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Archive for December, 2005

“Framing Dropouts” Revisited

Fifteen years ago Michelle Fine, at that time a professor at University of Pennsylvania published a transformational work entitled “Reframing Dropouts: Notes on the Politics of an Urban Public High School.” Fine spent a year in a New York City comprehensive high school that she called CHS. She interviewed school staff, students and parents, attended meetings, sat in on classrooms and interviewed dropouts. She paints a chilling portrait of a school organized around “efficiency and control” in which a caring staff was “disempowered,” ignored and marginalized by the school administration.

Scores, sometimes hundreds of class size grievances were the norm each term. Fine paraphrases the UFT chair, “The notion that teachers are professionals who carry expertise, who should be trusted and consulted, and who deserve a share of school-based authority … were received by the administration as idiosyncratic and irresponsible.”

In spite of convoluted BOE statistics Fine shows that in the mid eighties only 20% of an entering cohort earned a diploma after six years.

What happened to the dropouts?

Incarceration, out-of-wedlock births, single parenthood, staggering AIDs rates, persistent unemployment and the continuing pathology of poverty in era when a high school diploma only assures a minimum wage.

Fifteen years later has anything changed?

The Kleinberg administration “innovations”?

 • they reduced the number of credits from ten to eight to move from the freshman to sophomore years – at that rate it will take a student six years to graduate if they pass ALL their subjects

• Long term absences (students absent at least twenty days in a row) are removed from school registers and are not reflected in average daily attendance figures.

 • In many school inept scanning results in enormous lateness and/or absence during the first period class.

• Cutting data is difficult to access and not reflected in school data.

 A philosophy of “efficiency and control” still dominates the management of the school system.

After eradicating a host of alternative programs that took decades to development the DOE decides that maybe they are a good idea. Of course, the folk that designed and supported the programs have been driven out of the system. The recycled programs are staggering, suffering from the poor leadership that is characteristic of this administration.

“I do the best job I can in my classroom” is the mantra of teachers. The persons who have the most influence on the lives of children: teachers, are disempowered by a system driven by press releases.

Unfortunately, in the large urban high schools, fifteen years later, nothing has changed. Heroic teachers struggle in a school system that ignores a structure that allows generations of students to drift into a life of poverty and despair.

Trickle-down Economics: Poor and Minority Schools Shortchanged in NYS

In a scathing report, the Education Trust says that most states cheat minority and poor school districts by underfunding them. New York State was the worst offender with an average expenditure gap of $2,280 between the wealthiest and the poorest districts. (See news here.)

"New York also stands out for neglecting to fairly fund poor and minority school districts. New York spends $2,280 less per student in its poorest districts than its does on students educated in its wealthiest school districts. Even after New York was ordered to deal with these funding gaps, policymakers have failed to take action," the report said.

The CFE lawsuit addressed this issue and ordered that New York City schools need $5.6 billion more each year – 44 percent more than they currently get – to give students the sound, basic education they deserve. Yet NYS politicians failed to provide the funding by the deadline and there is still no funding in sight despite the deadlock going back to a June 2003 decision. In the meanwhile, the Rich-Poor Gap Widens not only for individuals but for schools in general.

Anna Bernasek writes in the NYTimes  on December  11, 2005  "What’s the Return on Education?" (read it here). Bernasek says that economists acknowledge that schools offer vital social and cultural benefits to a nation, but asks what are the economic benefits?

It is clear that there is a direct relationship between life-time income and the level of education of individuals. Studies by Professor Alan B. Krueger of Princeton and others show that class size, teacher quality and school size can make a difference, something the UFT has been saying all along. Bernasek adds, "They [economists] have found that the effect of better schools is most pronounced for disadvantaged students."

But the economic results of a better educated society they say is not as easily measurable, despite what we all know about the recent job creation in India and China because of their investments in computer and technology education for its citizens. Yet, economists have been going back and forth on the question about whether the economic results of a good education system for a nation are similar to the economic results for an individual. Or in other words, does a good universal education system build national wealth?

