Friday, December 29, 2006

Can Joel be totally oblivious to the oncoming Tsunami?
Thanks to for the photo.

What Randi Weingarten said about Lafayette High School

"It is no secret that there have been problems at Lafayette, so its closing is not surprising. We are working with the DOE to create a redesigned school - and potentially two new schools - that parents will want to send their children to and where educators will want to teach."

The UFT goes right along with:
Closing of the large high schools instead of calling for the problems to be fixed by whatever means necessary which might actually include “ horrors“ spending whatever funds it would take to provide personnel, lower class sizes, etc.

The UFT ignores the fact that:
The closing of the schools is one ploy to get half of the teachers out, arguing they have to change the culture of the school instead of fixing what's wrong. That means getting new students and teachers and administrators.

The UFT Sits by while:
Teachers are blamed for failing schools. If they tried to fix schools that are broken, then the teachers and students stay.

What the DOE did at Lafayette was take a school in trouble and put in a Leadership Academy principal who came with the attitude that the problem was the teachers. On her first day in the building (Summer '05), she threatened a rain of U ratings as a way to fix the problem. Teachers came under immediate attack by Rohloff when school started that September. There should have been an immediate response from the UFT.

Randi Weingarten promised the staff an article would appear in the NY Teacher. Instead of an article defending the teachers they get stabbed in the back, a sign that Weingarten was aware of the fact that the school and 4 others would be closed. The fact that this information was carefully released by the DOE immediatley after 90% of the members ratified a contract extension that will assure at least 50% of the teachers in the affected schools will have to pound the pavement looking for jobs with the possibility they will end up as substitute teachers. Do you smell collusion?

What did Weingarten know and when did she know it?

The Unity "club" in the school claim we are distorting the facts and in fact Weingarten and other UFT officials gave the school support.

The proof is in the pudding. We often say "watch what the UFT does, not what it says." In this case what Weingarten said for a change reinforces what she did: Cooperate in the closing of large high schools.

So let us repeat those words again:
"It is no secret that there have been problems at Lafayette, so its closing is not surprising. We are working with the DOE to create a redesigned school - and potentially two new schools - that parents will want to send their children to and where educators will want to teach."

Et tu, Randi?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Unity Spins and Grins: A History Lesson

NYC Educator has posted a proposal for a petition calling for divisions to elect their own VP's instead of at-large. Here is an explanation of the history of the change.

There is a debate going on at the NYC Educator blog in UFT democracy, or lack thereof. Since 1994 Unity caucus amended the constitution to eliminate the direct election of divisional vice-presidents -- e.g. Academic HS, Vocational H.S., Middle Schools, Elementary Schools--by constituents of each division and instead had these Vice Presidents elected on an at-large basis by the entire membership, including retirees.

A Unity spinner on the blogs actually claimed this is a good thing, ("The notion that the executive branch should be elected together, in order to provide a minimal unity for governing, is hardly an anti-democratic one.") even trying to compare this to having the US President and VP come from the same party. Naturally he distorted the facts of what really happened to make his case, which NYC Educator trashed in his response.

I asked former Manhattan HS district rep Bruce Markens what occurred while his memory is still intact. (Bruce's long tenure as the lone non-Unity Dist. Rep. despite constant attempts by Unity to defeat him was one of Weingarten's motivations in ending the election of DR's.)

In the mid-80's the opposition was still a coalition called NAC (New Action Coalition, a combo of 3 caucuses with a piece of the name from each one -- some of the founders of ICE were with the Coalition of NYC School Workers).

Mike Shulman won the 1985 election for HS VP by 94 votes over the Unity incumbent George Altomare, one of the founders of the UFT. This sent shock waves throughout Unity and they got Alomare to challenge the election claiming improprieties, a joke since the Unity machine ran the elections.

Naturally, the election committee upheld the protest and they refused to seat Shulman. They finally agreed on an arbitrator and his report called for a new election. This time, without a slate headed by Shanker at the top, Shulman got 62% of the vote. He was not allowed to take his place on the AdCom until Jan/Feb 2006.

