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Archive for November, 2005

NYU’S Teaching Graduate Student Union In A Fight For Its Life

GSOC-UAW, the union of teaching graduate student assistants and lecturers at New York University, has been forced on strike. After the National Labor Relations Board dominated by Bush appointees issued a stunning reversal of its own precedent recognizing the right of the graduate students engaged in teaching labor to organize and bargain collectively, New York University announced its unwillingness to bargain with the union, forcing it into a life-or-death strike for its own survival. Edwize has examined the issues behind this important struggle in the past.

You can take action in support of the GSOC strikers at NYU by sending an e-mail of protest to the NYU administration from this AFL-CIO web site. Please honor their picket lines at NYU.

The High Cost of Low Price

On Monday, November 14th the UFT is sponsoring a screening of "Wal Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" at the UFT’s offices in the Bronx. There are still seats available, and there is NO cost to get together with some other educators, school based professionals, nurses and labor members from around the Bronx to watch was is supposed to be a hard hitting documentary on the impact of Wal-Mart.

Here’s all the info you need to know:

What: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Labor
When: November 14, 2005 / 6:00-8:00 PM
Where: The UFT office is located at, 2500 Halsey Street, Bronx
How: You can request tickets by calling (718) 379-6200.

“Multiple Pathways” to Nowhere.

For years the union has been decrying high schools with high class size, a lack of guidance services: schools were kids are treated as anonymous OSIS numbers. We go through the September/February ritual of filing class size grievances and the DOE fights the grievance and shuffles kids around for weeks, sometimes months. The “average” high school teacher has a teaching load of at least 150 students a week. Maybe, just maybe, you can carefully mark a set or two of papers each night and “create” that wonderful and marvelous performance that works for your kids and satisfies the bosses. No wonder that kids drop by the wayside. With all the issues associated with poverty and the streets coupled with an unfeeling, aloof school bureaucracy too many kids simply give-up.

The DOE, in its wisdom, has decided that attendance and dropout rates are unacceptable. They have created a “Multiple Pathways” program, alternatives to the traditional path through school. We used to have a rich, varied set of alternative high schools, and some still exist. The Tweed “brain trust” decided that alternative schools and programs did not have “good data,” gee!! What a surprise!! Alternative transfer high schools, literacy centers, GED programs have been eliminated or slashed.

Average daily attendance in large high schools is appalling, in many schools a third of the kids are absent every day, cutting classes is commonplace and schools exert enormous energy on security issues. The core of the “Multiple Pathways” effort is an expansion of the YABC program (Young Adult Borough Centers) – students who are seventeen with more than seventeen credits attend school in a night school-like configuration with counseling and a jobs program. The program has been around for a long time and expanding it is an excellent idea. Why wait until the kid is halfway “out the door”? Patterns of below standard achievement, poor behavior in school and poor attendance begin in elementary schools and accelerate throughout middle school. It is no surprise that failure rates in the initial high school year, the 9th grade, are astronomic.

It is not the classroom teachers who are dysfunctional; it is the leadership of a school system that continues to try “quick fixes.” As long as the scions at Tweed see the UFT as the” enemy” and teachers as idea-less automatons they will continue to create pathways to oblivion: and it is the kids who are the victims.

Feelings of Doubt

For the past week I have been struggling; battling with students who spend little to no time doing work and with myself who spends an endless amount of time doing work. It’s a battle I’ve felt, at times was not worth waging.

There were times last week where I found myself truly questioning why I became a teacher. I would think about my previous job and dream, for a short period, of what it was like to come home from work with nothing to do- no paper work, no grading and no planning. Time on my hands. Why did I want to teach, I wondered? Do I really want this much work, stress, and lack of personal time for the rest of my life?

Last week I had many moments of doubt about my career. Not only was this caused by the endless amount of work I was doing, but also, I think, by the lack of work my students were doing.

I guess one could say that the work was partly my fault- I did create all of it. That’s one of the joys of being a first year teacher, you don’t have the ability to think about these things in advance. I collected notebooks from two of my classes; on top of that first drafts of projects were due. Considering they were first drafts they needed to be looked over and given back swiftly, before final projects were due. I also began a new unit with two of my classes and I had a graduate school presentation to complete by mid week. Even with day light savings I still did not have enough time to do all that I needed to do.

I considered blogging numerous times, as this is my outlet for frustrations, and my way to “figure things out.” But it just seemed too contradictory. How could I complain about being stressed and crazed and having no time to do anything, if I had the time to blog?

