Tuesday, June 15, 2021

If/Then: The Real Meaning Behind June Nonsense in High Schools - COVID Edition

 I've said it before and I'll say it again. Some things just happen to have a particular way of happening in June. I thought I'd post some updates here to help you get through some of the June nonsense:


*First of all, let's make one thing clear: -If you feel yourself angry at people who you once found mildly annoying, then it's because it's June and you're going crazy. Don't go crazy. Take a deep breath, read this blog and relish in the perspective you may gleen.

Ok. Let's begin this year's list.

*-If an administrator says 'this isn't happening just at our school you know, it's happening all over the system', then trust in the fact that it is happening just at your school.

-If an administrator says 'we need to help out NX kids' -and they hadn't helped an NX kid all damn year, then trust you better find a way to make those numbers work! (but, if you have tenure, feel free to make the admins wait until June 20th or so 😂😂😂).

-If it's June and a programmer or administrator is being vague about your schedule or program for next year then you're about to be screwed. 

-If a guidance counselor suddenly and without warning needs to see you then you're about to be asked to pass that one kid who has no absolutely no business passing your class. Be prepared. Don't click that zoom link. Don't reply to that email. 

-If an admin is promising you the sun and the moon and the stars for next year then you should assume that they have been a given a budget for the sun and moon and the stars and the sky. That P is holding out on you. Keep pushing. 


-If it seems like the entire staff has suddenly gone crazy in the middle of the day, it's probably because the entire staff has gone crazy in the middle of the day. 

-If it's June and a teacher does not seem stressed, then that person has a medical marijuana card -and is using it with frequency. Don't be like that teacher. Be stressed instead. 

*-If students -whom you've never seen before- suddenly start showing up to that 9th period Music Appreciation class you're teaching, then  it's probably because they want a mercy grade (I know. You knew that. Just don't forget it. No, the kid does not care about your wardrobe or how your grandparents have been. They *just* want a 65 after having not come to class. Prepare that makeup assignment).

*-If you feel like you're being pressured to change grades, then you're being pressured to change grades. It's not that complicated. 

*-If someone walks the building mumbling about how teachers are the problem, then they're probably A) The problem B) have been part of the problem the whole while in ways you'll never know and C) are about to cause a problem.


-If you're feeling overly stressed but don't want to take the day off then use your late time! Every year, most city teachers are given 3 hours and 25 minutes of late time.  That's free time that you get! You can't roll it over and you can't bank it. It goes away at the end of the year. So, if you have any left and you're feeling stressed, just go to Starbucks and go catch up on your snaps or something. The kids can wait. Your AP can absolutely wait. That guy who's substituting your class while you're having coffee? Okay. He's a nice person but, dammit, so are you! Take your 3 hours and 25 minutes. 



-If that nice, quiet kid suddenly comes to your zoom link asking to sit in in with your class during lunch period then let them. Teachers aren't the ones June is harsh on.




Monday, June 14, 2021

Mitch McConnell Walks Into a Union Hall ... and approves

Mitch McConnell, confident in his chinless repose, shocked the world tonight as he strode to the podium of UFT headquarters' Shanker Hall during their weekly Executive Board meeting.  After several uncomfortable moments of deafening silence from the 100 member UFT governing body,  McConnell proceeded to give a fiery speech which included a ringing endorsement of the UFT's new rules for remote Delegate Assembly next year. 

"I am just so impressed with each of you", said the Senator, likening the proposed UFT rules with his strong support for the anti-voting rights acts that have been sweeping across America's Republican states. 

McConnell went on to tell the group in his famously no nonsense and direct tone,  "Deep down, you know that these voting rights laws afford at least the most basic voting privileges to people as long as they can show up to the polling place with "proper" ID", before angrily pointing his little pinky finger and adding "... and your new rules for UFT delegates accomplish the same general thing". "Great job everybody!! Only people who are "'really dedicated' should have real voice!".

At the end of his speech, the Republican Minority Leader -responsible for the Trump Supreme Court appointees and for helping to sweep the capitol building insurrection under the rug- received a thundering standing ovation from crowd.  "Thanks Mike" one member screamed during the ovation, referring to UFT president Michael Mulgrew. "I really didn't give a crap about this whole democracy thing anyway and you all seem like you know what you're doing pretty well so, sure, yes. I vote yes!!!!"  

States from Georgia to Texas have adopted laws making it more difficult, according to some Democrats, to vote. And McConnell, looking for support, knew just where to go.

cell phone footage of Senator McConnell just
moments after learning that the UFT provides
free bananas and cantelope to every guest
and member of the UFT Executive Board

This is because, during this same time, the UFT is planning a similar rule change for their own Delegate Assembly -one that would deny all rights (sans listening and voting) to elected UFT delegates who are otherwise compelled to phone or zoom in. 

