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Archive for May, 2011

Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Success And The Political Exploitation Of Children

As educators, one of our defining beliefs is the principle that we do not use the students entrusted in our care as a vehicle for promoting and accomplishing our political agendas. We hold to this core value even when the political agendas we are pursuing involves causes that will better the lives of those young people, such as full funding for day care centers and schools. When communities and families send their young to us to be educated, they trust that we will exercise the authority given to us as teachers responsibly: we do not manipulate young people into political action they do not fully understand, but educate them into the skills and knowledge of democratic citizenship, in order that one day they will be prepared to make and act on their own informed choices of political action.

So when Eva Moskowitz and her Harlem Success Academies turned out students and parents to support the closing of district schools at the February meetings of the Panel for Educational Policy, many of us present were shocked at the way in which 5 year old and 6 year old children were sent to the microphones to speak words they clearly did not understand, put into their mouths by adults who called themselves educators, even as they ignored our most fundamental professional ethics. But if we were paying attention, we would have seen that this crass political exploitation of children is actually a consistent behavior of Moskowitz and Harlem Success.

Consider the way in which Moskowitz and Harlem Success organize the lottery for their schools as a public exhibition of ‘winners’ and ‘losers,’ maximizing and then displaying for political effect the emotional pain of small children who are passed over and denied. There is nothing in the charter law’s requirement that admissions be done through a lottery that requires that it be done as a public spectacle; a lottery can easily be done — and with much less work — at a small gathering with a small number of community representatives present as validators of the fairness of the process. But while such an arrangement would be much more considerate of the feelings of children, it would not have produced the heart tugging event filmed for Waiting for Superman.

In their latest exercise in the political exploitation of children, Moskowitz and Harlem Success closed down their schools for part of last Thursday to get parents and children to attend a demonstration against the lawsuit of the NAACP and the UFT which would force the NYC Department of Education to follow the law, to provide support and resources to struggling schools and to end the discriminatory treatment of district schools co-located with Harlem Success academies. For Moskowitz, guaranteeing a modest turnout for their demonstration trumps providing a full day’s instruction for students.

Can you imagine the outcry from the editorial pages of the Post and the Daily News if New York City public schools were closed for a portion of the day to force parents and children to attend a political demonstration? But here? Silence. Deafening silence.

PLA High Schools: Which Get Closed?

The message from the DOE to its schools is loud and clear: educate our city’s most vulnerable students, and we will come after you. This May, it looks like they did it again.

But to understand what happened in May, we have to travel back to last spring.

In spring 2010, the DOE made choices about high schools that had landed on a federal watch list for persistently low achieving (PLA) schools. For each school, the DOE had to choose a so-called reform model. Not all schools needed to be placed in a model immediately, however, and though phase-out (closing) was one option, the feds did not require it.

Ultimately, the DOE divided the schools into three groups, purportedly basing its decisions on the potential of each school to improve. One group would be given support through “transformation,” a federal reform model. Another group would be slated for closure. In the third group were schools for which DOE made no immediate decision.

So which high schools did the DOE choose for closure? The ones with horrible, terrible, teachers and rotten programs, and miserable principals? That’s what the DOE would have the public think. These are “failing” schools, the DOE says. These schools are “failing our kids.”

But the reality is something different. Almost without exception, the schools DOE has moved to close over the past few years were those that serve the highest concentrations of at-risk students. Now, all the PLA schools serve large numbers of these students, but some serve more than others, and those are the schools DOE moved to close. The schools DOE selected to support, meanwhile, were the ones that had the lowest relative needs overall. The rest — the undecided schools — fell in the middle.

The charts below illustrate last year’s situation. More »

A Principal Knows The Score

Is it possible to close the achievement gap, reach a 99 percent Regents diploma rate, be rated by Newsweek and US News and World Report magazines as one of the nation’s top high schools, serve a “motley crew” of students that includes,without regret, some who are learning disabled or economically hard-pressed, and accomplish all this without the need to rank a single teacher with a value-added score?

