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Archive for September, 2005

Math scores are really mixed

Most of the papers reported the state math scores today as breathlessly as a Bloomberg campaign commercial. The Daily News led with the fourth grade, as did the Times and Post and Sun. Only Yan at Newsday did a balanced report.

What happened was the percentage of fourth graders meeting standards rose, nicely and substantially, but the 8th grade percentages fell, and remain disturbingly weak. New York City’s 4th graders are catching up to their statewide classmates, while the 8th grade remains stuck about 15 points below the statewide average.

Without taking anything away from the fourth grade achievement, it’s time to look at 8th grade. Way past time. Herszenhorn of the Times said it really well, “… in middle school, where the work becomes more complex and focuses on comprehension in reading and lengthier problem-solving in math, the gains of earlier years seem to evaporate, rasing questions about the content and quality of instruction between fifth grade and high school.”?

NYU Prof Bob Tobias, who used to run the NYC testing office, said on first blush the scores seem to continue established trends–the fourth-grade gains, the eighth grade falters. Though he noticed one interesting thing: most of the increase in 4th graders meeting standards comes from an increase in students scoring at Level 4, the highest level, indicating achievement exceeding standards. That could come from “more top on the test,” he said — a higher number of difficult questions that allows the brightest kids to show their stuff — or from an easier test that allows more kids to do well. You cannot tell unless you see the test and how it was scored. Still, it’s interesting. There was an 11 percentage point jump in our 4th graders in Level 4 and actually a 2-point decline in the percentage of Level 3s.

Math teachers out there–want to share your thoughts?

From the Blogosphere

The Carnival of Education was put up a few days ago, as usual it’s a series of education related posts from the education portion of the blogosphere.

Dennis Doyle on Sandra Feldman (h/t Eduwonk), and a piece from Diane Ravitch at the gadfly. I’m told that George Stephanopoulos will have a segment during, This Week, his Sunday morning political recap show on the life of Feldman.

The Wake-Up Call has a post about Diane Ravitch and the UFT; and buzzwords.

NYC Educator on Bloomberg and Klein.

Nathan Newman talks about Labor Politics.

I saw this a few weeks ago, but didn’t know how to link to it, but Gov. Vilsack, Warner and other education policy makers are having a discussion on education policy. Follow the discussion via this post at Education at the Brink.

The Big Easy Ain’t so Easy is a blog written by a Teach for America teacher who was scheduled to start teaching in New Orleans. He’s back teaching in Louisiana.

Chris Bowers who writes at MYDD wrote this post a few months ago. I’m not sure if it had an impact in the education blogging community at the time, but I think it’s a good weekend read. Chris was a teacher and an AFT organizer before he became a political blogger extrodenaire.

Finally, the writer at a series of Inconsequential events threw out her shoulder teaching writing!

Technical Note

On Saturday night Edwize will go dark for the better part of a day as back end changes are made to make blog faster, and more responsive to our larger audience. Edwize should be back live by Sunday night. (ed. note: Go see a movie with your family, enjoy the day, no need to keep hitting refresh.)

The Charter School Chancellor

Joel Klein, the self-appointed chattering chancellor cheerleader of charter schools, has been making a lot of noise lately about how good charter schools are doing in comparison to the New York City Department of Education public schools and why the state’s cap of 100 is unjust, unfair, unreasonable.
First, what does that say about his, pardon the expression, tenure as chancellor and why would he do such a thing? When charter schools were first proposed (yes Al Shanker favored the idea, as many right-wing writers love to point out) they were supposed to be places that could operate free from the restraints that districts, states and administrators put on teachers. They were supposed to be models of innovative teaching, laboratories where teachers could share ideas without fear of retaliation, where principals, teachers, parents and students could work together. They were supposed to be places that would be eager and able to share their ideas and best practices with other public schools in the area and also to learn from other public schools. I hope there are some places where all this "supposed to be" is "are."
Unfortunately, in many of the charter schools, especially those operated by the for-profit firms, the approach is "teacher proof" programs such as Direct Instruction. There is little or no interaction between New York City’s charter schools and the NYC Department of Ed. public schools; the charter school record regarding enrollment of students with special needs could use some scrutiny and with many of them, their primary purpose (ok, secondary–the first was to turn a profit) has been to create a union-free work environment. Educating kids? It’ll happen. Innovation? We’re different, isn’t that enough. Unions? Our associates, oops teachers are very happy without them.
I believe it is the lack of union presence in charter schools that is driving Joel’s agenda. He knows the law. There is no cap on conversion charter schools, that is existing schools that wish to convert to charter school status as several NYC schools did under Chancellor Crew and Levy. Only fly in that educational ointment is that the schools continue to operate under a union contract, and quite sucessfully too for students, teachers and parents. (I refer you to the KIPP Academy in the Bronx.) There goes his whole argument about those union "work rules" impeding student progress and I know our UFT Charter School will add more weight against that canard.
And as for the goal of someday having a free exchange of ideas among all public schools, well Joel’s divisive comments and comparisons show where he is on that one. Hey,how about some cheerleading for all public schools, Joel Klein?