Recently, more economists are drawing the conclusions that a good education is one of the gateways to wealth creation for individuals as well as for nations. Bernasek says "That means that investing in the education of every American is in everyone’s self-interest."  Education is the source for wealth creation for all.

By the way, these aren’t new theories. Teacher unions and economists have drawn similar conclusions for years.

So I leave it up to our readers: Why are we starving public schools in poor and minority districts? Why don’t our politicians see that teacher quality, and smaller class size make a major difference in the economic future of our children? Why don’t they see that a good universal public education for its citizens builds wealth for a nation and benefits everyone?

Is it because  "trickle up" economics is anathema to "trickle down" economic policies?

Hot Coffee for Cold New Yorkers

Every freezing morning of the transit strike members of the UFT, along with brothers in Local 3 (the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and the Central Labor Council stood at the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge dispensing free “hot coffee for cold New Yorkers” who had just finished their trek across the bridge. We also gave steaming cups of Joe to office workers, cops, neighborhood residents, striking brothers and sisters of the TWU, the press, bemused tourists, as well as teachers, school secretaries and a student or two. The Red Cross was also there with hot beverages so thanks to them too.

Especially gratifying were the overwhelmingly positive reactions of the public to this union effort and the show of support many gave to the TWU workers nearby. I know there are those who will pooh-pooh this sort of thing as a “public relations stunt” but when you are cold and tired and sometimes angry and it is a member of a union who hands you a hot cup of coffee I believe that it is not only hands and bodies that we warm but also hearts and minds. One gentleman informed me that the coffee wasn’t really free as his wife is a teacher and her union dues paid for the coffee. I’m sure his wife would agree that it was money well spent.

We met a group of young teachers from Facing History High School, a new small school at the Park West Campus on 50th and 8th. (And boy-oh-boy, were they facing history and a cold northwest wind.) They had walked from Carroll Gardens and stopped by for coffee and a chat before continuing uptown to the school. As all good teachers are, they were ready with an open ended question to motivate accountable talk, even if the motivation was a forbidden teachable moment that was not congruent with the flow of the day chart. Inspired, no doubt by all the talk of pensions that emerged from reporting of the transit strike, they asked if someone could come up to their school and talk to them as many new members were confused about the pension system,. Obviously their concern about their well-being, their retirement and their future shows that these teachers are indicative of your typical greedy, blood-on-their-hands, extortionist, thug, lazy, pampered, hypocritical union rat members (all adjectives courtesy of the New York Post), and furthermore they care nothing about kids as millions of other New Yorkers walked miles to work in frigid temperatures so anybody would have done it. A UFT pension speaker will be at the school early in 2006.

There was the rare “Go back to work” or similar invective hurled at the striking TWU workers (and by extension us) or the raised middle finger in our direction (and the person wasn’t driving either) but mercifully little of that. Not that we couldn’t take it.

But back to pensions as this became the issue of the strike. In 1968, when many workers, public and private had pensions, Senator Edward Kennedy noted, in his eulogy for his slain brother Robert, ” he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: ‘Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.’” Once upon a time many American workers had in addition to real pensions, real health plans, real wages and a real hope for their future and that of their children. Now we are dreaming of things that were, and were good, and instead of saying “why not for all” we are listening without questioning to those who say “too expensive” “not competitive with the new world economy” “should not be an entitlement” “will bankrupt the country” and “they will greet us with open arms.” Guess we’ll just have to keep asking the question “why not?” until we get some accountable talk from those in power, especially the elected ones and those who give us their version of the news. And in all areas. But back to the bridge.

