Log in  |  Search

Archive for March, 2010

Parasites on Ventilators?

A spectacularly heartless and witless opinion piece, authored by Jeff Stier and titled “9/11 Junk Science”, was published in the New York Post on March 24.

Stier claims “There is no evidence that exposure to ‘toxic dust’ at Ground Zero was responsible for any of the progressive illnesses alleged by the claimants and their lawyers.” He is saying that NONE of the illnesses is linked to the exposure of anybody who worked, even for many months, in the midst of the WTC pit, inhaling thousands of cancer-causing chemicals and dense concentrations of lethal particles.

He also asserts “the fact… that there is no credible evidence in the medical literature that exposure to Ground Zero dust can cause any chronic disease or condition.” He further states, citing a lung specialist, that “there is no scientific validity to the claim that asbestosis is a result of 9/11 exposure.” This is said, despite the fact that workers who do asbestos abatement on an infinitesimally smaller scale in private homes or office buildings must wear HazMat suits. That protection, and the work itself, are considered public safety imperatives. More »

Setting The Record Straight:
The Performance Of The UFT Charter School

When the UFT started our own charter school in East New York five years ago, we knew that the performance of the school would be a matter of public record, but we embraced that accountability for our work. We want our school to be the best school that it can be, providing the East New York community with a choice of educational excellence. That requires that we are unsparing in the analysis of where our school needs to improve, even as we note what it has accomplished. It was with that spirit that we read the report of the SUNY Charter School Institute recommending the renewal of our school’s charter for three years.

For public accountability to be genuine, it must be based on complete and accurate information. The SUNY Charter School Institute recommendation has led to a number of blogosphere posts which misrepresent the data on the school’s performance from that report for political purposes. Here we set the record straight. More »

The Balancing Act

[Editor’s note: Miss Brave is a third-year elementary school teacher in Queens in her first year as a classroom teacher. She blogs at miss brave teaches nyc, where this post originally appeared.]

Recently, my class had a very, very difficult afternoon. Julio had not had a good day: yelling, singing, humming, tapping, taking his chair wherever he pleased, pulling his jacket over his head, etc. (Julio is now on a long waiting list for a seat in a self-contained class after his mother finally and belatedly agreed that our class of 28 was not the right learning environment for him.)

During math, I gave this direction to the whole class: “Take out your slates and your markers. If you can’t find your slate or your marker, take out your notebook and a pencil instead. If you can’t find your slate or your marker, take out your notebook and a pencil instead.” Notice how I repeated this last part when I noticed kids starting to get up and wander around the room to look for extra slates or markers.

Julio had forgotten his marker. And I had forgotten to pick my battles. So as he got up from his seat to snag a marker after he had very specifically been told not to, I took the marker from his hand and asked him to take out his notebook.

Right around that time, Julio transformed into the Hulk. More »

Courts to DOE: Stop the School Closings

Declaring that the DoE has “trivialized the whole notion of community involvement …” in school closures, the Supreme Court of the State of New York has reversed the DoE’s attempt to close nineteen of our schools. According to the court, the legislators who created the law that guides closures “…created a public process with meaningful community involvement.” The DoE did not follow that law. In particular the court seemed to take offense at the DoE’s own suggestion during the course of the case that in the future “…rather than being ordered to comply with the Education Law, they should be permitted to develop their own guidelines for compliance…” That’s not a new position for the DoE — that they believe they can write their own rules — and it is nice to see the arrogance of it (my words, not hers) alluded to by the judge.

[Read the full decision here.]

What is more, the court noted that there was “boilerplate treatment and a lack of meaningful detail regarding the impact on students of the proposed closures, ” and especially in special programs. What would happen to the LYFE Centers in some of the closing schools, programs that include child care and parenting classes for students with children? What would happen to the special programs of Choir Academy? It was the DoE’s responsibility to inform and engage the community on these matters, but it had not. More »

Vulnerable and Facing Long Commutes, Students with Disabilities Struggle

Over at Gotham Schools, Christine Rowland has posted an important analysis of the effect of travel time on the achievement of self-contained students at her school. According to Rowland, self-contained students who live less than 15 minutes from her school have an average attendance rate of 86%. The rate drops to 74%, however, for students traveling more than 30 minutes. And while 69% of those in the first group earned five or more credits this fall, that was the case for only 22% of the students who came from far away.

Rowland’s school is Christopher Columbus HS and it is currently slated for closure. A full 103 of the 180 students in the analysis were traveling 30 minutes or more.

