Wednesday, November 29, 2006


By JB McGeever

An English teacher at Jamaica High School in Queens describes what it's like to share the school with police officers.

City Limits WEEKLY: Week of: November 27, 2006 - Number: 563

The New York Police Department and Department of Education both declined City Limits' invitation to share their perspectives.

The campus of my public school building in New York City is a fortress these days. Gazing through the mesh caging of any stairway window, I can spot faculty deans, campus security (a branch of the NYPD with arresting powers), as well as regular NYPD uniformed officers patrolling the grounds like medieval sentries. As I move through the halls of this majestic, 70 year-old building, I’m forced to sidestep a quartet of firefighters in full regalia, escorted from the building by two police officers, 9 mm Glock handguns bouncing off their hips. The students are unfazed, just part of life in the big city, but imagine: New York’s Finest, Bravest, and Brightest, all right here in one high school – and no one’s quite sure why. Was there a fire in the building today? That’s really none of your business. Information will be doled out on a need-to-know basis. Oh, and welcome back to a brand new school year.

Lunchtime. I find my way into one of the faculty men’s rooms, a police officer’s cap resting on a windowsill, its owner inside one of the stalls, making and taking phone calls like the commissioner himself. In the library, where I go to grade papers, there’s yet another officer. I ignore him, he ignores me, two separate entities here for completely different reasons. I grade my quizzes. He makes his phone calls. Apparently that big sign on the door with the red slash across a cell phone no longer applies. I leave a bit early to beat the rush, and officer on the second floor sees me and bows into a wall, as if in prayer, only he calls the wall “sweetie,” so I assume he’s not speaking to his respective deity.

It’s not so much the constant cell phone use, the squinting, dirty looks as I enter a corridor, or the fact that no one notified the faculty of a police presence in the building. It’s those Glocks in their holsters, the “hand cannons” at their hips. It simply looks obscene in the halls outside my classroom. This is supposed to be a sanctuary. Any literature teacher in the city will tell you, a few well-placed props change the entire setting of a location. I wouldn’t dream of teaching a lesson on “Macbeth” from the backseat of a squad car. What in the world are these people doing with loaded weapons in our halls? It’s just no way for a kid to go to school.

Last semester I had an opportunity to experience what the students go through. While snapping photos of the building to display in the school’s literary magazine, I inadvertently stepped off campus. An NYPD van immediately rolled up and demanded identification. I didn’t have any. Then who was I? Terms like “pedophile” and “terrorist” were used as casually as one might order up, say, a box of doughnuts. Terms like “overkill” and “police state” were hurled back at them. The conversation went downhill from there.

Yet this is the way many of the city’s teenagers attend high school each day. Instead of using the auditorium for assemblies and school plays, it’s been turned into a weigh station for students to adjust their backpacks and redo their belts after removing them for the metal detectors twice a week. Maybe this type of indignity is worth the trouble at the airport or on your way to vacation in the islands, but before gym class? My first year in the building, the assistant principal of security would prove to the students how effective the scanners were by pressing one against the fillings in his teeth – definitely a yearbook moment, boys and girls.

You see, once a building has been labeled an “Impact School,” the police arrive. Once the police arrive, negative publicity ensues. Negative publicity results in a failure to attract good students, and low test scores are right around the corner. Low test scores simply mean that your school building is doomed. In order to avoid this nightmare, many schools fail to report the petty crimes in their buildings. My building, however, was recently praised for a policy of “zero tolerance,” wherein everything from cell phone theft to verbal harassment was reported in good faith. Nothing was swept under the proverbial rug, and now the place is surrounded. Catch 22, anyone?

The end of the day. My girlfriend, who also teaches in the building, likes to give me the day’s news. Since the matter has never been addressed by administration, all the faculty has to go on is hearsay, just ridiculous trench coat meetings in hallways outside of classrooms. Apparently, she tells me, police guns were pulled on two students today. “If I tell you to do something, you better do it,” was the cop’s explanation, which he related to her. Before that he bragged how, in a separate incident, a Muslim student attempted to enter the building using another student’s I.D. and the terrorism unit was called in. Then the officer asked my girlfriend out to dinner. “Well, did you feel a whole lot safer afterwards?” is all I have to say.

This fall, to pound the student body’s collective esteem further into the ground, a Daily News sports reporter covered one of our home football games. The resulting article made its way throughout the school, passed from hand to student hand until a tattered copy reached my desk. For some reason, the reporter’s article got personal. He ridiculed our field, mocked the students who showed up to watch, even jeered the parents who cooked the hot dogs. He questioned our school’s heart, never bothering to wonder if other factors for a lackluster season might be at play. Though, in the reporter’s quest to deride the school, he got our nickname incorrect. For the record, we are the Beavers, sir, the Fightin’ Beavers, and don’t you forget it.

All it takes is for one student to have a bad morning, to carry that burden to school with him and then to act out on it, something that occurs in countless variations throughout schools nationwide. Instead of a routine suspension and a call to Mom, Dad, or even Grandmama, with NYPD presence inside a school the end result could be a world of hurt that no one ever imagined.

On our way out of the building, we pass one of the flyers some of the students have taped to the walls in an effort to win back their school. It shows a graphic with a pair of young hands gripping steel bars. “This is not a penitentiary,” it says. “We are students, not inmates.” If tales of danger are truly what you seek, dear reader, I’m writing this essay during the first semester of my tenure year. Now that is truly frightening.

Ed Notes Note:
While some teachers in schools deemed "dangerous" welcome an influx of police, this article is so powerful Ed Notes is prepared to take the position that police do not belong in schools. So what is the choice? The UFT MUST demand that the schools be inundated with proper resources -- and influx of educators - teachers, social workers, guidance counselors - whatever it takes. Creating a police state is the easy way and the UFT often takes the easy way while making noises that they would like there to be an educational solution but doing nothing to rally people to the cause. When there was high crime, they didn't put teachers on the streets but inundated the streets with a police presence. Let's innundate these schools with educators to find long-term solutions.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Query on unscheduled parent meeting

An elementary chapter leader asks:

I want to know if a teacher has the right to leave an unscheduled meeting with a parent and an administrator when the parent is rude, offensive and very hostile and the administrator does nothing to mediate/intervene on the educator's behalf. Personally, I think anyone who feels that the atmosphere in a meeting is unsafe, physically or emotionally, ought to be able to remove themselves.

Any ideas?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Statistics Always Lie

November, 2006

Well, recent reports in the NY Post are indicationg that the stats ongrad rates haev been massaged just a bit. After attending a press conference on June 29, 2006, where Joel Klein announced to an astounded press corps that the city had underestimated the graduation rate, I wrote the following article for The Wave.

City Grad Rates Were In Error

When New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced at a press conference on June 29th that the Department of Education had made an error in reporting graduation rates, a betting person would have wagered that a correction in the original DOE estimate of 53% for the class of 2005 would be significantly lower. When reported in February that was a 1% drop from the 2004 graduation class and had resulted in criticism of Klein and Mayor Bloomberg.

In recent weeks, the press has been reporting figures of 39%- 43% from Education Week, the leading national journal of education reporting, the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank often critical of Klein, and the New York State Education Department. During the mayoral campaign last year, Bloomberg’s opponent, Freddie Ferrer, claimed these rates were more in line with reality.

But instead of confirming these dismal figures, Klein reported that the February number had been too low and the actual graduation rate was 58%, the highest in 20 years and a 4% rise from 2004, one of the largest jumps in history. The errors were due programming errors.
As a result the accounting firm of Ernst & Young was retained at a cost of $68,000 to verify the numbers. Klein said the verification practice would continue in future years at roughly the same cost.

