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Archive for October, 2010

New York Teacher

HighlightsNew York Teacher from the Oct. 28 issue of New York Teacher:

DOE backs off release of Teacher Data Reports in face of UFT lawsuit
The UFT scored an 11th-hour victory on Oct. 21 when the city Department of Education backed off a decision to release test-based data reports on nearly 12,000 teachers, at least until a Nov. 24 court hearing. The DOE made that commitment before a state judge as the UFT was in court trying to block the release of the individual names.

UFT working to elect DiNapoli comptroller
In the statewide race for comptroller, the UFT is making a big push for Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli. “As comptroller,” union President Michael Mulgrew said, “Tom DiNapoli is a strong defender of defined-benefit retirement plans, an opponent of efforts to privatize such plans, and an excellent steward of the state’s finances. He also doesn’t — and won’t — blame public employees and retirees for the state’s insolvency.”

McMahon for Congress getting union push
With the balance of power in the U.S. Congress in play, UFT volunteers are working overtime to re-elect Democrat Michael McMahon to the U.S. House of Representatives in a hotly contested race against conservative challenger Michael Grimm, a political newcomer. More »

Following The Money

Writing for the NOT Waiting for Superman web page of Rethinking School magazine, Barbara Miner “follows the money” behind the agenda promulgated by that movie.  What emerges is the most complete account to date of the corporate and hedge-fund money driving the “blame the teacher” agenda. It is a must read.

Joel Klein To NYC Public School Teachers: My Word Is Worthless

As part of an agreement between the NYC DoE and the UFT on the then new Teacher Data Initiative [TDI], a “Dear Colleague” letter was sent by Chancellor Klein to all New York City public school teachers in October 2008. According to the letter, the TDI was to be:

…a new tool to help teachers learn about their own strengths and opportunities for development …The teacher Data Reports are not to be used for evaluation purposes. That is, they won’t be used in tenure determinations or the annual rating process.

Contemporaneously, then Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf sent a letter to then UFT President Randi Weingarten which affirmed that

It is the DOE’s firm position that Teacher Data Reports will not and should not be disclosed or shared outside of the school community, defined to include administrators, coaches, mentors and other professional colleague authorized by the teacher in question…

On Sunday, Joel went to the op-ed pages of the New York Post to declare that

First and foremost, we believe that the public has a right to this information [individual Teacher Data Reports, with teacher names attached] under the Freedom of Information Law.

More »

Teachers at Harlem Charter School Join the UFT

Teachers and staff at the Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem announced yesterday that they have decided to join the United Federation of Teachers.

Of the 28 teachers and other pedagogical staff at the school, 27 have signed union authorization cards to indicate their support for creating a UFT chapter at the school.

More »

On the Same Page

The phrase “being on the same page” took a brow-raising instructional twist on the editorial page of a recent issue of the community newspaper Queens Chronicle. Instead of describing a meeting of the minds, the phrase illustrated, in its literal application, inconsistencies in judgment and perhaps subliminal hypocrisy of attitude.

The illustration consists of two editorials on the same page but with vastly different tones.

The editorial “Time for Tenure Reform” likens some teachers to “soldiers who just won’t follow orders anymore,” “cops walking by a crime in progress,” and “postal carriers who constantly put mail in the wrong boxes.”  These are, the editorial suggests, the kinds of teachers whom the current tenure law protects and who, by means of legislatively enacted reform, ought to be made vulnerable to be spiked out of the profession.

The cited examples correspond to the categories that critics of tenure, masking the real motive underlying their opposition (which is animus against due process rights for teachers), raise: incompetence, insubordination, and the “burnout” phenomenon.

We won’t take the bait by allowing our enemies to put us on the defensive regarding tenure. We support strengthening the standards of the profession and the integrity of its measurement. But the examples provided in the editorial, to the extent they are valid at all, characterize a small minority number of us. More »

What Should the Classrooms of Tomorrow Look Like?

Perhaps a lot like the classrooms of yesterday:

Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry, generally speaking. They look, in fact, a lot like American ones—circa 1989 or 1959. Children sit at rows of desks, staring up at a teacher who stands in front of a well-worn chalkboard.