Bloomberg’s Beatable

Take a look at this poll that came out yesterday.

Bloomberg’s numbers on education (52-33) are only marginally better than the teachers’ union’s (48-29).

Teachers usually poll very well, but unions aren’t usually as popular. Despite Bloomberg’s bragging, New Yorkers still think the schools are failing, but they see the union as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

We can beat this guy!

Bill Thompson, the City Comptroller

I attended a press conference on the City Hall steps this morning along with Randi Weingarten, head of the UFT, and about 40 of my colleagues in city and state government to call on the mayor to come to the negotiating table and bargain a fair contract for our teachers now.

As president of the New York City Board of Education from 1996 to 2001, I speak from experience. Teachers need a contract now. Public school teachers represented by the UFT have been without a contract for two and a half years. They have gone without a raise for three years. It is time to get a contract done.

Over the last year, people have talked about the unprecedented gains in reading and math scores. I know that our children didn’t teach themselves. They didn’t make those gains on their own. Someone stood in front of them and guided them through. Someone taught them and helped them move forward. That someone was a New York City schoolteacher. Right now, without a contract, teachers continue to be demoralized and depressed. They rightfully wonder when it will be their turn to be recognized for the hard work that they do.

I believe that at least a foundation has been laid for serious negotiations in the independent fact-finders’ report, which created a number of areas for serious discussion. The mayor should use the report as a framework for negotiations, get to the table, and do a contract today.

UFT on the Public’s side

You can count on The Chief-Leader, New York City’s independent civil service weekly, and its brainy editor Richard Steier for some of the most informed analysis of municipal collective bargaining.

An unsigned editorial entitled “UFT Panel’s Public Service” in the Sept. 23 issue of the newspaper argues that the independent fact-finders’ report for the UFT contract offers a framework to get to a fair deal.

The editorial makes two key points about the report that have often gotten lost in the debate raging in the city tabloids and the blogosphere:

1) The fact-finders set out to craft proposals that would be in the best interest of New York City schoolchildren and the public.

2)  UFT President Randi Weingarten deserves kudos for not seeking generous pay hikes for incumbent members at the expense of future hires, an exchange that was a pernicious feature of nearly every other municipal contract in this bargaining round. Her laudable stance, however, meant the fact-finders had to look for trade-offs elsewhere in order to give UFT members more than the DC 37 pattern of 4.17 percent over three years.

After itemizing the various recommendations, the editorial contends that the UFT did not get everything it wanted under the proposal, but the city would also have to pay more than it wanted without getting dollar-for-dollar savings.

“It’s time for both sides to use this solid road map for where the contract should be to get to their destination,” the editorial concluded. The editorial is reproduced below.

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Eduwonk Calls In The Hounds To Defend Klein And Moskowitz

Eduwonk takes issue with two points made here recently on the subject of the “teacher bashing” of defeated Manhattan Borough President candidate Eva Moskowitz. If this exchange were just about the actions of Moskowitz, it would not be very interesting or very important. But the defense of Moskowitz is Eduwonk’s vehicle for ill-informed and misleading comments on the current struggle by the UFT to win a fair contract. Since many of his points reflect ‘the spin’ out of Tweed on the contract battle and the recent fact-finder’s report, they are worthy of examination and correction.