Klein also reported good news that the first group of small schools started under his stewardship four years ago had significantly higher graduation rates than large comprehensive high schools, though the numbers were small. When asked whether the high grad numbers n small schools were impacted by the fact that special education students had been excluded from these schools “so they schools could get on their feet,” resulting in the most difficult students being shoehorned into the larger schools, Klein responded that the demographics still showed high numbers of Level 1 and 2 (lowest reading levels) students in the small schools when they opened. He denied these schools engaged in what he termed as “creaming” in an attempt to exclude difficult students.

He glossed over the fact that that not all level 1 and 2 students are special ed, which requries a significantly higher level of support resources, which are often shorthchnaged in the large schools and may to some extent explain the difference in graduation rates.

Responding to reporters at times skeptical questions, Klein admitted that the citywide graduation numbers include high school equivalency (GED) and special education (IEP) diplomas, which he said cannot be considered equal to a traditional diploma. He estimated that excluding GED and IEP diplomas would lower the rate by about 3 percentage points, but pointed out they had always been included in the past, emphasizing he was comparing apples to apples. (Some of our sources who worked at high levels in special ed contend that IEP diplomas have not always been included). City graduation figures also exclude disabled students, which the state includes.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, often a critic of Klein and of press coverage of educational issues, said in an email, “Most of the media took Klein’s claim with a grain of salt, except for the NY Times, which unaccountably swallowed DOE’s claim hook, line and sinker, without mentioning any of the recent and more reputable independent analyses.”
The article in the Times said "…there was no dispute over the overall graduation numbers, which independent monitors of the school system said was consistent with their own analysis of graduation and dropout trends."

Haimson continued, “There is no respected, independent organization or agency that either agrees with NYC’s method of calculating graduation rates – by counting GEDs as regular degrees and excluding special ed kids and thousands of students discharged from the system every year-- or their ridiculously inflated figure of 58%.”

Just the day before the press conference I submitted the following which appeared in the June 30, 2006 edition of The Wave.

Bloomberg used the big rise in 4th grade test scores last year to claim his Children Last – er – I mean First “reforms” were working splendidly. (Hordes of 3rd graders were enrolling in post-doctorate programs.) Education pundits disputed that, claiming that the test was clearly easier as all large urban areas in the state rose, most even higher that those of BloomKleindom, even though these school districts wouldn’t let a workshop model program get within 10 feet of their schools.

When the 5th grade reading scores of those former “successful” 4th graders from last year dropped drastically, no one was really surprised, except the gullible, or worse, the complacent NY Ed Press corps.

Then we find that BloomKlein’s claim of a 53-54% graduation rate [bumped to 57% in the fall of '06] was bogus (say it ain’t so Mikey and Joey). Recent studies have estimated the rate to be under 40%, a number which Freddie Ferrer (remember him) was claiming during the mayoral campaign and was charged with bumming all the BloomKlein cheerleaders out. (Zip, zoom, bow-wow – the only acceptable cheer for Children Last – er – First. Sorry, I keep getting confused.)

And the final straw for a bad few weeks for ol’ BloomKlein was the news that the small schools that had been trumpeted as a clear sign of SUCCESS had the slight advantage of not accepting too many special ed or difficult students, leaving these students to be shunted to the big high schools which were then being closed down because they are not as successful as the small schools. You really can’t make this stuff up. Many of us suspect the same scam is being pulled in some of the heralded charter schools. But that’s a story for another day.

When all is done and told (probably after BloomKlein are gone) the “children last” “reforms” will turn out to be the proverbial rearrangement of deck chairs.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Galleries Lafayette

More on Jolanta Rohloff at Lafayette HS

You may have read ”The Galleries Lafayette,” in my Wave columns last spring on Jolanta Rohloff, the Leadership Academy trained principal of Lafayette HS. We’ve commented how these people are trained by pulling wings off butterflies to get them ready to torture teachers. The mainstream press has picked up a number of stories about Rohloff, the latest being Samuel Freedman in the Nov. 22 edition of the NY Times. After starting out talking about the Ministry of Fear, Freedman unfortunately drops the ball and never connects Rohloff’s dictatorial management style to the training at the Lead. Acad., giving Rohloff half the column to defend herself. The DOE press releases have been doing that, so what bother? I guess that’s “balanced” press for you.

The article naturally talks about how horrible the school was BR (Before Rohloff), the usual mantra to justify any action of BloomKlein no matter how horrendous. The mantra used by the corporate takeover types to degrade the public schools as an excuse for the hostile takeover, one of the clearest signs being the appointment of non-educators to run large school systems. (Think Scarsdale is hiring a CEO?)

Back to Rohloff. Stories have been floating out of Lafayette that there are a thousand less students and the school is way underserved. By manipulating the population, the DOE increases the chances of Rohloff being a success and justifying her actions in driving many teachers out of the school. In fact Rohloff showed up the first day with threats of a sea if U ratings. One person told me Rohloff’s first words were “Why do you want to be here?” followed by U-observations within the first 2 weeks of school. Rohloff has managed to unite teachers, students, parents and alumni against her. Maybe we should send her and the entire Leadership Academy to Iraq.

Leonie Haimson on city grad rates

Bravo for Comptroller Thompson! He has had a very good week.

According to the NY Post, he has now written a letter to the Chancellor, pointing out how the consistent rise in the number of students discharged from our high schools calls into doubt the DOE claim of a rising graduation rate. For the class or 2005, the number of students discharged rose to an amazing 16,647 – according to the city’s own numbers.

It’s about time that public officials started speaking out about this; I have consistently pointed out the growth in the number of discharged students to everyone who would listen; for those who are interested, see my slide on this below (w/ data taken straight out of the Mayor’s management report).

Unfortunately, there has been an overly credulous attitude on the part of the media that city graduation rates have actually improved – most prominently as displayed in a NY Times article on June 30, entitled “Graduation Rate Improving, Schools Chancellor Says” in which the following phrase was included, in relation to the city’s claim of 58% graduation rate:” ...there was no dispute over the overall graduation numbers, which independent monitors of the school system said was consistent with their own analysis of graduation and dropout trends."

I’m not sure who these “independent monitors” might be. As I wrote to the Times at the time, asking for a correction, “To the contrary, three highly respected independent monitors, including the NY State Education Department, the Manhattan Institute, and Education Week have all reported graduation rates for NYC much lower than the 58% rate claimed by the NYC Department of Education. Just a few months ago, the New York State Education Department reported graduation rates in New York City of only 43.5% for the exact same cohort of students, a difference of more than 15%. ” (Contrary to their supposed official policy, I never even received a response from the Times.)

Unfortunately, the actual trend in the NYC graduation rate is impossible to determine, given the illegitimate method that the city continues to use; and the state’s improved method was instituted for the first time with the class of 2005.

Moreover, nowhere in the DOE graduation reports does the city even claim that all those students discharged from the system actually ever transferred to other regular high schools, as the below article implies; the discharge category also includes all students sent to alternative schools and GED programs, few if any who graduate with a high school diploma.

The actual disclaimer used by DOE in its graduation reports, most recently for the 16,647 students reported discharged from the 2001 cohort of entering HS students, is the following: “*Number of students discharged, primarily to other school systems, during the indicated school year.”, p.4)

The city offers no data as to how many of these students did transfer to other “schools systems”, what kind of school systems, how many were sent to GED programs, and how many ended up as dropouts.

The State Education Department, which relies on the city’s report concerning how many of these students actually transfer to other regular high schools, whether in or out of the state, without even attempting to confirm this, still comes out with figures of only 43.5% for the city’s graduation rate, rather than the 58% figure that the city reports. Which would lead one to suspect that even the 43.5% estimate may be too high.