I felt, and continue to feel, as if I am working around the clock but yet still not reaching my potential as a teacher. I wonder if I’m too demanding, or if my assignments are too difficult? I feel as if my lessons could be more organized, my thoughts more clearly laid out, and my activities more engaging. How do I know if I’m doing anything right? do I need to rely soley on the response I get from my students?

Having received very little assessment at my first school, (which I was excessed from) and none at my new school, I felt I was in dire need of some feedback. I do have a mentor through my college that I have met with once, but do not have a Department of Education Mentor, as I am told all first year teachers are to have. This being the case, I requested a meeting with my Assistant Principal to ask for advice. She met with me the next day and was a great help. I implemented one of her ideas immediately and the students truly benefited from it. Now, I only wish I had more time, harder working students and more feedback along the way.

Now it’s Monday night. I made it through the day but again have this feeling like “I tried so hard and still failed.” The same issues face me this week, as last: How am I going to find the time, the energy, and the motivation to put the same amount of work into my classes this week as last, when last week I saw so little effort from them. I guess I should start now…

Notebooks still await me, final projects now await me and planning forever awaits me.

The Cat and Mouse Game

This week we received our first iterations of trackback spam. Essentially trackback spam is when spammers send a digital ping to a blog notifying readers that they are talking about your blog post. Unfortunately, spammers will insert links back to prescription drug sites (this is what’s been happening to Edwize), or other sites selling materials or subscriptions. To combat the spam we’ll be installing some new tools on the back end on Sunday afternoon. If you don’t see Edwize on Sunday afternoon, just check back a little later.  There  will be some downtime required to install the new plug ins.

Share Your Class Websites

Do you run a website where you publish information for your students, or their parents? If you do, please send me a link to the website at blog@uft.org. I’m working on a small project, and it would be helpful to see how some teachers are using technology. The existence of your website will not be divulged to anyone, nor will we publish a link to your website. My main interest is to assess how educators are using websites to share information with students and parents, and to determine the type of platform being used.

Please email me at blog@uft.org.

NY Post: Choice Is Great — Except For Teachers Who Want A Union

It’s always entertaining to watch the mighty pens of the New York Post editorial staff twist and turn around an issue when the plain truth is too much for them to bear [and, for that matter, to bare].
The latest episode is the Post editorial ‘Zap The Cap’ which denounces – hold on to your seats, boys and girls – the UFT and Randi Weingarten for the fact that the cap on the number of charter schools in New York State remains in place.
Let us leave to the side the Post’s editorial sortie into the prose style of Dr. Seuss, as some of us always saw this as an inevitable rhetorical turn, given the limited repertoire of its barely post-adolescent editorial writers and the fact that it pitches its newspaper to a third grade reading level.  
What is interesting here, as in most Post editorials, is what is not said. More »

New Teacher Diaries in the New York Teacher

The front page of the NY Teacher this week features the story of Bimsmile, one of the new teachers who has been documenting her experiences on this blog.

She had finally learned their names: all of the many students in her high school classes. She had just organized her grade book. The brand new teacher was starting to “feel good about my lessons and teaching persona,” had figured out how to help Ralphie get his thoughts on paper and finally tamed an unruly class.

Then she was excessed.

“Bimsmile” — the blog name of this articulate young English teacher who is keeping her real name under her hat for now — felt shocked, angry and dissed.

And so did the kids. 

What’s more, Bimsmile was excessed six weeks after her first day at the large comprehensive high school where she was hired, a violation of state Law 2588, which prohibits excessing after the first 15 days of a school term.

“The reason for that law is to avoid precisely what happened to this new teacher and her classes,” said UFT High Schools Vice President Frank Volpicella. “It’s supposed to limit the disruptions to students and staff. Here we are in mid-October. What is the Department of Education thinking?”

Although very happy in her new school — after a call from a union official “they welcomed me with open arms” — Bimsmile says she is still trying to untangle the bureaucratic mess that landed her at another school. Mysteriously, the name of a younger male colleague from her former school was written on top of all her attendance rosters at her new school, as if he were the teacher initially targeted for transfer to that school. 

That former colleague, one of the first teachers to get a program change at her first school, “was an English teacher and they gave him Social Studies classes with one English class,” she said. “I was told that all my classes were going to be dissolved and sent up to other classes. Then I heard that he was going to be taking over my classes.”

Go figure.