“In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms,” says Andreas Schleicher, a veteran education analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who spends much of his time visiting schools around the world to find out what they are doing right (or wrong). “I have no explanation why that is the case, but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets.”

How to Come Back After a Bad Day

[Editor’s note: Ms. Socrates is a second-year science teacher in a high school in Brooklyn. She blogs at Teacher’s Diary where this post originally appeared.]

A few weeks ago, I had my first “bad” day of the semester. It wasn’t all bad; in fact, a lot of it was good. I got flowers and two cards from students for my birthday and my last two classes sang to me and were extremely well behaved. The first two classes of the day, however, did not go as planned.

Last year, I fell into the trap of assuming that my students knew certain things: how to use a ruler, how many centimeters are in a meter, how to create a graph. They’re tenth graders, after all. But in reality, many of them only read on a 4th grade level and they never mastered the use of the metric system. They struggle to even figure out which side of the ruler is inches and which is centimeters. I resolved that this year, I would start out by explicitly teaching these skills rather than assuming the students already possessed them. More »

DFER as DINOs – Democrats in Name Only?

In recent elections, Democrats have worried that Republican strategists have given calculated support to candidates in Democratic primaries as a way of shaping the party to their own interests. Based on the last few years of contributions to the group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), it appears that some individual Republicans may be trying out the same strategy when it comes to education policy.

As the website DFER Watch recently pointed out, at least two board members from the ultra-libertarian Cato Institute (co-founded by the infamous Koch brothers), made significant donations to DFER in the past several years, including former Cato Director Steven Ackerman and his wife, who gave a combined $10,000 to DFER in 2007.

DFER Watch also noted that Steven Klinsky, former hedge fund manager and founder of for-profit charter company Victory Schools, Inc., was one of only 17 donors to give the maximum $5000 contribution to DFER in 2010 – even though all of his other donations over the past year (over $29,000 in total) went to Republican candidates and political action committees. More »

A Badge of Honor

Carl PaladinoThe UFT is a “disgrace,” Carl Paladino opined in the debate of New York gubernatorial candidates, not even managing to get our name correct.

If any insult were ever a badge of honor, one from this candidate would have to lead the pack.

PCB Alert

Thanks to the union not minding its own business, as our enemies would restrict and define it, some people may not, after all, have their lives cut short by lethal diseases known to be caused by PCBs, which are found in building materials in around half of our schools.

Our city government has so far tested all of three schools since last summer. Their view must be “what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

Does killing count as hurting?

By the time some victims of long-term exposure would get diagnosed, those who neglected to act responsibly to deal with the danger will have hightailed it out of the system and be beyond the reach of the law. The evidence trail will be cold and ambiguous and they will be out of the picture for one reason or other.

So the union, in front of media cameras and open microphones, and joined by conscientious political, labor and community leaders, urged the federal Environmental Protection Agency to intervene now to test all potentially contaminated schools. More »

New York Teacher

New York TeacherHighlights from the Oct. 14 issue of New York Teacher:

A ‘Nation’ comes together
Jobs. Justice. Education. These were the rallying cries in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2, as hundreds of thousands of Americans descended on the National Mall for the historic One Nation Working Together march and rally.

Managing to succeed
They’re dressed in suits or business casual, are forthcoming, discuss things like work flow and subliminal images, and have firm handshakes as they thank you for coming. They’re teenagers. You are not dreaming. You have simply stepped into a parallel universe of high school seniors who run Virtual Management & Insurance at Staten Island’s New Dorp HS.

Plenty of kryptonite in ‘Superman’
“Waiting for Superman,” the new documentary from director Davis Guggenheim, of “An Inconvenient Truth” fame, purports to reveal the real truth about what ails public education and how to fix it. In fact, the film is simplistic and naive, repeating a series of “convenient mistruths” — mostly about teachers and their unions — touted by the so-called education reformers in place of any real substance.

Charters underperform district schools
The School Progress Reports delivered a surprise to charter advocates: As a group, charters did not do as well as the city’s regular district schools, even though the charters do not serve as many high-needs students. More »

Unions as Partners, not Enemies

In today’s Daily News, Jerald Podair, professor of history and American studies at Lawrence University, attempts to restore some sanity to the ed reform debate. He makes the case, often repeated here, that real reform can only happen with teachers unions.