With the help of an intern, I have prepared tables w/ comparisons of graduation rates as calculated by the city, the state, the federal govt., and independent agencies – all of which show that the city’s figures significantly inflated. If anyone would like to see them, please let me know.

What’s even worse is that the incentives will become even stronger for principals to discharge even more low-performing students in the future, given that their schools will be primarily judged on test scores and attendance, ignoring all students who are “discharged” or sent elsewhere.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

No Child - The Play

Nilaja Sun has received kudos for her one-woman performance in No Child, called “Compelling Theatre” in one review. But no matter how high your expectations upon entering the theater, you will emerge saying they weren’t high enough.

A review by theatergoer ancess1 on the NY Times theater page says, “She fills the stage with a whole school. The determined principal, the struggling and inept new teacher, the wise old janitor, the energetic and idealistic teaching artist, and especially the 5 or 6 vibrant, shy, defiant, unruly, belligerent, troubled, and ultimately triumphant students all come vividly alive in Ms. Sun's astonishing transformations.”

The audience, filled mostly with teachers, howled with delight throughout the performance. There were a few tears too.

I attended the performance of No Child at the Barrow Street Theater on Friday, Nov. 17 with thirty-two current and former NYC school teachers. Our group came together through the auspices of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), a reform group in the UFT. It was a pleasure to revisit with some of the teachers and parents from PS 147, the school I had taught at for 27 years. The group included Mary (Acevedo) Torres, a parent from the school who had survived being in my 5th and 6th grade classes, graduating from the school in 1979. I also had the pleasure of teaching Mary’s three brothers. Jasmin, her 17-year-old daughter, a senior at Health Professionals HS joined Mary at the play.

Jasmin, Mary Hoffman, Mary Torres, Nilaja Sun

When you’re out of teaching for a while it is easy to forget the sense of what it was all about. My memory is fogged and I only seem to remember the bad things I did as a teacher. Spending some time reminiscing with Mary, who I never completely touch with, brought back some of the good things. Despite my protestations, she maintains I was a good teacher. BloomKlein would have me gone in 10 minutes but I’d like to think Mary knows best.

Do not walk. Do not run. Fly - as fast as you can and go see No Child before it flies off on tour.

You feel pretty old when your former student from 27 years ago shows up with her 17 year old daughter.

Check out the NY Times "A Night Out With Nilaja Sun."

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More cheating - DUH!

Does high stakes testing lead to cheating? Gee, ya think? As small schools battle each other for the cream of the crop in students, they can supplement their results and prove that the BloomKlein small schools blitz has worked wonders by engaging in just a little bit of inflation. Think there's just a little bit of tension there?

The Daily News reported on Nov. 21, 2006: Bronx HS in Cheat Probe

"Authorities are investigating whether teachers at a Bronx high school cheated on crucial state exams by coaching students during the test and then inflating their scores, the Daily News has learned.

"City investigators launched a probe into the Millennium Art Academy in Castle Hill after a former teacher charged that essays on June's English exam had been improperly graded."

A teacher at Stevenson emailed this:
One of the new mini schools pushing Stevenson out of existence, Millenium High School, reported a 97.5 passing rate on the June Regents. A whistle blower - since fired - reported all sorts of irregularities and contacted the DOE and the State. When asked to turn in the Regents papers, the principal said they had been lost during the summer's construction and expansion.

It's my understanding a former Assistant Supt of Bronx High School conducted an investigation and found no eveidence of wrong-doing. I hear the State is still investigating.

The investigation of Millenium Art Academy was kept under deep cover until some teachers at Adlai Stevenson HS, the large, overcrowded school that where Millenium is housed, started spilling the beans. Do they resent that these schools are favored and Stevenson gets the scraps?
Millenium is one of 5 new schools now operating on the Stevenson Campus. Back in June, they gave their first English Regents.

A teacher there said they:
1. Coached students during the test
2. Gave inflated grades to everybody and wound up with an incredible 97.5 passing rate.
3. Had one person read all the tests, although standard practice calls for two readers for each paper - and a third when the first two are in wide disagreement.

This whistle blower was fired as she had frequently complained about the many irregularities she witnessed. She went to Klein and to Albany. The DEO said, after an investigation by David Kraun that there was no evidence of irregularities.

Keep in mind that the state wide passing average is about 77% - including the suburbs. At the specialized high schools, it's in the low nineties.

During the summer, there was a lot of construction as the small schools are expanding - at the expense of Stevenson, which did not admit freshman and is scheduled to phase out come June, 2009. When asked to produce the Regents papers for review - I believe by the state - they claimed the papers were lost during this construction.

There are rumors swelling about fake attendance numbers and Regents cheating by another school. Their principal did not return in September.

Although Stevenson was a big mess, we now have 5 more big messes, low morale and fear on the part of Stevnson teachers, and a lot of ill will between the schools.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

John Elfrank-Dana On Saying “No”

That has to be the most beautifully and persuasive piece I have read since the contract was announced.

It speaks to the issues without sounding bitter.

I now have something to hand out to my staff that does not negate the feelings of those who are for the contract while establishing a basis for those who want to vote NO, or are undecided.

Thank you.
Comment on NYC Educator blog

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What Lurks Beneath

I received a great response to my last 2 columns where I compared the NYCDOE to totalitarian regimes.

I have not had time to make a similar comparison to the UFT, but last year’s contract battle and the “selling” of the current contract by the UFT cannot fail to make the point, as the Unity Caucus machine did everything it could to shut down the ability of people opposed to the machine to communicate with teachers.

One of the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes (my leftist friends should not take this as an attack on the concept of socialism) is total control of the communications network. Unity Caucus does everything within its power to make sure literature critical of them does not get to people, including pulling materials from mailboxes. Another tactic is to attack all critics personally instead of answering their objections.

Jeff Kaufman and James Eterno from ICE (Independent Community of Educators) have been attacked as “fear mongerers” for raising questions about whether health care is part of a quid quo pro as they have found language changes in the contract that indicate such a possible change. The UFT has denied that there is any change. Some have also asked if there was a deal to support continued mayoral control, which the UFT has denied. (Just watch what they do, not what they say.) A press release from the Mayor’s office indicated that parts of the contract were being paid for by “internal savings” by the UFT. Since then this comment had disappeared and the UFT is silent on it. Can you be paying for part of this contract yourselves? Who knows? But allowing the debate to go on can only help give people more info, But not in this union.

Unity bloggers have posted attacks on me on the blogs: ”I wouldn't trust ednotes. he is a venomous retiree who still beleives (sic) he is an in-service member. As a retiree, apparently you just want us in-service teacher to vote down a good contract because you hate Randi and that is all.”

Someone responded: “Why can't a retired teacher put stuff in mailboxes? Isn't it good to hear views from all sides?”

Their frightening answer:
“When the DA approves something it is official union policy. When someone (ICE and Norm) put out something against official union policy, it seems to undermine the idea of democracy and the voice of over 1400 schools. As for teacher mailboxes, if you're retired, you shouldn't be putting anything, on any subject, in the mailboxes.”

(Apparently, RETIREE to Unity is a dirty word; unless they happen to be the over 50,000 retirees that vote in UFT elections and the 300 Unity retirees at the Delegate Assembly.)

Like I said: totalitarian tendencies at the DOE and the UFT.

I responded:

1. Do the masses of people working at the union, almost all making over 100 grand and some approaching 200 grand after the new raises go into effect, have to "live" under the contract? Are they "in-service?" Don't they get the same raises as the in-service teachers without any of the consequences? Don't they have a much greater incentive to sell the contract? Yet, they go all over putting stuff in mailboxes including Dist reps who put Unity material in the boxes. Of course that is ok since they are union officials.

