Log in  |  Search

Archive for May, 2009

Teacher Unionism And Stereotyping Discourse

For the last week, we have been following the debate in conservative educational circles set off by Diane Ravitch’s counterfactual on teacher unions and student achievement. If teacher unions have the negative effect on student achievement that anti-unionists never tire of postulating, Ravitch asked, why is that that the state with the highest academic performance, Massachusetts, is also one of the states with the greatest teacher union density and strength?

Ravitch’s counterfactual was so bedeviling in these circles because it employed an Ockham’s razor on the thicket of prejudices about teacher unions that underlies much of conservative educational discourse on the subject. More »

The House That Reading Built

[Editor’s note: miss brave is the pseudonym for a second-year elementary school teacher in Queens. She blogs at miss brave teaches nyc, where this post originally appeared.]

(Why am I writing this entry at 4:30 am? Because I’m awake battling a fever, sore throat and chills. I’m not saying I have the H1N1 virus…I’m just sayin’.)

It’s running record time again, and I’m pleased to report that I moved my Polish-speaking Lukas from level D to E. He happily rushed off to “move his person” (a little stick figure with his name on it) from the D envelope to the E envelope, and then he went to the classroom library to do what we call “shopping for books.” From the other side of the bookshelf, I could hear him humming busily to himself as he dumped all the D books out of his book baggie and then stashed them back in the D bin with a chirpy, “Bye-bye, D books! See ya later!”

So cute. More »

More Support for the Stella D’Oro Strikers

Stewart Acuff, Director of Organizing for the AFL-CIO, calls for support for the Stella D’Oro workers in a piece for the Huffington Post. He cites the recent IUF article, and writes:

Corporate mismanagement, predatory private equity, the destruction of an iconic brand and now an attempt to destroy the livelihoods of modest working families, the story at Stella D’oro pretty well sums up all that’s been happening over the past two decades with the financialization of the food and manufacturing sectors generally. The workers and their union, an affiliate of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, AFL-CIO have decided they have had enough.

Teachers: Take this Survey on Public School Testing

New York City teachers of grades 3 to 8, who have had experience with the ELA and math tests, are invited to take an independent survey about the city’s testing program. The topics covered include test preparation, testing and scoring procedures, and the significance of the results. It takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Your knowledge and the opinions of your colleagues will have direct meaning for the testing program. Your answers may also shed light on issues that are relevant to current discussions about mayoral control of education and the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

This independent survey is trying to reach as representative a sample of teachers as possible. Please urge other teachers in your school to participate. To take the survey, click this link:

» Teacher Survey on New York City Public School Testing

New York Teacher

Highlights from the latest issue of New York Teacher:

Surprise flu relapse hits city schools

UFT President Randi Weingarten delivered a serious message to help prevent the spread of influenza-like illness and squelch panic at a press conference held outside IS 227 in East Elmhurst, Queens — a school hard hit by flu.

In the face of looming budget cuts and after months of UFT advocacy, the DOE agreed to a hiring freeze and greater efforts to place members who are in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool.

The red-carpet treatment wasn’t just a dream for the staff of PS 300 in the Bronx. More »

The Unfairness of Using “Value Added” Meaures To Determine Teacher Pay

Dan Willingham explains why “value added” measures are not a fair method for determining teacher pay:

Hat Tip: Robert Pondisco at Core Knowledge Blog.

Teacher Unionism And Student Achievement: The Grounds For Skepticism

One of the more negative qualities of contemporary debates over educational policy is the vulgar politicization of research. For some, it is sufficient that a study reaches the “right” conclusions about an issue to embrace it as scholarly, rigorous social science. Conversely, when a study reaches the “wrong” conclusions about an issue, it becomes suspect scholarship. Jay Greene’s response to a post of mine last week, in which I pointed that the weight of scholarly literature on the relationship between teacher unions and student achievement was quite the opposite of what he suggested with his citation of a single study by Caroline Hoxby, fits this pattern to a tee. Greene simply dismisses all of the studies which reach a conclusion other than the one he wants, using ad hominem argument and caricature which ventures into the absurd. Little surprise, then, that the only study left standing is the one that reaches the political conclusions Greene favors. More »

Being Firm and Friendly

The best medical advice, if ignored, may kill a patient who otherwise might have been saved. That’s also true in the educational sphere. The finest teacher’s lesson, if no mind is paid to it, may lead to a student’s failure, not only of an academic course, but in the course of life. And just like it wouldn’t be the Board-certified internist’s fault if her patient never takes her sealed vial of therapy out of the cabinet and indulges on a self-destructive lifestyle that compounds his risk, it is also not the teacher who is to blame when she has fully given of herself but her student is irresponsible, refuses to be challenged, and the student’s parents have abrogated their duty and neglected to foster a home culture of respect for learning. More »

Study Shows Employers’ Anti-Union Behavior Intensifying

For those who question the need for the Employee Free Choice Act, a new study by Cornell University professor Kate Bronfenbrenner provides a sobering and persuasive response. Her research shows that not only do employers engage in punitive campaigns of intimidation, but their tactics are getting worse.

Bronfenbrenner is director of labor education research at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. In No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing [pdf], she provides a comprehensive, independent analysis of employer behavior in union representation elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) between 1999 and 2003. The report also compares employer behavior data from the study’s time period with previous studies conducted over the last 20 years.