This should be a rhetorical question but alas these days it stymies and rankles a lot of people in high places.

In a brilliant piece on the Washington Post‘s “Answer Sheet” blog, principal Carol Corbett Burris, named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York, affirms that it can be done and explains how she and her school community managed it.

If she exemplifies in the field the values that she expresses persuasively in this essay, she must be an enlightened and inspiring school leader indeed.

Read her piece in its entirety. More »

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, May 26, 2011Highlights from the May 26 issue of New York Teacher:

Thousands rally for a ‘city that works for everyone’
It was a sight to see as tens of thousands of educators, students, parents, community advocates, other unionized workers and New Yorkers of all stripes flooded lower Manhattan on May 12 to protest budget cuts and layoffs and call for a fundamental reordering of the city’s priorities.

UFT, NAACP sue to stop closings, co-locations
For the second time in two years, the UFT and the NAACP have filed suit against the New York City Department of Education to halt threatened school closings. This year’s suit, filed on May 18, also demands that the DOE stop the co-location or expansion of 20 charter schools that would create inequities in the use of shared space and facilities.

DOE neglecting its libraries
While the scramble to raise test scores, graduation rates and literacy continues, school libraries — the bulwark for achieving those goals — are fast becoming an endangered species. At PS 132 in Manhattan, the library has been closed to its 812 students for two years despite more than $200,000 in renovation grants. The reason: the budget.

2011 UFT Spring Education Conference: 2,000 turn out for ‘interesting and exciting’ day
“I can promise you a day both interesting and exciting,” UFT Vice President Aminda Gentile said in welcoming the 2,000 attendees to the union’s annual Spring Education Conference on May 7 at the midtown Hilton. It was a promise kept.

Regents endorse teacher evaluation system with revisions
The New York State Regents in a May 16 vote endorsed the final regulations for a more objective teacher evaluation system that will incorporate multiple measures of judging teacher performance and aims to shift the focus to developing and supporting teachers. More »

Reflections on 9/11

Share your story

The UFT is collecting the stories and reflections of its members. If you would like to share your experiences on 9/11 or the days that followed, please email bgibbons@uft.org by June 17. Your comments may be part of a special project to honor the contributions of educators on that fateful day.

Each and every one of us has a story about 9/11 and its aftermath. Stories not just of loss and heartache, but also of courage and heroism, hope and inspiration.

New Yorkers came together that day like never before. Among them were the educators who helped rush students to safety and the schools that opened their doors for the displaced and distraught.

In the weeks following the disaster, teachers were there to help console students and colleagues who had lost so much, while also searching for ways to explain to their students what had happened and why.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the country will pause to reflect on the events of that tragic day and the many, many indelible stories of bravery and compassion that came out of that dark time. We want to hear yours.

Yet, We Test

Scantron[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, where this post originally appeared.]

A while ago, I made a proclamation (in my head, anyway) that I’d move the direction of my blog away from railing against that which was not in my control. What was the point? At any rate, my students this year are too young to take the tests that in many ways define grades 3-8, so it wasn’t really on my mind much. In fact, I not so quietly gloated to my colleagues the last few weeks that, “I’m glad not to be dealing with this anymore.”

But today, I feel the need to pontificate just a little. The testing bubble burst this week when my students had to sit for three separate sessions of the state English proficiency exam. Since I have a bridge class, I had to deal with the logistical aggravation of the arrangement, including switched and missed preps as well as figuring out where to keep the students who weren’t testing in a given session. This was a nuisance but something I could manage.

My students had to deal with a much more potent and demoralizing aggravation. More »

Thomas Carroll, Wal-Mart, and the Effort to Defeat the Albany School Budget

Some good investigative reporting by the Albany Times Union shows that an organization led by conservative state charter backer Thomas Carroll was behind a series of anonymous fliers and a push poll which urged voters to reject the public school budget in Albany.