If you’d like to read her diaries, they are located:

On being a new teacher

Feeling Defeated

My Teaching High

Startin Over Again

You Teach You Learn

Do They Care

A Grave Injustice to the UFT Tradition of Union Democracy

Today, as it became clear to all observers that the contract would be ratified, ICE leader and Executive Board member Jeffrey Kaufman published an attack on the honesty of the vote, the UFT and the American Arbitration Association on the ICE blog.

At the October 17th Executive Board meeting, Kaufman raised general concerns about possible improprieties in the contract ratification process, but said he had no specific allegations of wrongdoing. After that meeting, UFT Secretary and Director of Staff Michael Mendel sent a letter to Kaufman, both by e-mail and registered US mail, in which he expressed the utmost priority the UFT gives to a secure and honest ballot. Mendel specifically asked Kaufman, fellow ICE leader and Executive Board member James Eterno and any other ICE member to immediately report any instance of voting irregularity or other impropriety to him, so the UFT could act to correct it immediately. On October 24th, Kaufman sent the Mendel letter via e-mail to the internal ICE listserv of the entire ICE membership.

Not ONE allegation of a specific impropriety or election irregularity has been made by Kaufman, Eterno or any other ICE member to Mendel, to President Randi Weingarten or to any other officer of the UFT. The only complaint that the UFT has received regarding the voting was from new teachers who told us that chapter leaders opposing the ratification of the contract were pressuring them to vote ‘no’ against their wishes.

Now, as the contract vote is trending positive, Kaufman levies charges of irregularities. First he says that “‘secret ballot’ envelopes were hardly secret as votes were easily seen, leading many to conclude that negative votes were discarded.”

In fact, the actual voting procedure involves two voting envelopes, an inside ‘secret ballot’ envelope without any identification and an outside envelope on which the voter identifies her/himself as a UFT member entitled to cast a ballot. Once he or she has voted, the UFT member places the ballot in the ‘secret ballot’ envelope and seals it, and then places that envelope inside the second, identification envelope, and seals it. The election official in the school receives the ballot inside both sealed envelopes. Given this procedure, the only way that ‘no’ votes could have been discarded as described by Kaufman is when they were in the possession of the American Arbitration Association, after their officials had certified the member as entitled to vote and after their officials had removed the ‘secret ballot’ envelope from the outside envelope.

Second, Kaufman charges that “information was provided to Chapter Leaders to allow for the easy voter tampering by submitting votes for members that were absent or refused to vote.”

In order to submit a vote for a member who was absent or refused to vote, a chapter leader would have to forge the signature of the member. Such a forgery would be a criminal act of fraud. If there is any knowledge of such a fraud on the part of Kaufman [an attorney who is an ‘officer of the court’], Eterno or any other member of ICE, it should have been reported not only to the UFT, but to the legal authorities. No such report has been made.

Third, Kaufman charges that there was “systematic violation of Board of Education rules and grievance precedent in preventing opposition caucus members from distributing literature in staff mailboxes.”

The Department of Education rules Kaufman cites involve elections for union officers, not contract ratification votes. In a contract ratification vote, only authorized UFT representatives and UFT members themselves in the schools are allowed to place literature in staff mailboxes. Unauthorized outsiders, from any caucus in the UFT, have no right to enter a school to place literature in mailboxes.

Finally, Kaufman charges that there is something amiss with the fact that “providing school tallies would be ‘impossible’ because of the nature of the voting process.” Given the procedures described above to secure the secrecy of every member’s ballot, there is no way – nor should there be any way – to ascertain how UFT members in a particular school voted.

While ICE leader Jeffrey Kaufman is publishing these accusations of election irregularity and impropriety, ICE leaders have been reporting on their internal listserv that “the feeling now is that although many people talked up a storm against the contract, they actually voted for it… [The] feeling now seems to be that it will go through.”

The UFT has a long and proud history of union democracy. Every ballot we hold – for the election of union officers, for the ratification of a contract and for strike authorization – are counted and certified by the American Arbitration Association. We have used the exact same procedures for this contract ratification vote that we have employed in every contract ratification vote, including the 1995 contract when our members voted not to ratify a negotiated contract. To call this vote in question, without a single allegation of specific wrongdoing, does a grave injustice to that tradition of union democracy.

The Teaching of Arts

Yesterday, at a City Council hearing chaired by Eva Moskowitz (remember her?) a Department of Education official admitted that 152 schools lack a full time arts teacher. Nevertheless, Sharon Dunn, who oversees the department’s arts programs, said the Klein administration had made arts education a priority. Tell that to the students in those 152 schools.