Privately, some members have expressed concerns over establishing a two-tiered system of rights for delegates.  But McConnell defended the move, growling in a tough-guy scratchy voice, "This isn't a two-tier system at all! You are setting up an extra chance for some of these members. I mean, think about it, if they couldn't afford to be there for me, or if they had a kid at home or some such damn thing, then, I mean,  I would just say 'screw 'em' and move on. What you libs are doing here gives them a chance to listen -to you". Pausing to check a text on his cell phone, the senator quickly added "AND ALSO they can press 1 to vote yes -on your stuff".  

Toward the of the ovation, McConnell was heard screaming  "This is such a great job everybody! I am so damn proud of you" over the noise and was also heard adding "Welcome, my friends, to the Dark Side", before the ovation roared on like a rock concert in the '80s.

Screaming through the cheering crowd one final time, McConnell concluded "If those other delegates want to participate in some debate that you libtards like to have or submit a resolutions or some such, let them get their butts down the UFT headquarters and do it them damn selves". 

The standing O' lasted for almost five solid minutes.

Other UFT members had hoped for an expansion of opportunities for full participation in the Delegate Assembly. Those educators dialed in tonight only to discover the exact opposite had happened: Beginning next year, no one who is unable to travel all the way into downtown Manhattan will be able to submit a resolution for consideration or to debate anyone else's resolution at all. As of 2021-2022, all those folks will be able to do is listen in as other delegates perform the actual legislating needed to govern the UFT and then to vote at the end. 

"We got this guys. Just drive home" added one high ranking union official from the stage. "Just go".

"We just got through a damn pandemic" one unmuted member on the call was heard saying, "they did all of these things perfectly well for the last 18 months. What the hell is wrong with them? They are really going to stop attracting participation? Getoutta here. Have they heard of Janus?".

"But those delegates would be able to press a button to vote on the work of the other delegates who are present" replied one high ranking union official -in a very kind tone. "We want them to vote. We want them to have at least that basic right."

"Should I register as a Republican now?", wondered another confused member after casting her vote. A colleague nearby just shrugged her shoulders in response and offered, "I guess, just wait for the email?". 

"This is incredible" said another upset member, "I have to watch them take away voting rights for people on TV and now my own union wants to make sure that duly elected delegates are second class representatives in their own Delegate Assembly. I can't believe these two people are working together"

Chuckling under his breath at that last statement was none other than Senator McConnell himself. "Oh, he has no idea", murmured those Senatorial fish lips. The world famous politician, otherwise occupied by the complimentary banana and cantelope station located in the back of the hall, eventually turned his shoulders and laughingly asked "Hey, did you want us to mail them some damn free fruit too?"

The vote passed with 94% approval. Just six (out of 100) members voted against. Final authorization of the rule change is set to take place on Wednesday's Delegate Assembly.  "Don't forget to get this done before anybody has a chance to figure out just what tf is going on, okay??", yelled the minority leader to Mulgrew as he left the union hall, fist raised in solidarity. (President Mulgrew was seen nervously looking left and right before briefly raising his fist in reply and quickly adjourned the meeting).


Monday, May 31, 2021

Summer Rising Will Flop In Many Schools. Here's Why

I was beyond upset when I learned that my school's summer program was going to look no different than regular summer school. The summer plan includes teachers at desks working only with NX students. No bridge programs of any sort would take place. No experiential learning. No enrichment programs and no remote instruction so that students may engage in any programs during the day. None of that. Summer school would be only to remediate this year -again. Just like last year. Only the usual three hours of classes with no break, with maybe an offer to stay after with an SBO -if a child wanted to. 

Turns out, many schools all across New York are planning the same damn thing. 


The past year and a half has been extremely difficult for children. Over the course of this term, many of my (mostly remote) students have gradually turned more and more inward, handing in fewer assignments and attending fewer and fewer live lessons. Their parents are communicating to me that it has been gradually more challenging just to get their children out of bed and into classes every day. And, from what I gather through conversations with them, the economic toll this has taken on the families of many of my Title I students has been significant. As a teacher, I was counting on a thoughtful program that would slowly work children back into the outrageously fast-paced and pressure-filled routine that we all know as school. 

Gradually transitioning students back into "normal' isn't just common sense. Experts are indicating the same thing. Here is how one expert described the challenge for WaPo's On Parenting blog back in March:
“Our children are going to show signs or symptoms of anxiety when they reenter ... And because parents are so relieved their children are getting back to school, “we won’t understand why they’re not happy. ...we also need to realize that this transition back (if they’re lucky enough to have it) will be accompanied by nerves, anxiety and questions...."

All children will face these (or similar) challenges in the Fall. Not just NX students. This is why transitioning back into what "normal" used to be (as opposed to simply returning to what we were all doing before) is a very important path to follow.  

So I was excited when Chancellor Porter announced the 'Summer Rising' plan. Obviously Tweed and City Hall want a full and complete easing of the students back into school routines. Here is some of what is included in the Summer Rising plan (and it is amazing):

  • Open to a large amount of students (not just NX students)
  • The encouragement of experiential learning 
  • PSAL (during the summer months!)
  • Focus on the whole-child (SEL)
  • SBOs funded by Tweed but chosen by the school
  • Enrichment Programs Galor!
  • Remote learning (for HS students) as an option if schools took it.