2. The attacks on my right as a retiree to disseminate info as a service to ICE because the overwhelming majority of ICE people are in-service is designed to obscure the fact that ICE retirees afford the people critical of Unity a major opportunity to get info out to people. We are delivery people but Unity wants to use that as an obfuscation to keep the info out of people's hands. Next they'll tell me that it is wrong for me to go to the post office during the day to mail out flyers or I shouldn’t write a column critical of the contract.

Unity Caucus hounds are in effect saying that after Congress passes something the press and the opposition party should have no right to disseminate information opposing it. They certainly encouraged the Democrats to challenge Bush. But when it comes to challenging themselves they hold different views. I always thought democracy included the right of people not in the majority to disagree.

Just a short time ago, almost everyone supported the war in Iraq. If more voices of the minority had been heard then, results might have been different.

The press and public, and the UFT initially, supported the BloomKlein agenda but now as information leaks out there is a turning of the worm on mayoral control (except for the UFT as you will see in my column.) (Wasn’t Bloomberg elected by a majority? Then just shut up!)

Jumping on popular bandwagons is not a healthy thing and others and I insist on resisting the tide. On this contract, given the history of UFT leaders, it is absolutely necessary to raise issues. Already, based on our questions on the health issues, the UFT has been forced to put out more information in response. Whether we are proven right or wrong, we have provided a service.

Photo courtesy of:

What Lurks Beneath
by Norman Scott

There were cries of joy in Mudville as teachers heard about the wonderful new contract negotiated between Randi Weingarten and Mayor Bloomberg. Having wrung just about every concession they could out of teachers and realizing that one more giveback might lead to open revolt in the UFT, the Mayor and Weingarten decided to beat a hasty retreat and follow the pattern set by DC 37 to provide a raise that will just about cover the rise in cost of living. (The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation, has risen 5.2% in the first nine months of the year in the NYC metropolitan region.)

The contract, in effect an endorsement by the Mayor of Weingarten in the upcoming UFT elections this spring, will include a $750 bonus to be paid just as the election campaign kicks off this January. Rumors that the money will be included with a big picture of Weingarten in the election ballot envelope have not yet been confirmed.

Why would the Mayor and his trusty sidekick Robin - er - Joel Klein, want to see Weingarten’s position with her members strengthened? Haven’t they been fighting all these years? Well, if you believe that, I still have a couple of bridges available for sale.

With the city flush (in the fiscal year that ended in June, the city had a budget surplus of $3.5 billion after predicting at the start of the year that there would be a shortfall of over $7 billion) and the mayor hungry for support for institutionalizing control of the school system by mayors for the next 1000 years, Bloomberg seemed ripe for picking a few bucks out of his pocket.

Some teachers were saying that here was an opportunity to get more than the COLA and also get back a few of the enormous givebacks from the last contract. How many givebacks? If you’re involved in a school, you know. Just listing them makes me tired.

I met a teacher at an Election day workshop who said a large group of teachers came into school on the days before Labor Day wearing tee-shirts that said “Don’t blame me, I voted NO.”

“I hate the 37 minutes,” said a former teaching fellow who had come to teaching from the business world. A math teacher who has to teach language arts, during those times, she finds those minutes the most draining of the week and just can’t give another late day to doing the after school activities with kids that she did BSC (Before Sucky Contract).

Parents too were hoping for some relief as one commented, “It’s good they got a contract, as long as they got rid of that ridiculous 37 minutes.” So sorry.

Many parent groups who have been marginalized by the Mayor’s total control of the schools have been gearing up to oppose the renewal of the school governance law when it sunsets in 2009, hoping for the UFT to join in this effort. Sorry again. Won’t happen, except for some mouthings of support.

The NY Post proclaimed "No Secret Deal in Teacher Pact" proclaimed. “On the heels of a historic new contract with the city, the head of the teachers union yesterday dismissed speculation that the deal committed her to supporting extending mayoral control of the school system. Saying she has been bombarded with questions from members and outside observers about striking a ‘secret deal’ with Mayor Bloomberg, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said there was no backroom pact. ‘There was no secret deal about anything,’ Weingarten said. ‘The mayor and I did not have a conversation about mayoral control.’"

Watch what the UFT does, not what it says. Actions are judged by outcomes and the outcome will be a renewal of mayoral control with some minor tinkering. The UFT will sit on the sidelines and use none of whatever pull it has to make changes in governance that would give teachers and parents a real say. Of course, the UFT will make noises about tinkering with the process and do whatever PR they think is necessary to mollify members who are outraged at the negative impact mayoral control of the schools has had on working conditions - the total refusal to deal with class size, the total and rigid control of what goes on in the classroom, the total lack of respect for the opinions and experience of teachers, etc. We might even see some bogus committees set up that will still allow principals to subvert them to their ends.

The UFT will make some noises about allying with parents who have been shut out of the process by BloomKlein. But the UFT will continue to turn its back on the corruption that is in many ways so much worse than anything that took place under the old system and will use as their argument "We don't want to go back to THAT! “ THAT" means community control. Yet, even under the old system, high schools were centrally mismanaged so much worse than many of the local districts. Would anyone argue that the high schools, and now, the rest of the system, are better managed today after the entire system was put through such an upheaval?

Rush to judgment?
My colleagues in the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) were amongst the few people at the negotiating committee, the Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly who voted NO, warning people to “Beware the Ides of November” as the tentative contract was rushed through all three of these bodies within 48 hours, allowing few delegates the time to consult with their colleagues in school or to take a hard look at the details of the contract or get answers to the numerous questions it raises.

People in the schools were immediately inundated by a blitzkrieg from the union raving about the wonders of the new contract. Suspicions were raised because the new contract wouldn’t go into effect for almost a year before the current contract expires. “What’s the rush?” was the question as some chapter leaders were saying they were confused. Don’t worry - the UFT leadership will explain it.

As ICE was pointing these things out, there was an hysterical outcry by the attack dogs from Weingarten’s Unity Caucus, accusing the ICE’ers of fear-mongering when ICE hinted there might be hidden health plan givebacks as a side deal since Bloomberg had proclaimed that pensions and health givebacks were the next line of attack against the unions.

Jeff Kaufman, a former lawyer and one of 3 ICE reps on the UFT Executive Board (Unity has 83), claimed that health issues had been pulled from the new contract and would be negotiated separately on a city-wide level without giving UFT members a vote, a charge denied by UFT leaders who claimed things had always been done that way. Kaufman discovered some interesting language changes in the new contract:

2002 Contract Section 5-Health Insurance and Welfare Fund
The Health Benefits Agreement, dated January 11, 2001, is deemed to be part of this Agreement. Pursuant to those Agreements, the parties have agreed to a series of payments to the Welfare Fund.

2005 Contract Section 5-Health Insurance and Welfare Fund
The Health Benefits Agreement, dated July 22, 2005, is deemed to be part of this Agreement. The side letter agreements, dated June 30, 2004 and July 13, 2005, are deemed to be part of this Agreement.

Kaufman wrote, “Now look at the change in language on health insurance from the new Agreement which has been split into two sections.”

2007 Agreement- Section 5 Welfare Funds
(This section describes Welfare Fund Improvements paid for according to the Department of Education with "UFT generated internal funding."
“What does UFT generated internal funding mean,” Kaufman asked?

2007 Agreement- Section 17 Continuation of Certain Health Benefits
"The parties acknowledge that collective bargaining regarding health benefits is within the purview of negotiations between the Municipal Labor Committee and the City. Cost-containment initiatives and program modifications in the City Health Benefits program shall be discussed with the Municipal Labor Committee."