A highlight every morning was the daily photo op of the Mayor’s disembarkation on Manhattan Island following his well protected voyage across the bridge surrounded by a bubble of security on land and sea and air. He’d stop, make some comments to reporters and then a flying wedge of followers would whisk him into City Hall. Sorry Mike, but Ed Koch still gets the award for bridge theatrics. Take a lesson from him. And on the other side of the bridge, take some small group tutoring from the always bubbly but never “bubbled” Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz who offered hot chocolate, hot coffee, hot tea and, “For this relief much thanks: ’tis bitter cold” warm restrooms in Brooklyn Borough Hall. And yes, had the Mayor stopped by before vanishing into City Hall we would have given him a cup of union brewed coffee, and a strong cup it is, too.

The TWU on an Unlevel Playing Field

Nobody should gloat about the recent transit strike. Neither the real arrogance of the MTA nor the fictional greed of the TWU carried the day. It hurt everyone. But like the pain of physical therapy after illness or injury, it may have been essential for the long-term recovery of the patient. That patient is the American Dream of the Middle Class.

For a hundred years, every new generation improved its standard of living and quality of life over those that passed before. Economic, social, and political policies of the whole nation and on every level favored it. It was a “given.”

Manufacturing jobs were not exported , as now, to nations where slave and prison labor are the norm, and the meekest protest is life-threatening. Neither were they driven to countries, as now, where American companies don’t have their “entrepreneurship” corrupted by pesky irritants like the constitutional rights of their employees, health and pension costs, or those godless profit-eroding anti-pollution laws that spark “class warfare.”

More »

Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and a Joyful Kwanzaa for all our
friends who lend their voices to Edwize. You have made this blog a success!

The Reverse Midas Touch

The Lords of Tweed possess the reverse Midas touch – they can turn gold into dross.

Park West was a troubled high school that had fallen on hard times. The entering classes were all level one and level two kids (below the State standard), forty percent overage and many had not chosen the school. The building was constructed with wonderful culinary arts kitchens: half of them were closed.

The school received a three year federal grant to reform their instructional program. The Chapter Leader, Bob McCue and Frank Brancato the Principal investigated programs all over the country. Bob is a great teacher and a caring human being; he is a wonderful example of teacher union leader. His chapter meetings are well attended and vigorous. The school chose the John Hopkins Talent Development Model, hired Frank Smith, a well respected former Columbia University professor and started making progress.

In spite of their efforts the State Ed Department placed Park West on the SURR list (Schools Under Registration Review) in January, 2003. I served as the UFT member on the State Review Team, made up of Regional Superintendents from around the State. We spent four days carefully observing classes, interviewing kids, teachers, parents and administrators. The school was making slow but steady progress. On the last day of the SURR visit the Team Leader makes a detailed oral report to the staff. We told the staff we would not be recommending redesign, the closing of the school, but did recommend a restructuring of the supervisory responsibilities.

A few months later the Manhattan High School Superintendent, a contender for one of the new Regional Superintendent positions placed the school into redesign, closing the school, and announced that Park West would be replaced with a number of small schools.

Three years later the small schools are struggling, hopefully they will succeed and many of the Park West teachers have been scattered to other schools.

Lo and behold: this year the Tweed masters decide that maybe creating 150 new schools in three years is a little too speedy and decide to wave their wand and impose Small Learning Communities, and, guess what: they mandate the John Hopkins Talent Development model.

At Park West a team of teachers, lead by their Chapter Leader and Principal spent months exploring possible approaches that would fit their school community: a sensible approach. This year Tweed simply imposes a program. Programs do not make for good schools. Schools of excellence are characterized by teams of teachers working with a school leader and making actual decisions that impact on the lives of the students in their schools.

Will they ever learn?

Teaching the littlest kids

Wanting to participate in the UFT’s “Toys for Tots” holiday drive, Saturday I found myself in my neighbhorhood toy store, staring without much joy at my choices. There were two kinds of toys I could get: ones that don’t do much but are fun to look at and imagine over, like action figures, and ones that require adult participation, or at least guidance, like Play Doh or board games or puzzles. I wound up buying the action figures, because I wasn’t sure anyone would be there to read the instructions or set up the board or do whatever was needed to make the “interactive” toys interactive.