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90 percent approve next steps for the union

After heated debate and clumsy political maneuvering by dissenting caucuses, approximately 2,000 UFT delegates approved a resolution with approximately 90 percent of the votes, to use the fact-finding report as a vehicle to get both parties to the bargaining table. The resolution sets a specific deadline for getting the city/DOE to the bargaining table and if that fails, it requires that the delegates reconvene in early October to vote on a strike authorization and/or a mayoral endorsement.

The debate by delegates hinged on whether the fact-finders’ recommendations encouraged too many trade-offs that, if agreed to, could make working conditions in schools unbearable. From the podium, UFT President Weingarten told delegates that she found it untenable that the fact-finders’ recommendations put a disproportionate burden on secondary school members.

A small minority of dissenting delegates tried to disrupt the meeting with frequent calls for "Point of Orders" and "Points of Information." In addition, one delegate tried to amend the resolution to strike the resolve that would "use the fact finding report as a vehicle to conclude negotiations." That was overwhelming voted down by approximately 75 percent of the delegates.

While the UFT welcomes every point of view, as evidence just read this blog, the disruptive machinations and name calling by certain delegates caused one delegate sitting next to me to say, "This is embarrassing! Would they allow this kind of behavior in their class room?"  

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Feeling Defeated

Week two, day two- two changes. Today my program changed. Today my outlook and feelings on my ability to teach changed.

I had just learned all their names. I had just organized my grade book. I had begun to feel good about my lessons and my “teaching persona.� I had ideas on how to help Arron read and how best to handle Danny’s behavior in class. I felt as if I might really be successful with these students. Now they’re gone; I lost two of my favorite classes.

What’s worse, is that the classes I was given, don’t want me. The students don’t understand why they had to switch classes and are therefor very rambunctious and insubordinate.

“Miss, why do we got a new teacher. I like Mr. so and so.�

The kids are confused and angry, and it seems they take it out on me. It’s not a good situation for them nor is it for me. I had to call a Dean twice today. The first time, the student would not stop talking. He just simply would not listen to a word I said. After repeatedly asking the class as a whole to pay attention, and then asking individual students, I had to take action. Didn’t I?

The second time was maybe a bit more necessary. It was a double period, my last class of the day, and I was tired, cranky and on the verge of breaking down. I heard a bang and when I turned around two kids were hanging out the window attempting to get a bottle of whiteout that another student had thrown across the room. I had just closed the window. I had just asked them to sit down. I had instructed them at least five times to begin the assignment. What else could I do?

I don’t know if I did the right thing today. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know what to expect from the rest of the year. I don’t know if I love my job so much anymore.

How do you help students who refuse to do anything, students who ignore you when you speak to them? I have to let go of my yearning to get through to each student. I feel as if I’m fighting a battle for kids who don’t want to be fought for.

I feel empty and defeated.

Children First Not a Winner

NYC public schools did not win the coveted Broad Prize for urban schools improvement. Klein was at the ceremony, with a “large delegation of New York educators,” and announced that he was “thrilled” to be a runner-up. Sure he’s thrilled. Maybe even the conservatives at Broad started to see what we see–the record on Children First is thin. The fact that test scores in one grade went up 10 points, when that occurred all over the state, is not exactly the stuff of championship.

This spot of tarnish on the glitter follows a tepid reception from the NY Times for the New York City Partnership’s “Progress Report on New York City School Reform,” Kathryn Wylde’s commissioned promo for Children First and Kleinberg’s education agenda, written by NYU researchers. The Times noted that this supposedly independent evaluation used all DOE data and and no independent research.

NYU provided the scholarly cover, but two NYU profs I spoke with said they were a bit embarrassed by the report and believed that the university’s education school should not have let itself be used in this way.

Klein spoke at an upper east side event the evening of the report’s release, with copies of the report prominently displayed. My first (admittedly immature) thought walking in was, “who knew there were so many blondes in New York City?” Klein was up on a stage with Chris Whittle, the head of the money-losing and often failing Edison Schools project. The two of them sat there basking in praise, congratulated as “original thinkers,” mold-breakers, “the good guys in education,” while the blondes nodded and clapped approvingly. Klein seemed to be twirling in the stratosphere, talking about Danish models of vocational education and taking credit for the NYC autonomy zone, which was created ages ago by Rudy Crew and Deborah Meier and dozens of the city’s real education pioneers, many of whom quit the moment they heard the outlines of the Children First agenda.