Just as social studies, science and foreign languages have fallen by the wayside, so too the arts. These subjects are victims of an educational “accountability” system that uses results on standardized tests in English and math as the sole indicator of school and student achievement. (And let’s not forget the merit pay advocates who would base teacher “achievement” and pay on the same faulty system.) Then again, when George W. Bush announced his favorite musical was Cats we should have known the arts were in for it.
More »

Reflections on Rosa Parks: “We Still Have a Long Way to Go”

{Phyllis Murray is a chapter leader in the Bronx.}

“We still have a long way to go in improving the race relations in this country.”said Rosa Parks. Yes, Rosa Parks knew that years after the desegregation rulings were passed, race still mattered in America. “Defining and Redirecting a School-to-Prison Pipeline By: Johanna Wald and Daniel Losen, tells this sorrowful tale of woe. And if we look carefully we can better understand what is happening in the inner city schools of America: what is happening in New York City.

“Students in high poverty, high minority schools are routinely provided fewer resources.” the research states: Moreover, “these students have less access to credentialed, experienced teachers, to high quality curriculum, and to advanced level courses than their more affluent, white peers. Not surprisingly, they experience lower rates of high school graduation, academic achievement, and college attendance levels.” Thus, we cannot be surprised to note the fact that New York City School system is not producing minority teachers en masse. Furthermore, the research shows: “with a zero tolerance approach to wrong doing, an increase in the presence of police in schools, the use of metal detectors and search and seizure procedures in schools, and the enactment of new state laws mandating referral of children to law enforcement authorities for a variety of school code violations,” it is evident that the School-to-Prison pipeline will become the norm as the prisons and not colleges are filled with inner city kids. Hence, the NYC Board of education will continue to recruit its teachers from cities and towns which are well beyond the perimeters of the five boroughs. Manhattan businesses will also recruit from beyond its borders for a viable workforce.

If parents view the public school system in NYC as a pipeline to prison, if “new statutes mandating referral to law enforcement for school code violations are disproportionately affecting minority children and may be unnecessarily pushing them into the criminal justice system” (as the research shows), parents will continue to seek admission in private or parochial schools. Many families have already moved out of the city in a search for some relief. Some families are returning to their ancestral homes.

Race has always mattered in America. Our history tells us of the early enslavement of all people of color even in New York State. King spoke to us about the role of education as a road to equality and citizenship. That is the road our students need to be traveling. Yet, that road will become more and more elusive… if early intervention is not provided for students at risk. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) needs to be mapped out for all students to break the School to Prison dynamic. There should be a “School to College” IEP in sight: an IEP from Pre-K to B.A. Yes, it is evident “a series of educational programs and options designed to embrace and hold onto all students, including those most troubled, most vulnerable, and most at-risk.”

Yes, we still have a long way to go, Rosa Parks. But we are making strides one student at a time.

Manufacturing the Virtues of Competition in Education

Among the orthodox neo-classical economists who study American education, a belief in the efficacy of competition is taken as the primary doctrine from which all analysis must start. In most cases, this belief is treated as an article of faith, straight from the scriptures of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman; it is taken as an a priori principle which is never seriously examined. But given the claims made for various privatization and laissez-faire market-style reforms in education policy debates, it would seem that the virtues of competition in education are what need to be proven, not assumed.

Yet when this doctrine is put to an empirical test, the results are far from a ringing endorsement. Whether the issue at hand is the functioning of the voucher experiments in Milwaukee and Cleveland, the relative academic performance of charter schools and district schools or the record of for-profit educational corporations, there are intense debates among scholars over the actual benefits, if any, of competition in the real world of American schools. There is little question that there is nothing even approaching a scholarly consensus on these issues. Indeed, there are few areas of scholarly research in any field which are more politicized or more polarized than the debates over competition and markets in education.

The latest battle in these scholarly wars features a newcomer market skeptic, Princeton economist Jesse Rothstein, and a veteran competition true believer, Harvard economist Carolyn Hoxby.

More »

All Testing All the Time

Guess what the PD is for Election Day? You guessed it. Testing. Evidently DOE has instructed principals to focus on the new Grades 3-8 tests all day, ELA in the morning, math in the afternoon. Will those of you who are school based please help me understand what about this topic requires a full day of professional development? I’m not being snide, I’d actually like to know. Thanks