So what's the problem here? If our students need to be transitioned back into normal, and if Tweed and City Hall want a transition back into normal, then why are several schools planning the same old summer program for their students? 

The answer is simple: Superintendents, principals and incentives. 


The superintendents' function in New York City schools is to help schools produce good data. Teacher effectiveness, test scores, attendance, school culture are examples of what shows up on a superintendent's dashboard. If their data dashboards do not all show green ink (as opposed to yellow or red) and point up (meaning that the data seems to be trending in an upward trajectory), then the supes put pressure on the principals to change the data. The principals are fully aware of this, of course. So they design school programs that are specifically intended to make their boss' dashboard show all green and point only up. The principals and superintendents are therefore each naturally incentivized to produce only a dashboard that shows all green and points only up. 

And Summer Rising does nothing to alter or change these natural incentives. 

And what's on that dashboard? Attendance, culture, passing rates and value added scores. That's the way I like to categorize them. Any one of the metrics that are reflected on the superintendent's dashboard will fall into one of these categories.  Now we should keep away from "valued added scores" and and "culture" for this year. No one really cares about any of that right now because of COVID. What remains are what schools are naturally incentivized to build programs around: Attendance and passing rates. 

That's it. Having an emotionally prepared (and, in many cases, repaired) student for September will not be on this dashboard. Some of the resulting data from the Summer Rising Program, will, however, show up on the school's dashboard next year. And that -the achievement data that a school's Summer Rising program actually produces- had better produce a dashboard that shows all green and points only up.  This is what schools are actually incentivized to do this year for summer school.

Here are a few examples of what schools are not naturally incentivized to do this summer:
  • Open up to  large amount of students
  • Encouraging experiential learning 
  • PSAL (during the summer months!)
  • Focus on the whole-child (SEL)
  • SBOs funded by Tweed but chosen by the school
  • Enrichment Programs Galor!
 

In fact, some district/building leaders can easily make the case that many of these data have little to do with actually 'reaching proficiency' on these metrics (attendance and passing rates) and many of those people may are superintendents and principals -the ones who will actually build the programs. Summer Rising may sound nice to them, but reaching the metrics is what pays the bills, know what I mean? 

You had better. Because that's what pays our bills.

The very real consequence of this seems quietly to be playing out right now, as principals are beginning to design their summer programs. Many schools will build a program for July and August that encourages only the more challenged students to attend (so as to remediate an NX grade because they fell behind). The rest of the children in many of these schools will have to find another city sponsored program or "transition" themselves this summer on their own, in parks that are no longer as safe and in neighborhoods that are no longer as active and in a city that is currently flooded with illegal guns. 

That's terrible, if you ask me. But that is the result of experienced district and building leaders responding to their natural professional incentives. 


So unless your school's principal is a real 'damn the torpedos' type of person, and he or she chooses to focus on the whole child and build a program that transitions the students back into the world of school, the only thing Rising next Summer may be your bank account from that extra per session. Because your school may be going full-on for the attendance and pass rate metrics, but bare bones on the enrichment. 

This is going to have enormous implications on the issues you and deal with in the classroom next September.  This about the difference between an emotionally prepared student and one who is not. Now imagine whole classrooms filled  with emotionally unprepared students next Fall. Think about those implications. Summer Rising could mitigate those issues. But, if plan is going to work, then they will have to find ways to change the natural incentives around designing an educational program.  

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Conventional Wisdom Says the Early Retirement Incentive is Dead. Is It?

Edit (6/1/2021) Ice Blog published there will no be no ERI. See read here. 

Most of the things that are nycdoe-NUTS are related to bad decisions or bad communications. This ERI topic -whether or not the state or the city will offer a buyout for its teachers- has become a pretty big example of a doenut.  I've written a few posts about the possibility of a buyout (Early Retirement Incentive, or ERI) coming from Albany and City Hall (see here here and even here if you're interested) and I have been quietly watching from a distance as the bill (and the process) has unfolded. After being one of the first to (correctly) predict that NYC schools would have to close because of the Virus' first wave, I feel like I have a pretty good read of the tea leaves coming from City Hall and 52 Broadway. Let me just say this: the odds for an ERI are not looking good. 

I can also say, with complete confidence, that whole swaths of both outfits are a mess right now. City Hall has become a toxic bag of mistrustful micromanaging. And no matter what the UFT says or does these days, someone (sometimes its own members) frames and depicts them as the bad guys in this saga. That has real-time effects on which policies and possibilities the union is willing and able to pursue. Unfortunately, this includes the ERI. 