These days, childhood is not for the faint of heart. Randi has been talking lately about the need for the union to put a renewed emphasis on pre-K. Michelle Bodden, our elementary VP, testified to the State Assembly education committee last week about the need to upgrade early childhood education. There are so many studies out there about the importance of the early years, yet ECE settings too often are overcrowded, or scripted, or look like mini test-prep academies.

Teachers College Record
online journal this week reports findings by Bridget Hamre and Robert Pianta of the University of Virginia that the quality of teacher-student interactions in first-grade classrooms can actually close the achievement gap for at-risk children.

What makes the difference is when the everyday instructional and social–emotional supports offered to young children are of real quality. The researchers found that in some classrooms they visited the children were engaged, productive and overseen by caring adults who consistently provided feedback and challenge. Yet for others a typical day found children sitting around, watching the teacher deal with behavioral problems, and participating in boring, rote instructional activities such as completing worksheets and spelling tests.

Clearly, teacher quality varied, but the authors’ conclusions are not the typical policy-makers’ recipe–that teachers need more education credentials or tougher certification requirements. “These proxies for teacher or classroom quality—which in fact are the indicators written into most NCLB regulations related to teacher quality—are very poor reflections of the ingredients of schooling that matter most for children,” they write. “The other option is to find ways to more directly change and improve classroom quality—the dimensions of instructional and social interactions teachers have with children—in large numbers of classrooms.”

I imagine most ECE teachers believe that the quality of their interactions with young students, rather than the curriculum or the classroom library or any other structural element, is what helps little kids grow and learn. From what Michelle says, ECE teachers often battle the school system to keep classes small enough and their day flexible enough to allow this interaction. But they often battle alone. We should be more vocal about what we know needs to happen in ECE classrooms. And for ECE teachers, the next time they hear about their supposed “deficiencies,” they should remember that current formulas for early-grade instruction can be downright impoverished. These teachers stand on the front lines of reclaiming childhood.

Another Sad Day For New Orleans Teachers

The New Orleans Public School system announced last week that it will be laying off approximately 5,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries and other school employees by January 31, 2006. This comes at the same time the mayor is asking citizens to return in what is billed as a "Bring Back New Orleans" campaign.

“This is a sad day at the end of a tragic three months for the teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, and other employees of New Orleans Public Schools and for the city of New Orleans which could lose more than 20,000 citizens at the same time when the Mayor is asking citizens to return,” said United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) President Brenda Mitchell.

The school system announced that January 31, 2006 is the last day of employment for employees who have been on disaster leave and who have not been reactivated by that date. Since many of the employees have moved several times since the devastation caused by Katrina, the school system is asking employees to call a toll free hotline at 877-771-5800, or by filling out a form available at www.nops.k12.la.us .

But there is more to the story. The Orleans school system had close to 60,000 students before Katrina hit. School officials estimate that only about 7,000 are coming back for the current school year. But there is a major charter school movement in the city that is certain to virtually wipe out the public schools and will certainly minimize the voice of the union.  In fact, the education steering committee of "Bring Back New Orleans" doesn’t include one teacher.

So it is more important than ever that we show our solidarity with our New Orleans brothers and sisters who could lose their right to return when schools reopen.

During this season of giving, we urge you to donate to the UFT’s Katrina Relief Fund. Print the flyer and return the coupon with a $10 donation and get the handsome Katrina Relief Fund pin and wear it proudly. In fact, organize a Katrina Relief Fundraiser at your school so everyone can where their pins at the same time.

The AFT has put together a Hurricane Katrina website that chronicles stories, and information about the aftermath of the storm. If you have a minute, watch this video of UTNO president Brenda Mitchell as she visits a badly damaged school in New Orleans. (Real Player Broadband | Real Player Modem | WM Broadband | WM Modem)

The UFT in conjunction with AFT locals across the country is helping raise money for AFT members impacted by the storm. Take some time to read some of the personal stories from members affected by Hurricane Katrina.

