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Archive for May, 2010

Don’t Get Caught in a Bad Hotel

A flashmob infiltrates the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco and performs an adaptation of Lady Gaga’s song “Bad Romance.” The event was organized to draw attention to a boycott called by the workers of the hotel who are fighting to win a fair contract and affordable healthcare. Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer activists put the song and dance together as a creative way to tell the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people from all over the country coming to San Francsico in June for Pride to stay out of the boycotted hotels.

To learn more about how to honor the boycott and support the workers visit: http://www.sleepwiththerightpeople.org

Teacher Evaluation And Improvement Plan:
Frequently Asked Questions

On May 11, the UFT, NYSUT and the State Education Department reached a new agreement — subject to legislative approval — to create a teacher evaluation and improvement plan. Under the new agreement, which would take effect in September 2011, the evaluation process will be more objective, be based mostly on qualitative measures and limit the role of test scores.

How will the teacher evaluation system change? More »

Charter Schools and Special Ed — Eva Moskowitz Gets Defensive

In a recent e-mail that has been spreading through the city’s inboxes, Eva Moskowitz made some wild claims about charter schools’ enrollment of special needs students — even arguing that her fellow charter school managers had been too willing to admit that they served fewer students with special needs than district schools, and that the UFT had “lied” about her own schools’ SPED enrollment. As “proof,” she cited a study that had been posted on the GothamSchools blog — but that research has a fatal flaw.

As we pointed out in our recent report on the failure of most NYC charter schools to serve special needs students, any analysis of their claims about special education enrollment is meaningless without an explanation of the levels of need among the students. A special education student who requires a few hours of speech therapy per week and a student who needs a self contained classroom every day are both classified as needing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), but bring very different challenges to schools. The author of the GothamSchools study left these differences completely out of her analysis, even though the data is available through the Freedom of Information Act (and was included in our report, once we finally received it from the state).

If the charter school management truly believe they enroll the same kind of students that district schools enroll, then they should make these numbers more accessible to the public — since they have nothing to hide.

[Update: Links to the source data are now available.]

More »

Special Education in NYC Charter Schools — and Everywhere Else

The UFT Research Department just took a look at the hotly-contested issue of special education enrollment in NYC charter schools.

What we found is that even when they do enroll a fair share of special education students, charters do not enroll the same kinds of students with special needs. Using FOIL’d charter school invoices, we found that charters serve much lower-needs special students. That leaves the regular district schools to educate virtually all those requiring self-contained classrooms, and most who need team-teaching settings.

The implication? If charters don’t serve the same kids, their claims of higher student performance are based in part on non-comparable data.

Read the report here: Special Education in Charters and District Schools

Stand Up Against Teacher-Bashing; Stand Up For Our Schools

[Editor’s note: Steve Quester is a second-grade teacher and UFT Chapter Leader at PS 372, The Children’s School, in Brooklyn.]

It’s early May, and things in Albany are really tough right now. Our state is facing yawning budget gaps, while political stalemate stymies any effort to raise significant new revenues.

In this environment, the UFT’s message to our elected representatives in the Assembly and Senate has been clear: they must oppose the governor’s drastic proposed cuts to the education budget. Lawmakers are considering a $600 million cut to state funding for our city’s public schools. If we lose that much state funding, class sizes will skyrocket, tutoring and after-school programs will be eliminated, and great teachers will be laid off.

Kids don’t get a second chance at an education. If we allow our school system to be decimated like it was in the ‘70s, another generation of young New Yorkers will lose their opportunity for a better life. More »

Don’t Raise Cap Without Reforms, Charter Parents Say

Message From New York Charter Parents Association:

A new bill was introduced in the State Senate on Friday, April 30.  This bill would raise the charter school cap to 460; more than doubling the number, without allowing audits by the state comptroller, without charters being required to post their charter and by-laws online, without giving voice to parents on co-locations, without barring profit-making enterprises from making money off operating charter schools and without requiring charters to provide special education services for students at their charter school. More »

Arizona Tees Off

Arizona has banned the advocacy of ethnic solidarity in all grades of its public and charter schools. The bill that Governor Jan Brewer recently signed into law also prohibits classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

(Does that mean that kindergartners are now off-limits to militias? And are nations south of the border still eligible for CIA-sponsored coups? Inquiring corporate minds want to know.)

The law was written by Tom Horne, Arizona’s state superintendent of public instruction, who is vying to be the Republican candidate in the coming election for state attorney general.

Under the new law, in keeping with the state’s commitment to quality education, any non-compliant school or district would be starved of funds (or put on a tough love strict diet, anyway) for children’s learning.

The law’s defenders say it upholds democratic values of equality and tolerance because it forbids the promotion of racial hostility and any curriculum tailor-made for any specific ethnicity.

They claim it will discourage segregation by ending “ethnic studies” classes and students would still be exposed to a variety of cultures as part of the standard social studies syllabus.

Up to a point, the wisdom of this law could be debated by folks of good-will on either side of the opinion fence. But the fact that it was passed in Arizona raises a red flag, because Arizona is the state that recently legislated a highly inflammatory immigration enforcement statute.