Back in November, when the union allowed the city to extend part of its retro payment (owed to some of us since 2008, by the way. Only saying), the city agreed, among other things,  to support an early retirement option so as to help avoid the possibility of 2021-2022 layoffs. The bill that they supported was signed in April. That bill (now law) gives the city until May 31, 2021 to decide and actually declare an ERI. If the city doesn't announce it by that date, then there will be no ERI this year -period. 

As of this writing, that date is just two days away. And when you consider the city's new fiscal realities, it is easy to understand why we are this close to 5/31 with no deal: The Federal Government has just sent oodles of money to help shore up the budget and the city no longer needs the savings that come with offering a buyout. Because of this, the city simply presented an option that applies only to certain licenses. 

Now, on the surface, this may seem fair enough. But the city knows very well that, due to their general composition, this is not an offer that any union can really accept. So the UFT is telling its members and partners that they are trying their best and will fight until the last possible moment, but  that they will not to agree to an ERI for only some people and not others. Again the deadline is in two days.

This is why conventional wisdom is now coming around to the belief that there will no ERI this year (probably). Folks are slowly reaching the conclusion that the deadline will pass and no deal will be reached. 

In this instance, the conventional wisdom is very wise and is probably very accurate. But beyond that conventional wisdom, other items are also being negotiated and these other items may or not be connected with the negotiations around the ERI. 

I actually think they may be very connected andso I'll point some out here:

  • The UFT has been relatively muted all week. On Monday, when the mayor announced  no remote option, he did so on national TV. He has made announcements without finalizing with the unions in the past and the union has usually pushed back. But not on Monday! On Monday, the response from the UFT seemed very muted (they waited until an hour or so after the announcement and then posted on social media how they generally supported the plan). Why choose now to be muted in their PR approach? 
    • (Also, this shouldn't go unmentioned: Up until just one week earlier,  union folks, and some partners, had been softly suggesting that a remote option for students and or staff could still be a benefit for summer school and for September. Monday's muted response represented (for me, at least) an about-face in that position). 
  • The DOE is actually allowing new hires for next year Buried in James Eterno's post about the UFT and city reaching a separate agreement (about ATRs assignments) for next year, was this announcement for principals: 
No hiring restrictions on school pedagogical titles: In preparation for the 2021–22 school year, there will be no hiring restrictions on any school pedagogical titles.

This is a message for principals. so it seems that there is going to be a hiring spree next year (much to the chagrin of folks like me who have been hoping to transition into a new school after a buyout 😔). This is a clear if not quiet win for the union, who stands to receive more union dues from the new hires and it keeps the possibility open for an ERI. 

  • Though scoring victories, the UFT is holding off on celebrating them. Allowing new hires for next year is a big win for the UFT. But here has been almost no celebration. The new ATR agreement, which means that the jobs of excessed teachers will be more stable for all of next year, is another big win for the union. Yet no celebration. In another quiet victory about ATRs, the union got the city to agree that anyone in the ATR who had been 3020-A'd would have their case reviewed before determining their placement for next year. [A] "review cases of every staff member in D96 (in excess) for legal reasons and will individually discuss these cases with principals before they are placed at the schools by June 11". Again, a victory yet no announcement or celebration of it. This is just a feeling, but it feels to me like the muted communications are related to ongoing ERI negotiations.
  • The UFT is facing a new crucial issue: The Return of the EdReform Movement. Both leading mayoral candidates (and several candidates who aren't in the lead) have close ties to the Charter School lobby and to StudentsFirst. From a distance, it seems like the union is asking its more Unity-aligned members to write and talk about the election this week (and not a buyout). So if you check social media, you may see many posts from active UFT members who are aligned with Unity calling attention to the mayoral election, but you won't see many of those activists talking about the buyout. Why aren't those activists asking about a buyout? I think that the priorities of the moment may be shifting away from this ERI.
Those who believe the conventional wisdom may look at the actions of the union over the past week and conclude that the ERI is dead and the union is just trying to its best to stay under the radar as it scores other crucial victories for its members. But there is still a chance to win a negotiated ERI with the city! And as long as that is the case, there is also an incentive to stay under the radar until the whole topic of a buyout is resolved. And I believe that the union feels there is still small chance to win it.

There is one more component at play here that is worth mentioning. Believe it or not, history will record that Bill de Blasio has been the most teacher-friendly mayor in UFT history.  And this guy has been literally taking it from every political player in New York State and beyond since the pandemic began. And the man is a Brooklynite. So I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if there was a smile on Bill del Blasio's face this weekend as he makes the union wait until the last possible moment for his decision (I can almost see the smile on this guy's face). 

I don't gamble, so I'm not taking or suggesting any bets. But if I were, I would put the odds at 4-1 that there is no deal on ERI. That is to say there won't be one! But I feel like there is an 80% chance that there will be no buyout.

So, with two days to go, I think the odds are 80% no. 20% yes. You  probably get more satisfaction watching the Indianapolis 500 tomorrow than you will checking Twitter about this buyout (I mean, at least if you watch the race, you will know the results). 