The NY Teacher has some stories about NYC connections to the storm, here and here.

Supporting TWU

We will be joining our brothers and sisters at a rally in support of the Transport Workers Union, Local 100 at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, December 19th at 633 3rd Avenue at 41st Street. We hope to see you all at the rally. If you have a blog consider posting this information for your NYC readers.

Whittling away at public education

Chris Whittle is a real danger to public education. It would be easy to dismiss him, since so many of his ventures fail, but he has a genius for staying afloat. As Jim Horn writes in his review of Whittle’s new book, Crash Course: Envisioning a Better Future for Public Education, Whittle’s frequently-failing Edison Schools Inc. survived its own stock crash in 2002 thanks to a bailout by the Florida state pension fund engineered by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Whittle has continued to sell his Edison private-management company to large public school systems that should know better, including Philadelphia and Baltimore. He was soundly defeated by parents and teachers in NYC’s District 5 a few years back when he offered to manage schools in Harlem, but now Chancellor Klein appears enamoured of him.

Here’s part of what Horn has to say:

“Whittle attempts to sculpt a vision for a hybrid American school, a new alternative to the “public school monopoly” that conservatives have railed against for the past 25 years. In this bravado new world of educational corporate welfare that Whittle projects out to the year 2030, the public school will remain public, in that public dollars pay the bills for personnel, transportation, food service, maintenance, and, of course, the contracting fee to Edison, Inc. or its MacSchool counterparts—yet private, in that education corporations organize, manage, hire principals who hire teachers, consult, assess, make merit pay recommendations based on those assessments, and, of course, get paid with public dollars that, in turn, make a 10% profit for the shareholders for the company. If this doesn’t sound good enough to get you to spend the $25 for this kind of visionary thinking, then add to this emerging educational utopia the need to increase class size, severely reduce the number of teachers, turn students into part-time clerical workers; and I am sure that you will agree that Whittle’s book will be required reading, at least by every reform industry lobbyist on K Street who is sure to get goose bumps at Whittles’ recurring focus on the 400 billion dollars that Americans spend on K-12 education every year.”

Thanks to the Public Education Network‘s “Weekly NewsBlast” for calling attention to this. They publish on Fridays–summaries and links to interesting education stories–and there are always gems in their mix. You can subscribe yourself on their left toolbar.

Triumphant Managerialism, And The Strategy Of Intellectual Non-Engagement And Avoidance

One of the more negative features of contemporary educational policy debates is the way in which a number of ‘camps’ have adopted a strategy of intellectual non-engagement and avoidance toward differing positions. The martial metaphor of ‘camps’ is deliberately chosen here, since the underlying logic of this strategy is one of opposing armies meeting on a field of battle. The essentials one needs to know in any debate, according to this view of educational policy, is who lines up with your army and who lines up against it – is the advocate of this policy friend or enemy? The substance of the argument made for or against a policy is largely immaterial. Indeed, it is better not to discuss that substance, since a discussion might reveal a weakness in one’s own position, or worse, the strength of the alternative position. All that is important is whether or not the ‘policy’ in question is part of your weaponry, and whether its advocates belong to your army. More »

Around the Blogs

The Drum Major Institute which is a New York based think tank has released their review of 2005. The list is interesting, and not just because we received a mention. If you didn’t already know, DMI has an excellent blog that discusses policy about a whole set of issues.This post about the return on education is especially good.

Joe Thomas has a round up of blog posts from “The Advocates” at Shut Up and Teach. The EduWonks have their round up of education discussions in this weeks addition of the Carnival of Education.

Technical Update

We’re in the process of upgrading some of the software that runs EdWize over the next few days, and as such there is a small possibility that the site may be down for short bursts of times during the upgrade. We apologize for the inconvenience.

EdWize is built on the WordPress blogging platform, which is a community supported and open-source software license. Once we’ve made these upgrades we’re going to release some of the information about the site back into the community so that others, including readers can use the information if they’d like to set up a WordPress blog.