A postal record, obtained by a Times Union Freedom of Information request, lists the customer who paid for the mailings as “School Performance.” Tom Carroll, who founded the Brighter Choice Foundation — which supports all of the city’s 11 charter schools — is on the board of School Performance Inc., according to the most recent public records available. Chris Bender, executive director of Brighter Choice, has also served on the School Performance board.

Two mailings sent out by Mail Works, a direct to mail company, went to 32,178 city residents, records show. Postage alone cost $6,766. However, the total cost spent by the charter affiliate to defeat the Albany budget is likely far greater because a third mailing went out and the push poll was conducted over a few weeks. The professionally printed cards could have also cost thousands of dollars.

More »

Joel Klein’s Bad Faith Argument: The Misuse Of Al Shanker

(This is the first of  two posts on Joel Klein’s essay, The Failure of American Schools, in the June issue of Atlantic Monthly.)

Last September, when Joel Klein was still at the helm of the New York City Department of Education, he delivered a luncheon talk for a business roundtable, the Association for a Better New York (ABNY). I attended on behalf of the UFT. In his spoken presentation, Klein attributed to the late UFT and AFT President Al Shanker the following phrase:

When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.

Long before Joel Klein worked this line into his stump speech, I had come across it on the far right precincts of the web, where it is a staple of feverish discussions of the ‘malevolence’ of teacher unions.* Given the lack of source citation and the way in which the words rung so hollow as something Shanker would say, I was more than a tad bit suspicious about its authenticity.† Over the course of time, I asked a number of people — some who had worked with Shanker for many years and others who had studied his life and career as scholars — if they knew of any instance when he had spoken or written these words. Without exception, every person consulted had no knowledge of such a statement.

So when I heard Klein attribute those words to Al Shanker last September at the ABNY luncheon, I publicly challenged him, calling the quote apocryphal. More »

Burying the Bias in Teacher Data Reports, Part II

A few weeks ago I posted a report on Edwize about biases in last year’s Teacher Data Reports. Teachers of high performing math students are 35 times more likely to fall at the bottom of the teacher ranking than at the top. [1]

Shortly after that, the DOE placed a document on its website that asserts that “…teachers of high-performing students are as likely to have high value-added scores as low value-added scores.”

To me, call me crazy, this is unlikely to be true. First of all DOE charts found in the very same document seem to contradict that (more on that in a minute). What’s more, DOE used a broad definition of “teachers of high-performing students,” and also included some reports that were so unreliable they were not issued to teachers. Let’s go through this step by step. More »

The Blinding Glare of the Sunshine Law

Nobody, but nobody, wants to be Florida’s education commissioner! According to the St. Petersburg Times, as of last week there have been zero applicants for the supposedly prestigious position with the deadline just three weeks away.

Maybe by now that has changed, but probably not, according to folks familiar with this strange story. Certainly it’s significant that in a state that’s a custom-made hothouse for union-loathing “reformers” with a fetish for charter schools and “merit pay” and a pathological animus against tenure and due process for workers, nobody has “stepped up to the plate,” which being the state of folks like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, is more a boilerplate cracked ceramic.

Tom Butler, education department spokesman, said they’d “definitely not received any inquiries and the (recruitment) firm has not alerted us to any.”

Alas, it’s hard to get good help these days! More »

Testing Miss Malarkey

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

Top 10 Questions/Comments Made By My Third Graders During Their First Ever Set of ELA and Math State Exams

(aka “Why Teaching In a Testing Grade May Cause Premature Aging,” or “Why I Have Band-Aids On All My Fingers From Nervously Picking Off the Cuticles While Proctoring”)

10. “Why do we have to use a #2 pencil?”

9. (Directions read by me: “You may not speak to each other while the test is being administered.” Student:) “What does ‘administered’ mean?”

8. “I don’t get how to show my work for this part.”