Which leads one to wonder (as Rowland does) why so many students with very high needs were traveling such long distances in the first place. In a system of choice was this indeed their (or their family’s) choice? More »

Stop “Swift Boating” Unionized Charter School Teachers

I just want to register my objection to the post “Charter School Teachers and UFT ‘Spin’,” published on The Chalkboard blog of charter management, the New York Charter School Association. I am one of the charter school teachers who attended the UFT Delegate Assembly. I was honored to be there. Peter Murphy, NYCSA’s director of policy and communications, addresses me when he says, “A respectful suggestion to these charter school teachers: if you haven’t actually read this legislation, I suggest you do so before believing the UFT’s spin.” What he really suggests is that I am easily bamboozled, naïve and stupid. In fact, I have read both laws and also taken the time to read the op-eds in the New York Post and New York Daily News by Thomas Carroll, Peter Murphy, and James Merriman. They are the voices of charter school management, and they all spew the same anti-union message in whatever paper will give them a quarter of a page.

The fact of the matter is, you can believe in charter schools, work in charter schools, and be a proud teacher unionist. But, like too many people in management, these three would like to do away with any gains that unions have brought to working people and teachers over the years. It is not anti-student to want teacher retention and to believe that teaching can be a life-long career and not just a year or two “phase” prior to joining another profession. More »

Budget Alert: Call Your State Senator Today!

Right now, the New York State Senate proposed budget is a disaster in the making for the children in New York’s public schools.

If the cuts go through, we can expect class sizes of 28 in the first grade; the loss of most after-school programs; elimination of what’s left of music, art and other enrichment programs; no summer school; and a return to conditions after the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, as schools put off necessary maintenance and buildings get dirtier and more dilapidated.

We can’t ask kids to pay the price for the mistakes that adults have made with our economy. The kids deserve better than this.

We need you to call your state senator TODAY to voice your opposition to devastating cuts in this budget proposal.

Click here to send a fax to your senator and assembly member today.

Then call the state Senate at 518-455-2800 and ask to speak to your local senator.

Don’t know who your state senator is? Look it up here.

Tell Albany, “Don’t cut education — give a kid a chance!”

Remember the Alamo!

Facts are facts. Most people claim to believe that facts should frame and rule every argument (“let the chips fall where they may”), but they will often argue about what those “facts” actually are. For them, no potential evidence rises to the level of “fact” unless it comports with their own biases. They challenge the legitimacy of any “fact” that their intellectual game plan can’t absorb or accommodate. They will reject any historical truth, no matter how self-evident and incontrovertible, unless it passes ideological muster. Of course they take it upon themselves to be the arbiter of its purity.

That explains the changes to the social studies curriculum that the Texas Board of Education preliminarily approved and is bent on finalizing in May. The curriculum-makers picked and chose which historical truths the Texas Board of Education felt comfortable with, and in the melded interests of patriotism and revenue generation, included those that they support, and either cut out or retroactively reconstructed the rest of “history” to make it behave. Truths that could not be sanctioned were dispatched into the night and fog of lost collective memory or redeemed by being hammered into compliant shape on propagandists’ anvils. More »

Maritime Charter School: The Buck Stops (W)here?

This week the Buffalo News reported that student answer sheets on last summer’s Regents exams at the Maritime Charter School had been doctored, with incorrect responses replaced with the correct choice. For a school structured around a military-style chain of command rooted in integrity and discipline, one would imagine that an ethical lapse of this magnitude would shake its leaders to their core and prompt a period of serious introspection and change.

But the fraudulent changing of Regents exam scores is not the first such incident the school had seen. Despite wrapping itself in the Marine rhetoric of Semper Fidelis, Maritime’s six year history can be read as a series of moral mishaps and illegal activity. Highlights (or should we say, lowlights) include: the misappropriation of nearly $100K, leading to a jail term for one employee engaged in the theft; another $10K in missing federal grant money; the improper hiring of an administrator with a criminal record; and the possibly fraudulent use of PTA funds.

How did the Board of Regents, the school’s authorizer, choose to respond to such clear examples of a school in need of intervention and assistance? Renew its charter for six more years. More »

New York Teacher

New York TeacherHighlights from the March 18 issue of New York Teacher:

“I want to put a human face on the consequences of the planned austerity measures; the disaster of charging kids for MetroCards, the impact cuts will have on schools and families,” said Guy De Baere, a lab specialist at LaGuardia HS in Manhattan. “Each year we’re asked to do more with less — much less.” It was his first lobbying trip as a teacher, but not his first as a parent. This time, he joined more than 1,200 UFT colleagues and supporters in Albany on the union’s March 9 Lobby Day to tell state legislators what his award-winning high school needs.

At Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum HS, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, more than 200 teachers, students, and union and community leaders assembled to call on the state Legislature to reject the governor’s proposed $1.4 billion in school aid cuts statewide — as much as $600 million in cuts to New York City — as an attack on educational quality and a precursor to mass layoffs.

The federal education law that, for better or worse, has dominated the lives of America’s educators for the past eight years is set for another controversial and troubling renewal. More »

Where Did All The Hope Go?

When the educational historians write the story of the first months of 2010, they will record that it was the time when President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan did great harm to America’s neediest students, the young people concentrated in schools that serve poor and working class communities. If we are to finally fulfill the promise of Brown v. Board of Education for a quality education for all, surely we must support and encourage accomplished educators who take on the exceptional challenges of teaching in such schools. Yet in these last few weeks, President Obama and the Secretary Duncan have sent an unmistakable message that one works in such a school only at serious risk to one’s professional life and career. What other conclusion can a teacher draw from President Obama’s open support of the mass firings in Central Falls and his administration’s advocacy of  mass school closings in its plan for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind law? Our careers as educators can be brought to an abrupt end, without regard for our actual classroom performance, simply because we work in a school facing the great educational challenges that come with the deprivation of poverty.

How bitter now is the memory of Obama’s promise, not yet two years old, that instead of blaming and stigmatizing teachers, government would be our partner, providing the supports and the resources necessary to take on the historic tasks of educating all American students. In place of that promise is the full embrace of the corporate agenda for education, following the well-known formula of GE’s ‘Neutron’ Jack Welch: establish a punitive regime of fear by firing 10% of your workforce every year. No wonder that the Business Roundtable cannot contain their glee.

As the German philosopher Hegel once mused, Minerva’s owl flies only at dusk: we do not know the full extent of the damage done by an administration that was once the source of so much hope. But no matter what happens next, an all too real price will be paid by America’s neediest students in years to come. If the price of working with America’s neediest students is a game of Russian roulette with one’s professional career, many teachers will reasonably decide that the price is too high. And the losers will be the schools and the students who need accomplished teachers the most.

Whoa! Didn’t See That Coming!

[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a second-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at The World As I See It, where this post originally appeared.]

Motor Mouth, one of my least mature students in terms of behaving in accordance with the expectations I and school demand of a child his age, has really impressed me the last few days.

One of the traits I correlate with him more than any other is his propensity for raising his hand and then speaking without giving much consideration to what is about to come out of his mouth.

Now, don’t get me wrong. He is still the loudest during morning unpacking and the most distracted during independent reading. But, for whatever reason, he has, this week, been putting forth the most cogent arguments I have heard from him all year, and some of the best from the class as a whole. More »


What is “integrity” and what relevance, if any, does it have to the “killer instinct,” especially among intellectual adversaries in the debates on educational “reform”?

Some people want to listen and want to learn. Other folks are incapable or have no desire to do either. Most people have made up their minds on the issues at least to a relative if not an absolute degree one way or the other.  But coinciding with when the pall of NCLB overspread the landscape of education, it seems that all parties are uniformly persuaded that the sky is falling and voices trying to sell the survival of civilization clamor for the earth to open and swallow the education establishment as we know it.

There is a bumper crop of prophets of doom. The milder, slightly more laid-back ones tend to be more flexible and forgiving of those whose opinions clash with their own. It’s not an “ad hominem” thing for them. They don’t attack their philosophical foes; they just want those opponents to stand aside so that they can step in to save the world.

But then there are the demagogues. More »

Teachers at Bronx Academy of Promise Charter School Organize to Join UFT

From the UFT press release:

Educators seek more collaborative work environment and voice in school policy

Teachers and staff at the Bronx Academy of Promise Charter School in the South Bronx announced on March 12 their intention to join the UFT.

The entire teaching staff, along with other staff members at the school, have signed union authorization cards.

In a letter given to the school’s principal, the teachers’ organizing committee called for a more formal and collective voice in the school community to “ensure the quality of our students’ education.” More »

Sign Petition to Save Student MetroCards

In December, the MTA announced plans to cut student MetroCards as part of a package of budget cuts, a move strongly opposed by the UFT. Without the free passes, a half million New York City school children will be left to finance their own way to school.

On March 17, students from the Urban Youth Collaborative and Students for Transportation Justice will meet with the chairman of the MTA, Jay Walder, to urge him to work with Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson to save their MetroCards.

The Working Families Party has put together a “teachers and parents petition” that the students will take along to the meeting. They want to walk in with thousands of teachers and parents at their back, to make clear to the MTA — and the media — how important free student MetroCards really are.

Please take a minute to sign this online petition and share it with other teachers, parents or family members of students who might be interested.


More »