A colleague attended last night’s upper east side event with Klein, in which the Chancellor told George Stephenopoulos that NYC is 75% along in closing the digital divide. My colleague said that audience actually groaned, because they evidently know at least a little more than he does about rich and poor in New York City. 75% of NYC public school kids have high-speed Internet access at home? Yeah.

Klein just seems to misread situations. How else to explain his statement yesterday that he was working on teacher merit pay as part of his and the Mayor’s second-term agenda. Teachers are on the verge of open rebellion. They despise the givebacks proposed in the fact-finders’ report, and from the sounds of the 144-and-counting comments in response to this blog’s earlier post, they are absolutely fed up with being infantilized and terrorized in their schools and classrooms.

Maybe Bloomberg gets reelected. Maybe he doesn’t. But it’s starting to look like Children First is a model of school reform for a very limited number of people, and few of them public school educators.

Sandra Feldman, former UFT president, dies at age 65

Sandra Feldman, who served as UFT president for 11 years, died Sept. 18 after a long battle with cancer. She was 65. Feldman was UFT president from 1986 to 1997. In 1997 Feldman was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the UFT’s parent affiliate. She retired as president of the AFT in 2004 for health reasons.

UFT President Randi Weingarten said: “Since February 2004, when Sandy found out she had a relapse, she fought mightily — as mightily as she always fought to help make a difference in all of our lives, and in the lives of thousands of people we represent and the hundreds of thousands of children and others we serve. Those who knew her well know how hard she worked and how much she sacrificed so others would have social justice and economic opportunity. She was a giant and will be hugely missed.”

A complete obituary of the popular UFT leader is on the AFT Web site. The Associated Press has an obituary with a quote from Sen. Edward Kennedy. More from the NYTimes, the Washington Post, the NY SUN, the NY Post, the NY DailyNews, New York  Newsday, Juan Gonzalez and Eduwonk.

Reminiscences of Sandy

Sandy Feldman’s defined the term "trade unionist." At a time when some of us are tearing away at the union Sandy’s passing makes us think what it means to be a trade unionist. To Sandy "union" and "social justice" were synonymous.

In the fall of 1968 we went on strike for more than two months. It was an incredibly racially divisive strike – the liberal press and the intelligentsia called us racists and pilloried the union. A few months after we returned to work we started the campaign to organize paraprofessionals. Many of our members opposed it; how can you bring lowly paraprofessionals into a union of teachers? How can we bring these potential "spies" into our union? Sandy not only lead the campaign to bring low paid, primarily black and Hispanic women into the union but negotiated a contract that included a career ladder program. Thousands of paraprofessional have entered the ranks of teacher trade unionists.

For Sandy her focus was the world – helping to form and support democratic trade unions behind the Iron Curtain, supporting an AIDS education campaign throughout Africa – for Sandy teaching meant trying to do throughout the world what we all try to do in our classrooms, make the world a better place for our students. We believe that education is the path a better life. Sandy was our leader and our conscience. While negotiating the best possbile contract is a core of our union, making the world into a better place is equally important. We will remember her and miss her.

Around the Edu-Blogs

There is a lot of great posts in the education blogosphere, make sure you check out the Advocate Weekly this week for a list of education related posts. Ms. Frizzle also has a collection of posts from teachers about the first day of school. Ed Week has a blog! Assorted Stuff on the Bush Administrations attempts to pass vouchers after Katrina. Mildly Melancholy writes about what her students want to be when they grow up, wait until blogging becomes a career option.

Where do we go from here?

With the delivery of the fact finding report, New York City public school teachers have reached the end of a road. After two years without a contract and three years without a raise, and the city’s adamant refusal to engage in ‘good faith’ negotiations, after over 5000 school based protests and a massive rally at Madison Square Garden, we have used every remedy available to us within the law. It is important, therefore, to take a very sober, careful and precise reading of where the report leaves us, as we consider where we will go next.