7. (The test directs students to continue working when they see the words GO ON at the bottom of the page and to stop working when they see the word STOP. On the ELA, students get ten minutes per passage and have to STOP before being directed to move on. On the math exam, they get 60 minutes to do all 40 questions, no STOPping. On the math exam, one student asked:) “When is it gonna say STOP?!”

6. “But none of these choices are right.” More »

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, May 12, 2011Highlights from the May 12 issue of New York Teacher:

Mayor uses ‘smoke and mirrors’ to rationalize layoffs
New revenues, strong economy do not shake Bloomberg’s pursuit of pink slips

Despite reporting a multi-billion-dollar city budget surplus that continues to grow, Mayor Bloomberg refused to reconsider his plan to lay off 4,278 teachers — 5 percent of the teaching force — when he presented his executive budget on May 6.  UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the mayor was obscuring the truth that he has, in fact, many other budget choices short of layoffs.

Mulgrew maps out strategy to fight layoffs
Also proposes new co-location policy during rousing Spring Conference speech

In a rousing speech that had the 2,000 attendees of the UFT’s May 7 Spring Education Conference on their feet clapping and joining in chants of “Enough is enough,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew laid out a plan to bring teachers, parents and community members out on the streets to fight teacher layoffs.

May 5 rallies throughout the boroughs to protest cuts
‘The Education Mayor’? REALLY?

At rallies throughout the city, UFTers donned matching black T-shirts emblazoned with the UFT logo and the slogan, “‘The Education Mayor’? REALLY?” that called into question the mayor’s record in the area considers his greatest legacy. The angry crowds were not buying the Bloomberg budget story.

Queen of green
Staten Island teacher-activist makes children want to join her world of science

It seems that wherever you look in the area around Staten Island’s PS 57, there are landmarks of Patricia Lockhart’s compassion. Behind the school is Eibs Pond Park, where Lockhart, science teacher and head of the park’s education program, can often be found with her students caretaking the wetlands, one of the Going Green Projects she instituted 15 years ago. More »

Video: May 12 Rally & March

At a rally and march in Lower Manhattan, thousands of UFT members on May 12 unleashed their anger at Mayor Bloomberg for threatening to lay off teachers when the city has a $3.2 billion surplus and Wall Street has not been asked to pay its share.

The Corruption of Power: How The DOE Blew Up Negotiations For Transformation and Turn Around Schools

Today, the New York City Department of Education began to inform schools on the “Persistently Low Achieving” [PLA] list of the New Y0rk State Education Department that they will either be placed in a Restart Model or in no category at this time.

This announcement is an official acknowledgment of the DoE that negotiations with the UFT over the Transformation and Turnaround Models have broken down. Since both of these models required changes to the collective bargaining agreement, they can not be implemented absent an agreement between the DOE and the UFT to make changes.

What New York City public school educators will find absolutely stunning is the issue on which the negotiations floundered. The Transformation and Turnaround Models require changes in the teacher evaluation system, and last spring the UFT and DOE began negotiations to establish a pilot teacher evaluation in these schools which would follow the framework of the new New York State law on teacher evaluations. Within that framework, when a supervisor observes a teacher’s lesson, he rates it highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, with the last category of ineffective signifying that the lesson was substantially below standards of good teaching. Repeated observation ratings of ineffective lead to annual evaluations of ineffective, and most often end in the discontinuance of service.

More »

Secretary Rah-Rah

In baring his soul in a recent “open letter to America’s teachers,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan displayed transcendent bareness of either integrity or intelligence, depending upon which of these deficits is responsible for the clash between his stated beliefs and his contradictory actions as a policy-setter.

His letter is full of blandishment and flattery, delivered with dulcet tones as natural as aspartame from a tongue so forked that it could impale on it every cliché in educational discourse.

But if you take the words at “face value,” they make you feel for at least a nanosecond that there is legitimate conciliation being offered, or perhaps that any controversies have been nothing more substantial than the fluff of misunderstanding More »