at) is as a classroom teacher.

Imagine a guy who lives, eats and works in the back of his classroom and sees everything in the world (current events, video games, music videos, even comedy movies) through the eyes of classroom teacher and speaks as a classroom teacher would speak -in the classroom- for what he thinks will benefit the students in his class during the time they're there. That's DOEnuts.

Imagine the dedicated frycook Spongebob Squarepants, the gu who acres only about making a good Crabby Patty, as a classroom teacher.  That's DOENuts: "Just" a classroom teacher (with everything else is sort of faded to the background).

I feel like I've sunken to a level beneath me just to explain this. The best part about satire is that it's never explained. Now that I've had to explain that it kind of stinks.

The truth is that all else in the world does, in fact, effect a classroom teacher on some level. It does so in a manner that is somewhat faded to the background but it does just the same. These other things (school reform, corporate reform, equity in the schools, even the insights brought to a teacher through parenthood) have a profound effect on a teacher in a classroom and a teacher should work to understand that and to understand how it effects a teacher ... in a classroom.

Such is the case with testing and with the testing regime we all have to endure. It effects a teacher. And at the same time, it is a reality that a real classroom teacher must face. DOENuts is in a tough spot re testing (and re Common Core). He hates testing and doesn't much like Common Core yet he also wants what's best for his students.

Unlike others, he is not so arrogant as to steal the definition of what "best for his students" means from those who rightfully own it -he surely knows he doesn't own that definition.

While everyone else in the world seems to be selling books or selling themselves (or perhaps a bit of both), the only folks who DOEnuts has come to trust is the parents of the students he teaches. DOEnuts is a proud teacher a Title I students of color and his students' parents support tests. They tell him this to his face (anecdotally) and through polling that DOEnuts, as opposed to others,  reads. They're in favor of it.

There are parents who don't' support tests (and DOEnuts is one of them) and parents who hate tests (and DOEnuts is one of them too) and parents who will refuse to allow a test to be administered to their child (and DOEnuts is one of them too). But that isn't the parents of DOEnuts' students. Those folks seem to have different wishes -and DOEnuts serves those parents above, he feels, all else. Above his own ego. Above his own pigeon holed sense of correct and incorrect. Above all else in teh workplace.

Now DOEnuts gets accused of stuff all the time. He's been accused of being a racist, a wannabe activist, a keyboard warrior, a wannabe academic, a wanna Hamlet and a lackey (no wannabe there. Just straight got accused of being a lackey). He once got accused of, get this now, starting a blog with hope of getting dates. That is a true story.

Now he typically lets these accusations roll off his back because, well because he doesn't really exist! I'd give folks my real name but some of my positions would be different. My ethical dilemma re testing would be much deeper and my ambiguity re common core would be incredibly different from what DOEnuts believes. It doesn't serve any purpose.

This is why if I gave the author of my blog my name, and satisfied the threshold of his brand new comments policy, he'd be speaking with a completely different person. He wouldn't be speaking with the teacher who made the comment or challenged him on the point of testing or civil rights organizations at all. I doubt, in fact, that this author is even a classroom teacher. As such, I doubt he faces the same dilemma re testing that a teacher does.

Ultimately, I don't feel he and and DOEnuts have far to go with regard to a meaningful discussion. But he doesn't seem to get satire and he certainly doesn't seem to get the concept of honest discourse. That said, this is the response from DOEnuts that he refused to publish:

Oh, please. I wasn't subtly accusing you of anything and you very much know it. 
Your interpretation of history is a bit lopsided.  The fact that the only thing that did work was integration seems to be drowning in something you've ignored: Every single civil rights organization in the nation has signed a letter asking Congress to keep tests in some form as it rewrites NCLB. Every single one. I'm not claiming any mantle and I don't propose to speak for those who do, but when those who do in FACT have the mantle of civil rights (like every-single-civil-rights-organization in-the-country) speak up in a clear and sober manner, people like you -who claim to hold to facts so dear- had better listen with more intent than you seem to be doing. 
You go tell the NAACP that tests are racist. Let me know what they have to say. 
And while there's still no accusation there, I believe that pointing to the damage brought in by the corporate agenda -which does exist and is very real- does not (NOT) excuse anyone from ignoring the very real civil rights issues that permeate every single bit of this entire education discussion. NO, the answer is not to commit grand acts of civil disobedience and the answer is not to ignore a very large part of the public education discussion. The answer is to move forward with a better, common sense idea -better than a regime that *we'd all* like to see ended.  That's the answer. Sorry that yo don't have it. 

Hey, here are a few more facts that you will probably be tempted to dismiss as bullsh__:
*FACT: African-American and Latino-American respondents have supported the Common Core in NY in poll after poll.
*FACT: They also support testing in some poll after poll.
Those are facts too and they need to be worked into the efforts. 

Now based on your reaction, I actually don't believe you'll have the honesty to even post this comment -you've already demonstrated that you don't have the integrity to address an idea that even slightly disagrees with yours- but I know you're reading these words right now and I know you've just been called out on not ignoring the position of the people who really do speak for civil rights in this nation and I know you don't have an answer that satisfies that very real concern AND gets rid of this testing regime because no one does. 

But you go ahead. dismiss the points as a simple waste of time. 

Anyway these are real things that really should effect the opinions, beliefs, positions or advocacies of anyone who cares...