Nobody is fooled except those who choose to be. More »

Eva’s “Testing Machines”: Taking The Humanity Out Of Education

Testing machine?In a recent profile in New York Magazine, charter school CEO Eva Moskowitz proclaims herself the savior of public education. However, the article makes clear that Moskowitz does not truly offer any solutions to the thorny problems of urban schools; instead, the culture she has implemented as CEO of Harlem Success has actually magnified problems. The gap between rhetoric and reality calls into question what Moskowitz’s real “mission” really is — and at $400K a year, that’s an important question to ask.

Though she makes the absurd claim in the article that her mission to change public education started as early as first grade (while most of us were concerned about which cartoon lunchbox we would get), Moskowitz’s real mission is to increase her own political power. During her early 2000’s tenure on City Council, Moskowitz conducted a series of education oversight hearings. (Which, according to the article, satisfied her childhood “Watergate” fetish.) In many respects, she intended these hearings to be a launching pad to higher office — but the plan backfired, as her coarse personality turned off voters and resulted in a nine point loss in the race for Manhattan borough president. Her current resurgence of interest in educational issues is intended as a pathway back into the public light, and perhaps higher office.

Moskowitz’s contradictory views on standardized testing are one hint that her interest in public schooling is more about playing to political rhetoric than thinking about what urban students really need to succeed. More »

Why Do My Kids Make Leaps?

[Editor’s note: Ms. Flecha is a third-year ESL teacher in an elementary school in Queens. She blogs at My Life Untranslated where this post first appeared.]

My professor who is advising me on my Master’s thesis recently asked me why I think my ELL students do so well, often making more than a year and a half’s worth of progress in reading. My initial response was that I think it’s because I teach them to be aware of the language they’re learning and train them to think about unknown words rather than just try to sound them out or get frustrated and skip them. But I can’t say for sure that they all really do that. I do witness a great many doing that, especially the ones who do so well. I also do what I can to limit the role of the affective filter so that they feel comfortable as language learners. But I think I was wrong. I don’t think these are really what’s at the heart of what’s going on in my class (I also don’t know how easy it’d be to compare me to other similar classes since kids are different, not just teachers).

To be honest, I feel it’s the norm, and whether it is or not I tend not to think about why they do well. I look at why they aren’t doing better, which teachers need to, but that’s not the whole picture. More »

New York Teacher

New York TeacherHighlights from the May 6 issue of New York Teacher:

The controversial Temporary Reassignment Centers, dubbed rubber rooms, will close on June 30 thanks to an intensive effort by the UFT and the city. At a press conference on April 15, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced an agreement that will see the rooms closed for good. “The rubber rooms are a symptom of a disciplinary process that has not worked for anyone — not the kids, not the schools, and not the teachers,” Mulgrew said.

At an April 22 state legislative hearing in lower Manhattan to examine the business practices and record of the charter school industry in New York, UFT President Michael Mulgrew testified that charter schools, like other public schools which take public money, need to be transparent and accountable.

The scene outside 250 Broadway — opposite City Hall — on April 22 was a testament to the dream of 18th-century New York free speech pioneers John Peter Zenger and Francis Makemie, as opposing sides on the charter school debate took to the sidewalks and handed out their pamphlets just blocks from Thomas Paine Park. More »

Bailing out Public Education

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich proposes a bailout for public education. “After all, the government bailed out Wall Street. What our kids learn — America’s human capital — is more important to our economy than Wall Street’s financial capital.”

Cecil Roberts: ‘Join a Union!’

“If you want more democracy in our country, join a union! If you want a voice at work, join a union! If you want a better America, join a union! If you want a stronger United States of America, join a union!” — Cecil E. Roberts, President of the United Mineworkers of America, on the importance of union activism in an electrifying address to delegates at NYSUT’s 38th annual Representative Assembly, May 1, 2010. Washington, D.C.

Cecil Roberts: Part I

Part II after the jump. More »

Wall Street Journal: Bad Press!

The Wall Street Journal, attack dog for the righteous marketplace, apostle of “bang for the buck” for civil servants, and conscience of the all-day businessman’s lunch for dividends gluttons, decried in an April 28 piece the alleged statistic that public school teachers tend to exhaust their annual ten-day “sick bank,” especially in poorer areas of the city.

They suspect that teachers’ claim of sickness is often a ploy and mask for their contemptuous attitude towards professional duty. They see teachers who get sick as slackers who if they cared about kids would have immune systems better able to repel microbes. They plainly feel that unions are the enablers of teachers’ audacity.

Perhaps it’s true about teachers burning through their ten days over ten months. But a fragment of truth without context is no truth at all, but as an instrument to exploit the public’s gullibility, it’s more serviceable than an out and out lie.

Does anyone, other than the founder emeritus of the Flat Earth Society, trust the WSJ to be a pure journalistic enterprise that seeks and accepts the truth wherever it may lead? Would their editorial board ever disseminate an unvarnished and verified truth that would make public school educators look good? Of course not. And neither would sectors of the erstwhile “progressive” movement who have attached like barnacles to the rusted hulk of “reform.” More »