(Post script; I have decided to leave comments are off for this post. This is only a place for a little updated analysis that you can consider while you wait for the final decision.  While I really deeply appreciate all of the questions about the ERI, the fact is that the details of that plan should be left for a real expert to discuss.  I'm hoping to avoid creating more confusion over this so I'll just leave the comments off for now. Thanks for understanding!)

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Unity Caucus: Solidarity When It Suits 'Em

 Talking points? With that tone? At your own members? Really?

(Advice to Unity: Don't draft talking points that aims to gaslight and insult your own members. Don't participate in spaces where you cast real teachers in some sort of "The Disgruntleds" light.  That borders on terrible. Save the sharp elbows and the BS for the politicians). 


I attended a wonderfully organized (informal) forum last night about how the union (members and leadership) has approached the process of endorsing a mayor.  The forum was hosted by the one unionist that everyone in NYC seems to be developing trust for; Daniel Alicea. He was able to gather members from Solidarity, MORE, New Action, the Retirees and the ruling Unity caucus together. That hasn't really happened before and it's wonderful that it did. The UFT has just experienced a rare no vote on endorsements last Wednesday so Daniel's event was billed not political (and people were invited with the clear indication that we were just interested folks having a discussion about how the UFT chose its endorsed candidate. Most folks had an open and honest discussion and exchanged ideas. This includes many folks from the Unity caucus who were in attendance. 

This, however, cannot be said this for every member of the Unity Caucus. I saw some fairly disturbing actions from some of the Unity people ranging from pure gaslighting ("Everyone participated because 14,000 members received an email" or ".. had a chance to leave a comment on the UFT's political website") to out and out sarcasm and rudeness. One Unity member actually had the gall to call the 55% of people who disagreed "The Disgruntleds", while offering a comment that was widely celebrated by the other Unity attendees in the chat. 

One forum member, who is not affiliated with any caucus, had to interject to object to the behavior and what he saw as Unity provocations. And, honestly, when contrasted against the idea that anyone who didn't think the process was pure perfection was a "disgruntled" union member (😂😭) his concern was NOT much of a contrast at all.  

All in all it was a good performance from the Unity Caucus. But it felt like a performance. And that left some incredibly sad. This is how the Unity caucus acted -toward its own members- during a challenging time. It's just not acceptable. 

After the forum ended, texts messages came in from people who were convinced that Unity had come en masse  and with a plan to derail anything that felt like criticism. My initial though to this was that it was just plain crazy. Unity hadn't pulled stunts like this in decades and the idea that they would take this approach to discourse with its own own members now (during a time when it is trying to connect with these same members) seemed like something they would be too smart to try (they are usually very smart folks over there). "Crazy", I thought. "Just crazy. They wouldn't do that".  

But then someone in one of the other caucuses was accidentally sent an email that had been sent to hundreds of members of the Unity in the hours leading up to the forum. 

The texts were right. Unity had a plan.  

The letter and the talking points are below for you to review yourself. This ... is how these folks approach discussion with their other members. I'm so disappointed. 









.







Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Lucy, Charlie and the Football

 




Today's news: 

Standardized tests are a GO for the 2020 20201 school year. Nationwide. Period. USDOE has said they will not honor any state level requests to be waived. 

A Bit of Context

During the campaign, then candidate Joe Biden was asked a direct question: "... given that standardized testing is rooted in the history of racism and eugenics, if you are elected president, will you commit to ending the use of standardized testing in public schools". 

His answer was an immediate "yes". He went on to say "... you're preaching to the choir, kid, mmkay?" (you can see that whole exchange here). 


Yeah.

Today, he switched positions and announced standardized tests will not be cancelled this year. No way. No how.


Since the arrival of Common Core, the push against the use of standardized exams has included a wide variety of education stakeholders. Classroom teachers, parents, students, student advocacy groups have, in the past, all joined the struggle to push back. 

But make no mistake, from day one the education activists of the left were the folks who led that charge. And it was led against centrist Democrats like President Biden. I remember a time when some of those lefties walked hand in hand with suburban moms and dads all across Long Island and were welcomed to do so (many of those suburban moms and dads would later go on to vote for Trump and coin phrases like "socialist libtard" but back in the day, when forces were joined against standardized tests, the lefties were the ones who led the way. 

Neo holing the cookie

And Liberals have a long, combative relationship with the Democratic National Party. The basic formula of that angst exists within these two basic facts: 

1. The people who run that party are conservative leaning centrists. 

2. The ones who dream (and those who dare us to dream), yet lose the elections are liberals.


The Ol' Bait & Switch

For decades now, the centrists within our own party have approached elections in the following manner: The election begins by allowing our liberal star of the day to capture the attention and the imagination of America's voters. For the past two presidential elections, this has been Bernie Sanders. But before that, it was Howard Dean (2004). Before him, it was Paul Tsongas (1992)  and before him it was Gary Hart (1988). Even Ron Brown (1976) can be tossed into this category. You'll know them with any Wikipedia search. They're the ones who come in second during the primary season. The ones who were never offered the VP slot or any top level cabinet positions.