With the next election coming in 1987, Unity dumped Altomare and recruited John Soldini from SI (where they could get the large HS vote out for him) to run against Shulman and Unity geared up all forces for the ‘87 election. Schulman almost won again, losing to Soldini by only 21 votes.

He lost again in '89 and by 110 votes in '91 election. But in that election, NAC also won the junior high ex bd seats, giving them 13, the most they ever had. Their JHS VP candidate also lost by about 150 votes. With the opposition seemingly getting stronger, Unity clearly had to do something to keep the wolves at bay.

Their opportunity came after the '93 election when inexplicably, New Action lost the high schools and junior high schools, giving the opposition no voice on the ex bd.

Unity formed a task force to "improve" the election process. It had no specific mandate to deal with the issue of changing the divisional vps to be elected on an at large basis.

At an ex bd meeting in early Jan. '94 they sprung the " improvement" - taking all divisional elections of VP's out of the divisional and making them at-large. A few days after, they sprung it at the Jan. DA, (historically one of the least attended of the year). There also just happened to be a snowstorm that day (Did Unity rig the weather?) guaranteeing an even lower attendance of non-Unity people.

But Unity assured a quorum would be there to make the act legal by threatening Unity Caucus members with the loss of their part-time union jobs and banishment from the slate, which assured a free trip to the AFT and NYSUT conventions. Thus, Unity was able to steamroller through the "improvement" in the election process.

In our so-called democratic union the Unity way, you can change the consitution without having to get membership approval.

But even if they had gone that route, the Unity machine would have spun this “improvement” to the members in some fashion. Without an effective opposition to oppose it (the inability of New Action even at that time to put up a semblance of a fight is indicative of some level of ineffectiveness) the members are helpless against the machinations of Unity. One more argument for the building of an effective opposition to Unity as opposed to the phony bogus opposition New Action has become with all their leaders on the UFT/Unity payroll.

Counter Attack! - The Wave, Dec. 29, 2006

by Norman Scott

Last time I wrote (“The Empire Strikes Back”) about the very favorable NY Times article on Region 5 Superintendent Kathleen Cashin that pointed to the very high results in Region 5 compared to the rest of the city while Cashin did things counter to the Tweedles. Our take was that the article was a sign that the old BOE people are lining up behind Cashin for a possible coup d’etat when BloomKlein are out of office. You knew the gang at Tweed could not have been happy. Hidden behind the faint words of praise given her by Kleinites in the article were clearly words of damnation and unhappiness. Eschewing Leadership Academy principals, empowerment zone schools, Teacher College “progressive’ curriculum, having good relations with the UFT hierarchy (giving them space for 2 charter schools) and other transgressions of Tweed orthodoxy, Cashin emerged as a sort of counter hero, though many teachers in Region 5 read the article with a “humph,” thinking about Cashin’s top-down management and even questioning whether the “growth” in Region 5 scores was legitimate.

Would the Evildoers at Tweed strike back? Emails came in asking if it was true that Cashin and almost all the R5 Lis’s would be out by Feb. 1, the only question being whether Cashin was going to be moved up or be let out to pasture. Or none of the above. You know the old saying. There is the right way. There is the wrong way. And there is the DOE way.

Cashin would seem to be protected. Part of former Chancellor (1978-1983) Frank Macchiarola’s political sphere of influence, the former principal of PS 193 in Brooklyn’s District 22 had strong backing from Macciarola when she became Superintendent of Brownsville’s District 23. Despite being out of office for over 2 decades, Macchiarola still has some influence and may have played a role in Cashin’s appointment as Region 5 Superintendent when BloomKlein executed its bloody coop.