The negatives in the report are plain to see. At a time when teachers feel completely exhausted by the micro-managing regimen of Tweed, it asks us to work an additional ten minutes a day. It then combines that ten minutes with the additional twenty minutes under the current contract to create a thirty minute small group tutoring session each day. It adds three more work days for professional development to the annual calendar. For teachers in middle schools and high schools, it would require an additional 10 coverages a year. Although school-based option transfers were untouched, principals would get a veto over seniority transfers. Principals would also have more of a say in the administrative duties performed under Circular 6, including the right to assign teachers “should the need arise.” And the report eliminates the right to grieve ‘letters in the file’ [although teachers would retain the right to challenge the letters if they were used in a dismissal process]. Negative letters would be removed from the file after three years, if they have not been used in 3020A charge against an individual.

But it is also important to take stock of where the fact finders turned back the draconian demands of the City and the DOE to eviscerate the core protections of the contract. The report maintains the right of tenure, and all of the due process protections teachers now have. The DOE would continue to have the burden of proof of demonstrating “just cause” to dismiss a tenured teacher, and an independent arbitrator would continue to hear such cases – not the DOE controlled hearing officer Bloomberg and Klein wanted. On the positive side, the report advocates the elimination of the second step of the grievance procedure, streamlining the grievance process. The report maintains the right of teachers ‘excessed’ from one school to a position in another school within the public school system, rather than having them laid off, as the DOE demanded, and it denies the DOE the power to “involuntarily transfer” teachers to any school they want. It rejects the City’s demand for a sixth regular teaching period in the middle and high schools. Finally, the agreement eliminates the lengthy professional development days, which were never well used in most schools, and creates a uniform 6 hour, 50 minute school day.

And the fact-finding report contains an 11.4% increase in pay. Part of that increase is a raise, and part of it is a ‘time for money swap.’ We would have preferred, of course, that all of it was a raise. But when it comes time to pay for gas or to write out the rent check, it is all real money that we would not otherwise have.

This report leaves intact the fundamental protections of the contract, and maintains the ability of New York City public school teachers, and their union, to resist the autocratic assaults upon us by Bloomberg and Klein. At a time when both the Mayor and the Chancellor have set their sights on eliminating the contract, and destroying the UFT as an effective voice for its members and the children they teach.

Where do we go from here? We are justifiably angry, but anger can not be an end in itself. As the late Al Shanker would often say, “Don’t get mad, get even.” 

We have four basic options: we could reject the report, and wait until the mayor is term limited;  we could reject the report, and take more aggressive actions; we could pursue an electoral strategy in the mayoral election with the aim of electing a new mayor who would engage in ‘good faith’ negotiations; and  we could utilize the report as a framework for finalizing contract negotiations with the city, working to modify the most onerous and inequitable of its negative provisions. Some of these options are not exclusive.

In my view, the first ‘wait them out’ option is not viable. If Bloomberg is re-elected that would be four and a half years of waiting. Over that stretch of time, he would have inflicted “a death of a thousand cuts.”  

We should carefully weigh our options in the November election, and if a real opportunity to elect a new mayor presents itself there, we should weigh in. But we can not do that as a substitute for other action, and if we do become involved, we must become involved in a way that this city has never before seen, even by unions such as ours with a history of strong electoral work. An electoral campaign would be “for keeps.”

If we understand that we can not simply continue the campaign as we have done for the last two years, then the rejection of the report necessarily means that we would have to take up actions not sanctioned by law. While we may very well end up having to take that step, because there is no guarantee that Bloomberg and Klein would engage in ‘good faith’ negotiations even if we utilized this report as a framework for finalizing a contract, it should be a measure of absolute last resort. 

If the UFT goes forward utilizing the fact finding report as a vehicle for negotiating a contract, despite all of our problems and then the City refuses to negotiate, it would be clear to all of New York City that the objective of Bloomberg and Klein is nothing less than the destruction of our union. At stake would be our professionalism, and our dignity.

As teachers we do our best to educate kids every day – Bloomberg and Klein take credit for our effort – they need to negotiate the fair contract we deserve

What do you, as a New York City public school teacher, think?