The words “are deemed to be part of this Agreement” are no longer there.

No matter what the people opposed to the new contract manage to dig up, it is expected to pass overwhelmingly, with the opposition getting a much smaller vote than the 40% opposed to the contract a year ago. People have basically given up on the UFT’s ability to win back any of the concessions from the last contract. In the schools, there’s a sense that the union has little ability to protect them, so why not take the money and run? A minority will vote NO based on the perception that even if no concessions would be wrung from BloomKlein in the next few years, what is needed is a fighting, militant union that will prepare the ground for struggles against future mayors. The UFT holds out the carrot that they will do better with a mayor they help elect.

James Eterno, chapter leader from Jamaica HS and an Executive Board member (ICE) commented on a blog:

“The people who are waiting for Mayor Nirvana to lead us to the promised land are fooling themselves. Back when Koch was Mayor when I started, the UFT said that he called us part time employees so we can't work with him. Then we endorsed David Dinkins and a few years later we were wearing ‘Shame on City Hall’ shirts. We wouldn't endorse his re-election but when Rudy Giuliani was elected, Sandi Feldman said he was the toughest Mayor ever. Then it was Bloomberg and Klein and they were worse according to the UFT. It doesn't matter who the next Mayor is; the UFT will still be unable beat the pattern that DC 37 will set which will be less than inflation again probably. Three more years of this and nobody will remember how teachers used to have rights.”

From The Wave, published November 17, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ed Notes Query Response: Grieving U observations

As more responses come in, they will be added. If you have more info add it to the comments.

Original Query From a high school:

This may come as a surprise and tremendous shock, but in speaking with
teachers at two different high schools, one a small new school, one a
traditional large and phasing out school, teachers are very confused whether they can grieve a "U" observation on a lesson. Even one chapter chair was not clear.
Since it takes the form of a letter, some people think they cannot grieve,
not until the end of the yr if they get a U on final evaluation document.
I know someone here will clarify and I will spread the message.....thanks in advance...


Elem CL

Hi Norm, You know that I have had experience with this one--here goes:

An observation report is considered a letter for file, so technically you cannot grieve it, BUT make sure the teacher writes and attaches a response to the write up. This way if it is used for a U Rating at the end of the year, (which rarely get overturned), the teacher has some back up as to what actually happened with the lesson. If the teacher did not have a pre- or a post observation conference before and after the lesson, then they can grieve the report under article 8J. Article 8J is the article to look at for grievences about observations. But like I said before, they are considered letters for file, so unfortunately, we no longer have the right to grieve them unless there's a technically like the conferences before the lesson was executed.
Good luck.

similar situation occurred in my school
here is what the union told me.

Probationers and U rated people should have pre-observation conference.
Grievances are not permitted on the content of the observed lesson, but rather the procedure of the observation. There is an article on this in a recent NY Teacher.

Yes, an AP or Principal can rate a lesson as unsatisfactory. And thanks to the 2005 contract the observation report (aka "material in the file") can no longer be grieved. One can still appeal a U-rating, however, if it comes to that.

Good question. I thought you cannot grieve the observation, unless perhaps a major reason for the U was something like lesson plan format. There’s also Article 24, Professional Conciliation when it’s a matter of differing judgment. Outside of that I am not sure off hand what else you can do.

Elem CL
I assume you can grieve a U rating during the year also. It would depend on informal and formal observation reports from the Principal. Maybe the teacher recieves an S rating on one report and a U rating on another report and so on. Also, the Principal would have to prove he/she gave you help and guidance to be a better teacher. E.g. send you to workshops on classroom managment or pair you with a mentor teacher.

Elem CL
my understanding is that while we cannot grieve letters placed in our files, we can attach a reply. Signing the letter simply means we received, not that we agree with it.

A "U" rating on an observation is usually followed up with a chance to have a second observation and to have the letter replaced with a satisfactory lesson observation. Teachers have the right to request a pre-observation, to have their plan looked over by the administrator who will do the observation. It's pretty unusual for an administration to refuse to give people a second chance at the observation.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Action and Unity Caucus

A recent letter New Action/UFT sent out to its supporters made it perfectly clear: they will be running a slate in the UFT elections this coming spring. The letter confirmed that the alliance between New Action and Unity is tighter than ever. New Action has been praised as the “responsible opposition” by Randi Weingarten. The question can be asked: Can New Action truly be classified as an “opposition” when it is uncritical of the party it is supposedly opposing—Unity Caucus. In that case, exactly who will New Action be running against in the UFT elections this winter/spring?

New Action and democracy
The New Action letter states, “Weingarten stated that she was in basic agreement with our program with the exception of…union democracy.” But isn’t lack of democracy and the total dominance by one party, in turn dominated by one person, a fundamental cause of the problems the union is facing? Hasn’t the wide gulf between the membership and leadership led to Unity Caucus decisions that have brought us to the point where, in New Action’s own words, “all members of the UFT are at risk”?

New Action has claimed their alliance with Unity has benefited the members. They state, “…we continue to be an independent check and balance within our union, ” without demonstrating one meaningful check or balance that has benefited anyone in the schools.

“We believe the membership must be activated to establish a new union militancy,” New Action says. Yet they neglect to answer why the membership has not been activated by Unity Caucus or what happened to the “old” union militancy under the Weingarten/Unity leadership. It appears that New Action has declared a loss of faith in the rank and file as a means of forcing changes in the union, in essence choosing to become a lobbying organization with the leadership.

Do they really believe that their nudging at the top will change our union’s way of operating? If we need to build militancy in our union, shouldn’t they be organizing an effective organization at the grass roots level to challenge Unity’s disastrous policies, especially when it comes to democracy?

It is not New Action’s secret lobbying and cheerleading for the union leadership or their membership on various committees dominated by Unity (even some New Action members complain how they are ignored), but rather the open criticisms by ICE, TJC and independent union members that have moved Randi Weingarten to a more responsive and militant position on many issues.

In the 45 years Unity has run the union it has always taken away democracy, never granted more of it. Why would they do so now? New Action is no novice — no one should know better how undemocratically Unity operates than them. Their leader Michael Shulman himself had an election almost stolen from him in the 80’s after he won a high school VP position that led to him being tied up in courts for a almost a year. This was followed by a change in the rules in 1993 so no one opposed to Unity could ever win a VP position again.

With Unity Caucus opposed to democratizing our union, the only way to make the UFT more democratic is to force changes on the leadership by a grass roots organizing campaign. If New Action is in partnership with Unity, what recourse do they have other than begging for crumbs?

But it goes further than that. Why is New Action running against the rest of the opposition instead of running against Unity? By refusing to join ICE and TJC as part of the joint slate challenging Unity — they were invited to do so as far back as March, held off meeting with ICE for months, and did not respond with their refusal to join the slate until mid-September — New Action has made a choice to support Unity and to act as their stalking horse in winning back the 6 high school seats that New Action lost to ICE and TJC in the 2004 elections.

New Action negates its claim that it is for a more democratic union – by enforcing and supporting the tyranny of the massive, patronage-ridden, Unity machine.

Unity supported Mayoral control, Children First, schools rated based on high stakes tests, etc.
New Action’s recent letter stated: “Four years ago New Action warned of the dangers of imposing the ‘corporate model’ on our public system. Unfortunately it has come to pass…” Taking as its cue the fact that the Bloomberg/Klein axis of evil had placed the union under an attack on all fronts and was the major enemy, the letter states: “New Action/UFT, an opposition caucus, continues to work with President Weingarten in a bipartisan way to fight this unprecedented assault, to implement our caucus program and benefit the membership.”