Employers are more than twice as likely to use 10 or more tactics — including threats of and actual firings — in their campaigns to thwart workers’ organizing efforts. Today’s anti-union activities include an increased focus on more coercive and punitive tactics designed to intensely monitor and punish union activity. More »

What is Your Educational Philosophy?

[Editor’s note: Ms. Teach4Life is the pseudonym of a tenth-year teacher currently in her first year at a Manhattan public school.]

While we may not think about our philosophy until it is time to begin the interview process, I feel that it is important to keep your personal philosophy close at hand. When those days come and go that are very hard, and I wonder to myself, Why am I a teacher?, I take a minute to read my educational philosophy and this small act seems to calm the storm of emotions within me.

Over the years, my personal philosophy has evolved. I remember my first interview, 10 years ago, and when I was asked this question, I basically froze on the spot. I’m sure I looked like a deer caught in headlights — headlights glaring at me waiting for an answer. Finally, I stuttered, “I think all kids can learn.” When I walked out of that interview, I knew that I needed to put some more thought into that one question alone — it does define who we are as teachers, and how we conduct the business of educating our students in our classrooms.

After five years of teaching or so, I adopted the following equation as my personal belief in the education of students: More »

The Return Of Jay Greene And The United Cherry Pickers

Diane Ravitch’s common sense counterfactual on the relationship between teacher unions and educational achievement has engendered quite the firestorm on the Flypaper blog of the Fordham Foundation.

If teacher unions were half of the obstacle to educational achievement postulated by ideologues on the ultra-right, Ravitch asked, why is it that the state with the consistently highest educational achievement, Massachusetts, is also among the national leaders in teacher union density, and has some of the strongest teacher unions? And why is it that Finland, which consistently appears at the top of international comparisons of educational achievement, is also among the international leaders in union and teacher union density?

The denizens of the ideological right in education weren’t about to take that salvo sitting down, and they responded. Read the whole exchange, at least to date, here: Mike Petrilli posing the issue, Ravitch making her case in response, Jay Greene weighing in against Ravitch, Sol Stern taking on Greene, Greene responding to Stern, and Stuart Buck rushing to Greene’s defense. More »

Buyouts, Bread Sticks, Biscotti: Stella D’Oro in Context

The Stella D’Oro story has gone global.

A new article on the IUF website explains that the current situation at Stella D’Oro is the unfortunate result of risky and all-too-common corporate practices:

The dispute at Stella D’Oro is much more than a routine conflict over wages involving a union intent on defending members’ living standards and a hard-nosed management struggling with a tough economic climate. At the heart of the conflict is the huge burden of debt weighing down the balance sheets of companies taken private through a [leveraged buyout].

Outstanding LBO debt is a ticking time bomb in the debt markets. Like the sub-prime debt, it has been sliced, diced, securitized and “warehoused” in obscure corners of the financial universe that are only now coming to light.

In short,

Stella D’Oro is a classic example of a profitable company which has been drained and shrunk in the quest for quick gains and then turned over to the financial markets to leverage out the last bit of cash.

Finally, the article calls on the Obama administration to enact tougher regulations on these kinds of practices — “because working Americans can’t stand many more Stella D’Oros.”

Winning the “Race to the Top”

[Editor’s note: This “What Matters Most” column appeared in the New York Times on Sunday, May 17.]

Despite many well intentioned efforts to lift up our lowest-performing students in America, eight years after “No Child Left Behind” the achievement gap remains a persistent problem. And the current remedy of simply closing schools down or turning them into charter schools hasn’t turned the situation around.

What, then, do you suppose would happen if we not only acknowledged that there are conditions in children’s lives that make it harder for them to learn, but we actually did something about it? Last summer when I was elected AFT president, I resurrected the concept of school-based “wraparound” services for children and families. A new AFT Innovation Fund will support experiments with community schools, among other ideas, around the country.

But in truth, we have to do much more than that. And the opportunity is right in front of us. More »

Second Chances

[Editor’s note: Bronxteach is the pseudonym of a second-year teacher in an elementary school in the Bronx. He blogs at bronxteach.com, where versions of this post first appeared.]

Letters to a Young TeacherRecently I started reading Jonathan Kozol’s Letters to a Young Teacher. I’d tried to read it last year, but found it hit a little too close to home, especially when he was fawning over the first-year teacher and I was presiding over total chaos. Now, with a bit more confidence in my own abilities and the past in the past, I’m giving the book a second chance. It’s been a really gratifying read so far, as it’s reminded me of some essential ideas I’d forgotten in the course of the past year and a half.

Before I started teaching I read Kozol’s Savage Inequalities. I figured it was an important book for any teacher going into the Bronx, and once I finished I realized how right I was. The book, almost 20 years old, is an impassioned and moving portrait of America’s poorest schools and the children who learn in them. Besides bringing me face to face with some of the challenges I would face, the book also sparked a mixture of passion and outrage as well as a sense of purpose. More »

NY1 Covers “There Is No Excuse” Meeting on Staten Island

NY1 coverage

Carmen Alvarez, UFT vice president for special education, displays a campaign poster.

The UFT’s five-borough “There is No Excuse” special-education campaign was in the Willowbrook section of Staten Island on May 12 to meet parents dissatisfied with how the IEPs of their special-needs children are being met by the DOE, and to offer some common solutions. NY1 News covered the event.

Click here or on the image above to watch the video.