If the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the nation’s most powerful teachers unions, did not exist, would public education in the United States be any better? I doubt it. Instead of achieving the equality so badly desired in “[Waiting for] Superman,” we would simply go back to the days of autocrats — principals, school board members, even parents — bullying teachers, threatening their jobs, acting as if they owned them. Thanks in part to the UFT’s stand at Ocean Hill-Brownsville, those days are over. Teachers have dignity.

But now the challenge is to go beyond dignity for unionized teachers and enlist them in the movement for school reform that “Superman” advocates for. The AFT and NEA — villainous syndicates, in the movie’s estimation — are essential to this effort. Only they possess the numbers and organizational muscle to make true educational reform a reality. It is impossible to envision change occurring without them.

Learning to Deal with a Difficult Class

[Editor’s note: Ms. Socrates is a second-year science teacher in a high school in Brooklyn. She blogs at Teacher’s Diary where this post originally appeared.]

Overall, my second year as a teacher has been ten times easier than my first year — I am feeling confident and in control, even when I allow the students to take the wheel for a bit. It feels great! But there is one class that I’m still having trouble with.

My largest class happens to also contain about 15 of the most difficult students in the grade. While this means that my other classes are wonderful, devoid of any trouble-makers, this class reduced me to tears yesterday for the first time this year (although I would never actually cry in front of them, I saved it for later). Standing in that room, watching every single student talk without giving me a second thought, I felt like a newbie all over again. What if, I thought, this is how it’s always going to be.

Today, I got back out there and managed to get them somewhat under control. Here’s how.

1. I let my feelings out the night before. More »

Guggenheim on Unions, Green Dot

The AV Club’s Nathan Rabin interviews “Waiting for Superman” director Davis Guggenheim, and their discussion eventually turns to unions. Guggenheim adds some nuance to the position on teachers’ unions expressed in his film, but he continues to characterize unions as the “enemy.”

AV Club: How does it feel to have teachers’ unions attack the film?

Davis Guggenheim: It sucks. I mean, when you make An Inconvenient Truth, it’s not difficult to have your enemy be Exxon Mobil or the dirty coal company. In this case, I’m a Democrat, and I believe, I really believe in unions, I’m a member of a good union. So that was an uncomfortable truth for me to have to talk about, but I’ve tried to make a reasonable film. I don’t know where it’s written, but somehow it’s written that you can’t criticize the unions. Otherwise, you hate teachers.

Guggenheim also touts the Green Dot model, though he failed to mention the successful, and unionized, Green Dot New York in his film. Edwize contributor Jonathan Gyurko recently wrote in the Huffington Post that while Guggenheim had plenty of footage of that school, he left it on the cutting room floor.

DG: I love the Steve Barr model. [Barr is a charter-school organizer in Los Angeles, featured in Waiting For Superman. —ed.] He’s got what they call “thin contracts.” Every great revolution swings to the wrong direction, and I’m sure you’re going to find these teachers in these high-performing charters that burn out. I have no problem with those teachers being unionized and making sure that they’re being paid properly, and that they’re not taken advantage of.

PS Netflix

Blockbuster is to traditional public schools what Netflix is to charter schools. That’s the gist of an October 3 post on the D-Ed Reckoning blog. It’s supposed to be a cautionary tale about how prosperity can give way to bankruptcy in the world of videotape rentals unless the market strategists keep their fingers on the pulse of consumers and stay up to speed with the latest vogues in industrial development.

The analogy is a flop because it likens the service of public education to the unrelated values of bottom-line entrepreneurship. The metaphors take on ridiculous shapes. Blockbuster was almost a monopoly; now it’s lost in the shuffle. Capital gone is lifeblood spilled.

“Our public schools are stuck in a Blockbuster world,” says the blogger, adding “Blockbuster had settled into a mode of business that was good for Blockbuster and not so good for consumers. Public schools have done the same. The only real difference is that public schools are immune from market forces and can only be dislodged from their heavily entrenched position via political forces.” More »