...about the students he gleefully faces on a daily basis.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Back When Three Months Looked Like Six Weeks (Your DOEnut of the Week!)

DOENuts rule #42: There are three types of people that, while wonderful,  should never be taken at their word:

*A School or district leader
*An insurance salesperson
*Anyone from Unity UFT leadership.

Just to be clear: rule 42 does not state you shouldn't like or deal with these people. Quite the contrary. They are all needed and necessary parts of teacher's daily life and routine. Some of them are tons of fun to talk to and work with. In fact, you'd be silly to not work with these folks on some level. But rule 42 does state -quite clearly, actually- that folks from any of these above mentioned groups should never ever ever be taken at their word.


Got it?

Cool. Let's begin.

Last year, my union and the DoE reached an agreement on a new contract. As part of that agreement, teachers who retired were guaranteed all of their retroactive 'back' pay from the periods of 2009 to the date of the contract. Under the deal, the rest of us will get our backpay in these insanely complicated partial payments which occur every most Octobers between now and the 2020. But teachers who retired before a certain date are guaranteed the entire amount of their backpay.

This is the way it should be. Retirees shouldn't suffer the same crap with regard to retroactive pay that we do and I have no problem waiting while those who served the students of NYC all this time and retired get the full amount.

But, lo and behold! After the Bloomberg reforms, tons more teachers retired than they thought would do so. This was no surprise to some of us cynics. But it was, apparently, a surprise to everyone else!

According the ICEUFT blog, the extra retirees created a budget hole of about $60 million and that hole needed to be made up.

And, they made it up. From the same ICEUFT post:

.... part of the 5% raise scheduled to take place on May 1, 2018 will be deferred for six weeks.  We were supposed to finally get the last 2% of the 2009-11 money added to our salaries on May 1, 2018 in addition to a new 3% increase.  Now the 2% will be added as scheduled but the 3% raise will be deferred until June 16, 2018.

This is cool. I don't mind taking care of the retirees as their service in helping build my union take care of me, and my family, so well. Because of their efforts, I have the best healthcare, best retirement and the best pay (for an urban city teacher) there is. So I'm cool with extending a raise a bit more to make sure they get their money. I am, however, in agreement with James Eterno who described it  this as 'Just another new indignity added to many for working teachers.'. That too is correct.

What is not correct is this announcement that teachers will have to wait six weeks for this 3% raise. That is just not the case. In fact, while the 3% will be seen in our June 16th paycheck (maybe the June 30 check as well), the actual raise will not be a regular part of our pay until September of 2018 -a full three months after the agreed upon time. This is because of the way our summer pay is calculated.

I'm not sure how to explain our summer paychecks. But, for just a moment, it may be better to not understand them as part of our regular salary. Instead, think of them as pro-rated checks that reflect the average amount of each of the DoE's pay periods (not counting coverages and other overages) throughout the school year. Let me try to explain it this way.

Let's say you made $1,000 per paycheck for an entire school year. Your summer pay is $1,000 per check. But let's say the guy next to you made $1,000 per check for only half of the year. Perhaps he was on leave or maybe he had just come into teaching in the middle of the school year. Although he made the same $1,000 as you, his summer checks are still based on the same average of total pay periods from September to June. Since he only worked half the time, his summer checks will be half of yours -$500.

This happened to Mrs. DOEnuts years ago. She taught for only the second semester at aschool in Manhattan. On the very last day of school, we were surprised that she received summer checks totalling almost exactly half of the check she had earned as a temporarily assigned social studies teacher. We called to ask whether we had to give the money back and got a full lesson from a nice lady at Court Street.

Just to underline the point: Let's say you made $1,000 for the first half of the year, but then received a raise of some sort halfway through the year. If you made $1,050 dollars for the second of the year, your summer checks will be roughly $1,025 per check -the average amount you made from September to June.

And let's say that you get a raise of 3% from a union contract but that raise doesn't kick in until  the final pay period of the year -on June 16. What you'll see during the summer is the average of what you made from September to June (it's just the total amount divided by 20). It won't reflect the raise at all.

That's right! Notwithstanding the final pay period of the year (perhaps the June 30th check as well), they found a way to extend our raise for three full months -all the way into September of 2018- and make us all believe it is only for six weeks. Nice, right?

So to Mr. Scheinman, city negotiators and our own beloved Unity-led UFT, for pulling the wool over our eyes, on a Friday -before vacation!- I humbly confer upon you this DOE-nut Of the Week for the week of Friday, February 13, 2015! I realize today's date is actually ex post facto, but no worries! I've decided to make your award effective from last Friday -so just go ahead and pretend you won it then.

All those involved in this grift get a $5 gift card (via email, of course) to the Dunkin Donuts of their choosing, with the first 12.5%  being distributed on October 1st, 2015, the second 12.5% on October 1, 2017, then 25% on 10/1/18, 25% on 10/1/19 and 25% on 10/1/2020. Your gift disbursement should look something like this:

10/1/2015 - 62 cents
10/1/2017 -63 cents
10/1/2018 $1.25
10/1/2019 $1.25
10/1/2020 $1.25

All disbursements should be divided by the amount of folks involved in this mess deal.

And no worries about the money, folks! As your new deal implies, I'm good for it (just as long as I don't die)!