Isn’t New Action obfuscating the crucial role Randi Weingarten and Unity Caucus played in allowing this “unprecedented assault” on the rights of UFT members? Weingarten had been a major cheerleader for Mayor Bloomberg’s takeover of the school system, had endorsed the appointment of Joel Klein as chancellor by failing to use the union’s power and influence and insist that an educator be put in charge of the school system, and had been an enthusiastic supporter of Klein’s radical (and eventually disastrous) restructuring of the school system. At the time Weingarten stated, “What Mike Bloomberg did today was declare war on the entrenched bureaucracy. The implementation is going to be tough. There are a lot of transition issues that have to be worked out. But it is breathtakingly possible.” (“Bloomberg and Klein Drop the Big One, While Weingarten Goes Along for the Ride”, Education Notes, Spring 2003 – currently appearing on Since that time, many teachers have been scratching their heads in wonder at the lack of a rigorous public counterattack by the union leadership, evoking comments along the lines of “Weingarten seems to cower before BloomKlein and seems afraid of offending them.”

Did New Action abrogate its responsibility as an “opposition” caucus?
New Action states, “The Bloomberg/Klein/Bush assault [on unions] is constant and relentless” without referring to the role the UFT played, as if a union did not exist or was incapable of putting up any resistance to this assault — as if this attack took place in a vacuum. Shouldn’t New Action have used its influence to organize opposition to the policies of the leadership that left the union open to this onslaught? Did the largest and most influential opposition at that time contribute to the disaster befalling us by its refusal to organize teachers to pressure Unity to take a stronger stand? New Action was a vigorous supporter of the onerous “time for money” 2002 contract. Contrast this to the role New Action played in 1995 when it had been one of the leading forces in organizing the membership to turn down the infamous zero/zero contract in its first incarnation (it passed on the 2nd vote).

New Action “opposed” the 2005 contract but supports the 2006 extension
In Randi Weingarten’s announcement about the deal on the 2005 contract, she was able to state that the vote of the negotiating committee, which contained two members of New Action, was unanimous. Responding to subsequent dissension within New Action, there were a couple of leaflets criticizing the contract, but New Action did little to help organize opposition to the contract alongside ICE and TJC. New Action did not support the rallies outside the October DA or in front of the UFT HQ. Nor did they protest publicly when Unity pulled literature opposing the contract from teachers’ letter boxes, which violated one of the basic democratic rights of union members, a right which New Action had previously fought for.

Thus, the recent statement that “[We] felt the overall package was not in the best interests of the members and we recommended a no vote on the contract” is misleading. Weingarten was well aware of their lack of participation in rallying opposition to the contract. Their recent statement that “It is to President Weingarten’s credit that despite the fact that New Action opposed the contract, she continues to seek our counsel and accepts bipartisanship” underscores their total dependence on Weingarten’s god will. All New Action members on the current negotiating committee voted for the 2 year extension of a contract they supposedly opposed, with only the ICE and TJC members voting “NO.” (A leaflet handed out at the November Delegate Assembly called for a YES vote.)

New Action has placed its trust in Randi Weingarten, never making the connection for people in the rank and file that she is at the top of a massive Unity glacier that will never willingly reform the union while they endorse Weingarten’s actions that, despite her bogus talk about democracy and rank-and-file participation, demonstrate a “l’etat c’est moi (“I am the state”) attitude. In the process, New Action negates and ignores their own history of fighting and organizing against the Unity machine, while betraying the constituency that supported them during these struggles.

New Action has discovered its new constituency – a constituency of one — Randi Weingarten.

This article appeared in the November edition of Education Notes distributed at the Delegate Assembly. A PDF copy will be emailed to you or sent to you school for distribution of posting upon request.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The UFT and Mayoral Control - A Slam Dunk

"No Secret Deal in Teacher Pact" proclaimed the headline in the NY Post.

“On the heels of a historic new contract with the city, the head of the teachers union yesterday dismissed speculation that the deal committed her to supporting extending mayoral control of the school system. Saying she has been bombarded with questions from members and outside observers about striking a "secret deal" with Mayor Bloomberg, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said there was no backroom pact. "There was no secret deal about anything," Weingarten said. "The mayor and I did not have a conversation about mayoral control."

Watch what the UFT does and not what it says. Actions are judged by outcomes and the outcome will be a renewal of mayoral control. The UFT will sit on the sidelines and use none of whatever pull it has to make changes in governance that would give teachers and parents a real say. Oh, of course, the UFT will make noises about tinkering with the process and do whatever PR they think is necessary to molify members who are outraged at the negative impact mayoral control of the schools has had on working conditions - the total refusal to deal with class size, the total and ridgid control of what goes on in the classroom, the total lack of respect for the opinions and experience of teachers, etc. We might even see some bogus committees set up that will still allow principals to subvert them to their ends.

The UFT will make some noises about allying with parents who have been shut out of the process by BloomKlein. But the UFT will continue to turn its back on the corruption that is in many ways so much worse than anything that took place under the old system and will use as their argument "We don't want to go back to THAT! "THAT" means community control.

Yet even under the old system, high schools were centrally mis-managed so much worse than many of the local districts. Would anyone argue that the high schools, and now, the rest of the system, are better managed today after the entire system was put through such an upheaval?

Years ago when Randi Weingarten announced UFT support for mayoral control, I warned about the impact in Education Notes, at Executuve Board meetings and at Delegate Assemblies. I had the benefit of information provided by George Schmidt who had seen the negatives of mayoral control under Mayor Daly and the Joel Klein of Chicago, Paul Valas.

Now Valas is in Philly as CEO of the school system.

Today's Inquirer has a story, "Vallas facing sharp criticism: Three members of the School Reform Commission hound the chief executive over the district's $73 million deficit."

George sends us a follow-up.

Friends from New York:

I hope that someone will pick up on the story that's unfolding in Philadelphia, which inherited the Big Lie from Chicago in terms of mayoral control and the CEO stuff.

Last week, one top Philadelphia official said: "A year ago Paul Vallas was the toast of the town. Now he's toast." Philadelphia CEO Paul Vallas and his entire corrupt Chicago crew is facing a lot of investigation now that the ecomony has gone into bad times and Vallas doesn't have a blank check to bribe everyone (as he had here, when he -- along with our mayor -- invented the "CEO myth" for the right wing Democrats during the late 1990s).

Anyway, I hope someone can pick up on the daily breaking news about the corruption in Philadelphia and its impact on the union.

Part of that story is that Ted Kersch, of the PFT, had been one of the Vallas cheerleaders (like Randi in New York and the late Tom Reece here in Chicago) and consequently guilty of foisting executive rule on the schools. Now the PFT is taking huge hits (class size increases; double programs; layoffs) because of the corruption. And this is just the beginning.

If nothing else, I hope that this will begin to unravel the lies of "CEO" rule in public education, so that in a few years we can get back to the mopey kinds of democracy that actually work. The CEO myth should have been buried with Enron, World Com, Tyco, Adelphia, and the rest, but in education it got a breath of added life thanks to union leaders in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia who cut deals that were, then and now, unconscionable.

George Schmidt
Editor, Substance

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Contract: What Lies Beneath

We have been besieged by questions: After all the rancor and viciousness of BloomKlein where did all this sweetness and love come from? What are the real givebacks?

With fall-out from the phony promises and massive sell-job and threats that a “No” vote would result in dire consequences still echoing from the dreadful 2005 contract, these questions are a signal from many people who have been beaten and battered by recent contracts and have lost faith in the union leadership to negotiate anything that is truly favorable to the members. So, what gives this time? Should we lift the hood even a bit to see what monsters might be lurking beneath?