The Next Big Thing: Grading Teachers

At the recent Education Committee meeting of the City Council, as reported by Maisie McAdoo, a Tweed official lauded a plan to track pupil achievement data to evaluate teacher performance. The beginnings of pay for performance?

I taught in a large high school with maybe two hundred teachers. Every day I interacted with the teachers in my department, we discussed: lesson plans, shared tests, lesson motivation ideas and the morning traffic, and we all were paid on the same salary schedule. Would I share materials with a colleague who might make more money because his kids did better on Regents Exams? Will setting up a system of competition among teachers improve pupil achievement? It doesn’t work in the private sector why should we think it would work in schools? Management gurus talk in terms of “learning organizations” and “teams of learner,” not individual merit pay.

Why do some schools with similar kids do better than others? Usually a principal who is able to create a team, a faculty that works together, a synergy created by teams of teachers who pool their expertise and increase their effectiveness. In some schools teachers participate in “kid talk,” all the teachers who teach the same students talk about individual kids, and, they talk with the kids themselves. When the English, Social Studies, Science and Mathematics teachers get together to discuss how Johnnie is doing in their classes and map out a strategy Johnnie is the winner.

Teaching can be a lonely job. In too many schools teachers close the door and teach the kids. The job is akin to working in a factory and screwing in the bumper rivets all day every day. Add into the equation that the faster you screw in the rivets the more you’ll be paid. I’m sure you’re going to attract the “best and the brightest” to work in this new style education factory.

Highly effective schools are highly effective teams of teachers who collaborate, support each other, laugh and cry together and the winners are the kids who are lucky enough to be in these energetic, synergistic buildings.

Eva flames out on teacher quality

Eva Moskowitz held her last education committee hearing yesterday. She leaves the Council January 1. Probably by coincidence, the hearing was on teacher quality. She asked witnesses to discuss what distinguishes excellent teachers from their peers and how to measure teacher quality using indicators such as where the teacher went to college, their undergraduate GPA, or their number of absences. Oh, please.

The director of UFT Teacher Centers, Aminda Gentile, testified, “These questions have nothing to do with creating a highly qualified teacher workforce. A system that builds and supports its teacher workforce creates good teachers and good teaching.” Aminda suggested that teacher quality was a matter of how the system develops its teachers, not how it picks them. “Let me rephrase your question,” she told Eva. “It’s not how do we identify good teachers but how do we grow good teachers.” Touche!

The DOE sent Human Resources head Betsy Arons, who, as the Staten Island Advance reported, talked about the Department’s plans to launch a new high-tech system to track student test scores next year, one that will “make it easier for administrators to monitor student achievement and evaluate teacher performance.” Eva lauded this development as a way to get “more accountability in the school system, especially in the areas of teacher performance and quality.” Pfef!

This tracking system, sometimes called “value-added assessment,” or “value-added modeling,” is cutting-edge, in that it tracks student performance over time and links that back to the value that a teacher adds to the child’s established cognitive growth curve. It’s interesting, all right but as a big RAND study concluded two years ago, it’s just not ready for prime time. Too many statistical kinks.

That conclusion seems to have filtered down to a lot of school systems and governors who have played with the idea of paying teachers based on student performance and other quality measures but then put the plan on hold. A new Issue Paper by the Education Commission of the States and Teaching Commission just came out. It is carefully neutral on merit pay and performance pay, but when you get to the appendices you see that in every state that has tried to change the teacher compensation system or bring in performance pay, the effort has either stalled in the Legislature or it’s been referred back to a task force (i.e., it was DOA when it got to the Legislature.)

Maybe Eva and other proponents would say the teachers’ unions blocked these bills. But in fact the only place that is trying performance pay on any scale at all is Denver, Colorado, and there it was the teachers union that wrote and championed the measure, taking a full five years to pilot and develop it. Performance pay may be a good idea in the abstract but in the implementation it’s a real bear. Klein thinks announcing things makes them so, but he’s mistaken.