The algorithm continues. Eventually, the DNC finds a way to discredit the candidate as a presidential contender. This leaves voters with only choices of centrist Democrats. The majority of voters (not really knowing that they are about to vote against the things they had wanted in the first place) wind up voting for the centrist candidate  thinking they were voting for the big ideas. 

They weren't. 

By the end of the season (Spring), we all get stuck with a candidate (and sometime a president) who hates leftists ideas and people but uses them to his or her political advantage. He or she helps big corporations. He or she gives excuses to voters after having been elected. And their presidency is marked by what appears to be a stunning move to the center. It's not stunning. It was the idea the whole while. They simply worked a complex bait and switch in front of the whole nation.  

Trump knew this. That's why he tried to attract Bernie voters in 2016 and 2020. 

The facts are that we get stuck with presidents like Clinton and we get stuck with candidates like Kerry. We were happy to get stuck with Obama in 2009 but, seriously, no one really knew he was a centrist until 2009 when he bailed out banks and didn't arrest one CEO.  That's the way the DNC works. It has been that way since after the 1968 election (when a real liberal, Humphrey, lost).  Ever since, the DNC has run this bait and switch where we think we're buying a Buick, but we really drive off in a cheap Chevy. 

And, since Obama, we on the left have been super vigilant against this play. This cycle, we wanted student debt relief. We wanted legalized Marijuana (partly because it is so commonly used and partly because the Cannabis Prohibition laws have been used to commit true injustices). We wanted a livable minimum wage (not no $15 per hour. That's last decade's goals). And, yes, we wanted universal healthcare guaranteed by the government. Candidate Biden promised just about all of this. But so did candidate Obama and all of the other centrist candidates before them. So many lefitsts are, and have been, on the lookout for the ol' play, as it's called.

And it's been happening.  

First, it was student loan debt. After the election, Biden said "no way" to total student loan debt relief. Then it was 'no way' to 50,000 loan relief. He recently clarified that it's not going to be $50,000 worth of relief because "only Congress could do it" (there is no legislation asking Congress to do this). During this same week, the president also clarified his position on minimum wage by telling 50 governors on a conference call that it wasn't going to happen. See? The ol' switch. 

This game plays out with the standardized testing issue as well. Centrist Democrats want it (Centrist Democrats also want all teachers fired or working 20 hours a day for less than minimum wage). Standardized Testing  are an essential part to being a Centrist Democrat. Standardized Testing lay the ground work for convincing people to go to charters. They allow districts to fire teachers but keep terrible school leaders. 

Standardized Testing also pays for the centrists' education schemes. From charter schools to testing corporations, centrist Democrats own it all. They make money every time a teacher is fired, every time a teacher "needs improvement", every time a student engages in "school chioce" and every time a teacher needs a test, or a review book, or a review tablet or laptop.   In this manner, they reinforce the 40 year DNC myth that high grades in school can  change your life. Leftists just want safe happy schools where students can learn and also prepare for life. This is a centrists vision for education.  You decide whether you like the idea of accountability as an essential component. If you do, then you like tests. If you don't, then call your shrink, buddy, because you may be a liberal (and I'm so sorry!). 


Lucy and the Football

And this is why we use on the left use the allegory of Lucy and the football. It's a brilliant metaphor. And it is the only metaphor that fits this scenario. But, for decades now, good natured people (and defeated liberals who are desperate for at least some part of their agenda to become reality) have always listened to the DNC when they start. The discourse sounds something like this:

Lucy: Charlie Brown. Oh Charlie Brown!!

Charlie: (pauses to think) I can't believe it, she must think I'm the most stupid person alive.

Lucy: (places ball on the ground) Come on Charlie Brown!! I'll hold the ball and you kick it

Charlie: Hold on. You'll pull it away and I'll land flat on my back and kill myself.

Lucy: But, Charlie Brown, it's Thanksgiving. 

At this point in the depths of the liberal heart, we respond to the slight glimmer of hope being offered. We are such hopeful suckers, after all. And, even though we know the bastards did us dirty during primary season, we choose hope. "Maybe this time, they will make some of the things we have worked so hard for happen. Maybe now is the time we finally turn the corer here". So, being the hopeful suckers that we are, we engage in a harmless follow up questions hoping that we will things that will make us feel as though we have actually achieved something. 

Charlie: What's that got to do with anything?

Lucy: Well, one of the greatest traditions we have is the Thanksgiving Day football game. And the biggest, most important tradition of all is the kicking off of the football.

"Traditions?" we think. "Centrists like traditions?. Maybe we should listen for bit"

Charlie: (thinking. Doubting himself): Is that right?

Lucy: Absolutely! Come on Charlie Brown. It's a big honor for you.

That's usually where we bite the hook. "An honor!" we think. "Well, we are honorable people. We do care about honorable things. Maybe, just maybe ...". So, when we hear Joe Biden say "that's like preaching to the choir, okay?", we actually think "Hmm.... Okay".