A clue in the NY Times?
“This time the city extracted no productivity increases or other concessions, which seemed to be part of a larger strategy by the Bloomberg administration to pave the way for separate talks aimed at achieving crucial savings on health care and pension costs, which have climbed sharply in recent years... But negotiations over health benefits are to be conducted separately in talks with the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group for the city’s unions, and since Ms. Weingarten is the committee chairwoman, her good will is essential if headway is to be made on insurance issues.”

A follow-up headline proclaimed: “With Teacher Pact at Hand, City Looks at Health Costs.”

Will higher co-pays be the price?

Does this contract basically waive the right of our union to bargain about health benefits by giving this power to the Municipal Labor Committee, in effect removing member rights in perpetuity to vote on any loss of valuable medical benefits? Does the contract assign to the Municipal Labor Committee a “blank check” to negotiate cost containment initiatives and program modifications to City Health Benefits Program that are not subject to our approval? If MLC agrees with Mayor, will UFT members get to vote on potential mandatory health care contributions? (Transit workers were able to vote on whether or not to contribute 1.5% of their salary for health benefits.) If a flat rate percentage is tacked on in the future, what is the real raise, especially for the newer lower-salaried people?

And let’s not forgot the possible quid quo pro in exchange for supporting (or not opposing) mayoral control, which if continued will continue to be an unmitigated disaster for the teachers, students and parents in NYC. Can you get somethin’ for nuthin’ with Unity in charge?

Is the love back?

It feels like April! It’s only November
The teachers in my school are so angry about the current contract. We don’t even have time to use the bathroom during the day. When passing colleagues in the hall, the constant comment is, “It feels like April! It’s only early November.” The weight of the workload and schedule are crushing. We are very angry about the current conditions, and the fact that we can’t do much to complain since most of our rights to grieve and to participate in the decision-making processes of the school are gone. The older teachers are afraid — under the current system they can suddenly become “senile” and unable to teach. The younger teachers don’t understand. Whole classes are guinea pigs as large numbers of new teachers “experiment” with what works. Fed-up, on the ICE blog

With only TJC and ICE members voting in opposition, the negotiation committee did not address any of the issues raised by Fed-up when it agreed to a tentative deal with the DOE . The contract extension contains no take backs of any of the givebacks of the 2005 contract: letters in the files still can’t be grieved at step 2; 37 minutes and a thinly disguised 6th teaching period; loss of Circular 6 and reinstatement of potty patrol; loss of seniority transfers; erosion of workplace rights; inability to question administrative decisions; teachers standing at the mercy of anti-union principals who control through intimidation.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

A rush to judgement

Check the timetable used by the UFT to rush this agreement through without providing people with adequate time to discuss it or even look over the fine print:

Monday eve: Negotiating committee votes; announcement to press
Tues: 10am Exec bd votes. Jeff and James lambasted by union leaders for "fear mongoring."
Wed: DA votes before having time to consult with the teachers in the schools.

Why? Why not give people some time? After all, this doesn't go into effect for a year.
Why the rush to judgement? That alone should make people suspicious.

Note this from the DOE press release:

The term of the Agreement covers a 24-month and 19-day period beginning October 13, 2007 and continuing through October 31, 2009. This agreement is based upon the 18-month pattern established with DC 37, although it is six months and 19 days longer, which generated additional funds.

In order to address specific needs, the UFT generated internal funding to provide the following benefits:

· Effective October 13, 2007, the annual contribution to the welfare fund will be increased by $100 per member;
· Effective May 1, 2008, a lump sum payment to the welfare fund in the amount of $166.67 per member;
· Effective October 21, 2009, an additional $35 rate increase in the City’s contribution to the welfare fund per member;
· Effective May 19, 2008, increased longevity payments for certain employees who have at least five years of service;
· Effective May 19, 2008, an increase in the uniform allowance payable to Supervisor of School Safety; and
· The Department will increase by 12 the maximum number of sessions of paid extracurricular activities for which compensation will be provided to coaches and teachers in charge of various athletic and extra-curricular activities.

What does "internal funding" mean?

Friday, November 3, 2006

Bloomberg and Klein Drop the Big One While Weingarten Goes Along for the Ride

Reprint from Education Notes, Spring 2003

When former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared that the Board of Education should be blown up there was a huge outcry, particularly from the leaders of the UFT. But when the Bloomberg administration dropped an atomic bomb on the system, the breathless reaction of UFT leader Randi Weingarten was: "What Mike Bloomberg did today was declare war on the entrenched bureaucracy. The implementation is going to be tough. There are a lot of transition issues that have to be worked out. But it is breathtakingly possible.”

Weingarten’s comments are curious considering statements she made as recently as a December [2002] “Meet the President Meeting” in Brooklyn where she lamented the way Klein was destroying the fabric of the school system by tearing down every institution, including many that were so useful to the UFT. For public consumption she will go along with anything the DOE does. Privately, she will blast them. One way or the other, it’s all about public relations. As for the concept of a union fighting for the kind of school system that teachers and children really need, hey, forgetaboutit.

Analytical coverage by Ed. Notes of the massive changes being instituted at DOE will have to wait until future editions. As usual, to the classroom teacher who has been through a zillion chancellors, a lot of this won’t make much difference. And will we be shocked if we see another total revamping of the system if there’s a new Mayor in a few years? Let’s say UFT favorite Bill Thompson becomes Mayor. Maybe the new flavor of the month will be a mushrooming of UFT controlled Teacher Centers (A Teacher Center in every pot?) as the magic answer to our educational problems.

To the 6000 District Office and Central Board people who fled the classroom, the changes might make a large difference. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of these people for my last 4 years in the system--boy, did I retire just in time.) We tend to think that many of these people will somehow land on their feet as the new plans call for using many of them in other capacities. We can expect that those with political sugar daddies will have to hustle to find new mentors. One thing is sure. The DOE gurus will start putting their own political buddies into place.

The Bloomberg/Klein (BloomKlein) attempt to break the Byzantine way the school system has operated (we in the district office got to see this lunacy up close and personal every day) by unseating entrenched bureaucrats is not necessarily a bad thing. But the fact they totally ignored people at the lowest levels of the system who have faced the impact of these policies does not bode well. Don’t be shocked to see one lunacy replaced by another.

If resources are truly allocated to classrooms, as Bloomberg and Klein claim they want to do, that would be a good thing. But pardon me if I am skeptical. As far as we’re concerned, a major attack on reducing class size would be a good start. The plan to reduce class size to 28 in middle school English classes is minuscule. Always remember: we are ruled by people who send their own kids to schools where class size is under 20; people who never mention class size in any of their reform packages. With smaller classes you could teach kids to read with phonics or schmonics.

Interestingly, did you hear one word on class size from our union leaders? Like, how about Randi Weingarten saying: it is [all] breathtakingly possible --IF CLASS SIZES WERE SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED? What impact would adding 6000 teachers to the classroom have? For years Ed. Notes has called on the UFT leadership to demand a reallocation of resources to reduce class size. If every teaching resource were put in the classroom class size would be reduced significantly. First, get class size to a point where there is parity with the suburbs. Then worry about staff development, pull-out, push-in and other programs. A system-wide attack on the class size issue is necessary and it should be led by the union. Supposedly crime went down when a massive police presence was placed on the streets. Why hasn’t anyone advocated the same technique to solve the problems in education? Do we think we would have the same problems in the schools if there were enough teachers to really work with the kids? Inundate the classrooms with teachers. Not enough space? Put as many teachers in a room as necessary. And stop using the excuse that teachers have a tough time working with each other.