Charlie: (turning to give himself room for the big kick. He walks with purpose. Being a thinker, he thinks out loud) Well, if it's that important, a person should never turn down a big honor. Maybe I should do it. Besides, she wouldn't try to trick me on a traditional holiday. (Convincing himself). This time I'm gonna kick that football to the moon!!!

This is the point we are then lulled into the believing. It's a fool's thought, to believe. But believing is also the starting point of great things. So we believe. 

To be clear: We do  need to figure out the academic damage! We do need to test in order to ascertain the extent of that damage! But all of that data is unreliable if collected during an enormously stressful period of time. In fact, it is terribly unreliable (they know this. They are probably hoping to get paid for a second round of tests next Fall). At the heart of the matter, we just don't want to stress our students or their families out any more than they already are. So, convinced that this is the time, we turn and we run for that football. And we run just as fast as we can because that's what liberals tend to do.

Lucy: (Looking determined, pulls football away just as Charlie Brown approaches his kick. No smile on her face. No fun to be had. Just a determined look to see if her play has worked again).

Charlie: (Lands right on his back)

So maybe a few journalists and bloggers whine and complain. But who cares!? The rest of the country isn't paying any attention to this at all. Some of us will complain. A few well-placed liberals in the education world will do what they can to limit the damage and, in a few weeks, this whole episode will have passed. It'll all be over. You know, like Neo and that cookie

Lucy: Isn't it peculiar, Charlie Brown, how some traditions just slowly fade away. 

Peculiar indeed. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Of Bloggers and Governors

Before there was Trump, there was Andrew Cuomo. 

Anyone who has follows the NYCEDU blogs in the past may be aware of local blogging legend Reality Based Educator and his/her blog 'Perdido Street School'.  Named after a popular (and very unique) SciFi novel named Perdido Street Station (wikipedia or explore its own wiki here), RBE's blog cast a daily critical lens on policies of the DOE championed by former mayor Bloomberg. It helped explain how those policies actually affected teachers and students. The posts were hard hitting, fact-based and always well researched. They were opinion pieces, but they were opinion pieces rooted in and committed to facts. They left readers feeling much better informed about what was really happening in NYC's public schools than any of us would otherwise would have been. Because of this, the blog became a part of the daily digest of many teachers across New York City. You can (and should) check it out here

In 2011 -nine years ago now- the worst guy in New York politics got himself elected governor. This politician scapegoated his enemies like no other had up until that point. Many of his enemies, in fact, had an almost uncanny way of encountering mysterious scandals before resigning their elected offices and or heading off to prison.  People today have forgotten names like Bruno or Silver  or Skelos. But back then these were the giants of Albany politics (if ever Albany politics had giants)  and their fate, much the same as governor Spitzer's before them, was determined through shock, scandal, disgrace, and eventual resignation. 

All these folks happened to be in Andrew Cuomo's path at the time their scandal broke the news cycle. His political tone and tenor commanded a sort of appalling attention that Albany had not experienced modern times.

He associated with charter schools, where he would scapegoat teachers, and with public schools, where he scapegoat charters. He would publicly scapegoat local elected officials and then, after having them replaced with people who were loyal to him, extolled the 'great work' that was (finally) being done and send them money to 'invest' in their economy (read about Buffalo Billion scandal here as an example.  But this process has played out all across the state since his election). This guy was the very epitome of dirty, hardball politics.  Today, they say it's "Andrew Cuomo's New York". But back then, before his enemies' names faded from memory, and the state became his own,  Cuomo's dominance in New York politics was not guaranteed. Like watching a summer storm moving in, we all watched as Andrew Cuomo slowly took over New York State politics. 

It was right around this time that RBE began writing exclusively about Cuomo -and (s)he wrote about this almost every day. Just as were the posts about education, RBE's pieces about Andrew Cuomo were extremely well-researched. (S)he demonstrated as strong of a command of the facts as anyone in the professional journalism world before or since. His/her style was to use publicly available news reports and then crossed reference them with other facts and details that only (s)he seemed to able to recall. (S)he was able to connect dots that might otherwise have fallen down any one of the dozens of memory holes New York readers must contend with every day. It came to a point where many of us would navigate to Perdido Street to learn about Cuomo in the same way we would  head over to Politico or the NYtimes to find out the news from Washington DC. It was that well informed. It was that reliable. It was that good. 

Every scandal, every misstep, every corrupt act (in fact any act emanating from Cuomo's Albany which might lead to -or even otherwise be associated with- a corrupt political act), were all covered in detail on Perdido Street School. If it happened, RBE wrote about it, summarized and analyzed it for us. Daily. This went on every single day for a long time. During a time when no one else in the state of New York was giving Cuomo's actions a true critical lens, Perdido Street School was a dependable resource of accurate information.  