Instead of our union leader’s kowtowing to whatever schemes come out of the DOE, we should see the UFT and the Klein/Bloomberg truly team join together in a true spirit of cooperation to make the classroom a truly workable place. It is all so breathtakingly possible. It is all so breathtakingly unlikely.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Comment on UFT Charter School

From the NY Times - Nov. 2, 2006

"Mr. Spitzer, on the other hand, has the unions’ support and recently toured a charter school in Brooklyn run by the city union, the United Federation of Teachers. The union president, Randi Weingarten, boasted of creating a model school with no more than 25 students per class and two teachers in each room."

The UFT argued when pushing for the charter school that they would show they would make a model school with the same funds that regular schools are working under. What is needed is the numbers to show how you could have 2 teachers in a room with 25 children. We do know that Eli Broad, one of the leaders of the corporate onslaught on the public schools, gave $1 million towards the UFT charter school. Does Randi's "boast" help or hurt the cause of public education?

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Wrinkles in the Iron Curtain

So where was I? Oh yes, last time I was comparing the BloomKlein takeover of the NYC school system with the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe. One of the keynotes of that system was inefficiencies and economic breakdowns, part of the reason for the fall of the iron curtain. Here is where one would expect the analogy to the NYCDOE to fall apart. After all, we have master business people running things in Bloomberg and Klein. But au contraire.

I met a businessman on my recent trip to Prague who sometimes does business with the DOE. He was asking about the impact of BloomKlein on the schools. I gave him my take and mentioned no-bid contracts, in particular the $17 million paid to the consultants Alvarez and Marsal to find savings in the very system created by BloomKlein (as I reported in The Wave – “The A&M Story Tastes Better than M&M’s” Sept. 16, 2006). He said one would at least expect that the business end would be well run. He then told me how he had considered bidding on a big contract but when he saw the RFP – request for proposal — it was clearly set up so that only one company could qualify, a company that had lost the contract at one point because of some impropriety. Thus, even bidded contracts are no bid in reality. So much for keeping costs down through competition. Don’t get me started on all the other inefficiencies perpetrated by BloomKlein.

In totalitarian systems, political correctness counts more than competence — one of the most obvious attributes of the BloomKlein takeover, where the keynote is led by the brainwashing Leadership Academy, also known as the Ministry of Fear.

And fear is central in a police-like state — recently a teacher asked me to meet him in a diner far enough away from his school so he would not be seen.

Fear doesn’t exist only at the bottom. One of the hallmarks of totalitarian systems is the climate of fear among top and middle managers over the “numbers” they are expected to produce. Bad numbers and heads would role. Five-year plans always called for increases that were impossible to meet. So they lied. The rulers could never understand why the economy was failing when the numbers coming in showed such great results. When the numbers didn’t match, the rulers just manipulated the data to show how the system was succeeding.

If you work in a school this must sound familiar. Just check the fear factor among supervisors and their supervisors right up to the regional superintendents — the almost desperation and panic at times — over test scores, grades, graduation rates, attendance and anything else that is being tracked by the data-driven ‘educators’ above. (The number of "reported" instances of changing grades grows by leaps and bounds.

Whatever the numbers, they are massaged by the rulers at the DOE. This massage even goes beyond the DOE to the state level where the tests were made easier in an election year.

Collectivization, one size fits all curriculum and standardized teaching
Remember studying about the attempts to eliminate individual farms and collectivize agriculture, forcing all farmers to “forget” their knowledge of farming and use standardized state-run methods in Soviet bloc countries? No matter where it was tried, it turned out to be a disaster and always ended up in a reversal where individual farming had to be reintroduced in some form in order to feed the people. There was actually a general trend to attempt to stamp out individualism on a mass basis.

Teachers at the DOE have undergone their own form of collectivization as a one-size-fits-all curriculum was imposed, along with a standardized method of teaching to go along with standardized bulletin boards. Just listen to the similar jargon and acronyms floating around all schools. (You’re out of touch if you think a LEP is someone with a disease on a remote island.)

In totalitarian systems, there were mass book burnings. When BloomKlein took over, books — many brand new costing millions upon millions of dollars — received the equivalent fate when they were banished to school cellars to rot away unused while millions upon millions more was spent on books that were deemed by many teachers not to be nearly as useful as the ones banned.

Control the means of communication
In all top-down controlled systems, how information is presented to the public assumes a crucial role. Behind the iron curtain all press was controlled. In this country, public relations assumes a crucial role and enormous sums are spent on it, certainly a truism of the NYCDOE. But you might wonder if it is all that necessary. The NYC press, owned by business people who are “with” the program, make you think the world of BloomKlein is a Garden of Eden (though recently more and more reporters have begun to see through the mist.)

Except, of course, for the completely non-critical NY Times, which remains immune to the scandals and always manages to report just one side of the story. I used to at least look forward to the Wednesday “Education” page where Mike Winerip would report on events going on in the NYC schools. Since he left, these reports touch down anywhere in the country — except NYC. Maybe Mike stepped on too many toes.

One of the most blatant examples of slavish support by the business community was a recent glowing tribute to Bloomberg and Klein in US New & World Report, owned by Morton Zuckerman who also owns the Daily News and is vice-chair of Klein’s private fundraising “Fund For Public Schools.” Parent activist Maria Dapontes-Dougherty President, D30 Presidents' Council was prompted to write a letter to the editor.
Here are excerpts:

“Mr. Klein's premise was that ‘teachers are the most crucial people in the system’ and yet he shows them no respect and is dismissive of their opinions… Parents are philosophized and politicized as a vital component of the system, but are blocked any time they voice an opinion or try to participate. Schools cannot be run exclusively like a business, in as the ‘product’ of this business are the future minds of our country. They are our children!
“The savings in bureaucracy was utilized to create a new bureaucracy and to fill the pockets of big business catering to education. Mayor Bloomberg's partnering with private groups is costing the system millions of dollars. There was no public input in the expenditure of this public money. The cronyism and entrenched interests are now with big businesses….
“The uniform curriculum led to a massive expenditure in books and materials. There was a large increase in middle management which was the strategy for centralization of the system. After three years of this decision not really making enough of an impact there is now a strategy to decentralize with the creation of ‘empowerment Schools’. So here we are having come full circle in aging buildings with antiquated electrical systems and not enough materials. Our class sizes are bursting at the seams and [among] the highest in the country. Our middle school students still show a high percentage of low performing students and our graduation rate in high school is still a disgrace at 43%. [Massaged into 57% by DOE data managers.]
“If these two men are an example of what leaders are in our great country, then our future is dismal.”

Maria’s letter is a sign of the growing opposition to BloomKlein from parent groups, an interesting development considering the lack of opposition in the early years. Andy Wolfe explains in the NY Sun:
“Upon assuming … control, the mayor and chancellor moved quickly to win over the school system's parental establishment the old-fashioned way — by giving out jobs.
“At a May 9, 2003, press conference organized by the Department of Education, the president of the United Parents Association, Ernest Clayton, praised Mr. Klein's plans to hire parent coordinators in each school, stating that ‘this is the first time we've had a chancellor willing to make a substantial investment in parent involvement.’ Mr. Clayton, who led an umbrella organization of more than 200 individual school parent associations, was perhaps the city's best-known parent advocate.
“By July, Mr. Clayton had given up his post to take a $60,000-a-year administration job: parent support officer in Division 3 in Northeast Queens.
“In fact, many of the more than 1,200 people initially hired as parent coordinators and citywide and regional support staff came right out of the leadership of the parent groups and parent associations, effectively co-opting a key source of potential opposition.”

Now, there’s BloomKlein doing business the old fashioned way —if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

The Wave, November 3, 2006