During the mid 2010s, Cuomo began facing challenges from the left. It was around this same time that Donald Trump's presence on the national scene -which used the same scapegoating hardball, 24-hour politics style as the governor- absolutely eclipsed anything Andrew Cuomo had ever done. In what must have been a relief to Cuomo, our collective level of appall turned to the Donald and has remained there ever since. 

In 2017 RBE wrote his last post and stopped publishing. The light on Cuomo went dark (very, as matters turned out, dark. Between the lack of light on Cuomo and the rise of Trump, it was as though all of the posts, all of the muckraking and almost all of the scandal surrounding Cuomo just disappeared). There was little explanation and almost no warning just a quick 'this is my last post' kind of post and then he was gone (bloggers, man. bloggers). Shortly thereafter, many of us came to realize that Perdido Street had actually been the only source of accurate, usable information about the most dangerous politician in New York.  When the blog shut down there was nothing (or almost nothing). RBE never got to cover Cuomo's desperate attempt to inch toward the left, his feigning of legalizing marijuana, his almost complete political takeover of the massive MTA ('East Side Tunnel access needs ten more years of salary contracts? Fine. No problem. Just give me two train stations and Second Avenue Subway and we'll call it even'). 

Since that time, Andrew Cuomo has watched Donald Trump take his style of politics and use them to turned the whole world upside down. A fully eclipsed sun can only watch and react as this happens. And, for the rest of us, eclipses tend to work that way as well. One moment you're standing in the middle of warm bright summer day. The next you are draped in night catching only passing glances at the sun in the background.  And, during all that time, the sun can do almost anything it wants without anyone much noticing or caring. Take complete control of the government with emergency powers? Sure.  Screw up a vaccine roll out? No problem. Send our most vulnerable senior citizens into an environment where they will surely be exposed to the disease and become very ill or die? Yep. That too. Cover all of that up? Absolutely. 

Heck, that level of anonymity might even make someone bold enough to try to admit to the cover up in hopes of getting ahead of it.  Unfortunately for Cuomo, by the time that happened (and, recently, it did), the moon had passed out of view leaving all of our gaze to fall squarely back on the sun. 

Trump is now gone and every Democrat in America hates his style of politics. And those are, in fact, Cuomo's politics. This is why I have to say (and forgive me for making a cheap Bob Dillion reference), our collective ability to see again is why the wind is now (finally) beginning to howl as the riders are approaching. Something is coming fo Andrew Cuomo in the coming weeks. And it isn't good at all.! 

To this day, I am convinced that there is only one person in the US who could ave told that story; the story of Cuomo being out-Cuomoed and then having to pay the political price for developing this terrible political style to begin with.  If he had, the story may have sounded something like this:

"It has always been obvious to anyone paying attention that Cuomo is a mini-Trump. He has the same appetite for authoritarianism as the former president: during the pandemic he has drawn scrutiny for cancelling special elections, issuing executive orders and consolidating power. Like Trump he has nothing but disdain for his detractors, particularly if they happen to be more qualified than he is."

but it would have sounded like this every day. 

(special note: The Guardian is a British newspaper. To date, there are very few news sources in the US who have been willing to write about Cuomo in this way).  

And now, eleven years after his election, when all of his dishonesty, corruption and the "24-hour politics" style of our governor looks to be (finally) crashing down around him; now, right when it seems almost as though Cuomo's political epitaph is being written in real time, RBE's analysis and assessment on Perdido Street is very sorely missed. 

Watching Cuomo begin to implode just doesn't feel the same without that daily explainer. It's almost as if we're watching a movie without ever having seen the trailer (I mean, yeah, it's a good movie. But you don't quite know as much of what is happening as well as you would if you had  seen the trailer). 


Perhaps just a post script here, but I'd like add one more thought: There is a type of commentary that is missing from our political discussions, today.  It was a commentary that was rooted in facts and analysis and a general premise that, as politicians shouldn't ever be trusted, readers shouldn't ever be told what to think.  It was a commentary that could point to governmental corruption and draw a line from that corruption right down to the local employees who lose their jobs because of it. This sort of commentary served the purpose of connecting the dots so that the rest of us could better understand and, when attention turned to politics, it was this commentary that helped us to see how really bad politicians were causing further harm for individual people.  But it was a commentary that was not overtaken by its premises as is done today. 

When Jefferson wrote (to Lafayette), "The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed....It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.", he surely had in mind politicians just like Andrew Cuomo and Donald Trump. When he wrote of the need to keep the waters pure (clearly a reference to ensure the press did fall into corruption or into intimidation by others), I am convinced he would have used pieces from RBE's to demonstrate how that looked. There is nothing along the American landscape of the written word that approaches this level of truth. We are all, in fact, post-truth

Here on a more local level, Perdido Street School represented one of the last spaces where a reader could gain access to that level of facts and commentary that free peoples need in order to make informed decisions. And if you want to gain a sense of how all of that felt (and now would be a good time as there may not be a governor Cuomo by this time next year), look no further than RBE's incredible posts about Andrew Cuomo (you can start here).