BloomKlein had a major goal of dismantling the local political/educational machines in the former districts while undermining UFT influence, which had been so tied into those machines. And they seemed to do just that — with a vengeance. But politicians who had been so involved and had benefited to such an extent, mostly from patronage from the old system, didn’t easily disappear and many of the machines are still intact just lurking until BloomKlein disappear into the vapor from which they appeared. They are joined by the UFT leadership, which plots right along with them.

Even with the onslaught, many from the old guard with political influence managed to land on their feet in the BloomKlein administration after they came out of shock, though thee was some district reshuffling in their version of musical chairs where those with the least influence were left standing after each round.

After I posted the column on my blog a retired teacher began a correspondence. “You wrote an excellent article referring to the Times article. I don't understand why there aren't more folks talking about what crap the teacher's college reading and writing workshop approach is and how much it is costing.” He goes on: “More on the Cashin fall out: Whitney Tilson, a big macha with Teach For America shills for Klein on his blog at”

It is interesting to read the criticisms of Cashin from a Klein shill, who gives any credit for Region 5 improvements to Klein, not to Cashin. Note my cryptic comments in brackets.

"I've done some due diligence [HACK JOB] on Kathleen Cashin and she has indeed made improvements -- but the real story is much more nuanced than this article makes it out to be. The performance of her district, while better than before, hardly calls for hosannas. It outperformed other districts, but not dramatically in most cases, and the high school graduation rate is below most others (which the NYT story didn't mention). This district is not doing well by any objective standard — it's just gone from being truly awful to merely lousy.

“I don't buy the argument put forth in the article that her district's improvements are entirely due to her — and especially due to her bucking of the new system. Klein has implemented big changes over many years that are beginning to move the needle in the right direction across the city — if I recall correctly [NOT], in both NY state and national data, NYC showed more improvement [PHONY GRAD RATES, ETC.] than all other large cities in the state and nearly all nationwide — so why wouldn't Cashin's district be benefiting as well?

“More importantly, it's critical to understand how Cashin has achieved the gains we've seen in her district. Generally speaking, there are two approaches to reforming big, broken systems, whether we're talking about General Motors, the old Soviet Union or the NYC public school system: you can either keep the existing system in place, but wring incremental improvements out of it by exercising extreme command-and-control, or do the opposite and try to reform the broken system by changing incentives, setting up accountability systems and pushing power and control down to the local level. [PUT DOWN THE COOL-AID, WHITNEY. THE OLD HIGHLY CENTRALIZED SOVIET SYSTEM HAD MORE LOCAL CONTROL THAN KLEIN ALLOWS.]

“Cashin is a classic example of the former, whereas Klein has adopted the latter. [MORE COOL-AID] Turning to Cashin, according to a friend who's in the know, she is ‘a total control freak’ and runs her district with an iron fist. If a principal tries to buck her in any way, she fires and blackballs him/her. Cashin's educational pedagogy has merit, however, so imposing it on a district that had no sound educational approach at all yielded some incremental improvements, as noted in the NYT article.

“There are severe limits to Cashin's approach. Fundamentally, the system and the biggest problems within it — lack of human talent [SURE, THERE WERE NO GOOD TEACHERS BEFORE KLEIN] and motivation [THREATS, INTIMIDATION] — haven't changed at all. So, my prediction is that Cashin's district will not show much if any incremental improvement and will remain merely lousy — unless Klein's reforms kick in. [WORDS OF DOOM FOR CASHIN?]

“Klein's approach is, at its core, the exact opposite -- and is, obviously, the one I think has the most long-term promise. But it also has real risks -- trying to reform a deeply entrenched broken system in the face of massive resistance (not to mention mostly hostile media coverage [HOSTILE? HE MUST ONLY BE READING THE WAVE]) is really hard and messy [THEY’LL FIND OUT THE REAL MESS KLEIN LEFT ONE DAY], as noted above. If too much autonomy is pushed down the school level before the accountability and motivational systems and human talent [REPLACE TEACHERS EVERY 3 YEARS] are in place, the results would be disastrous. That's why I like Klein's incremental approach with Empowerment Schools… [BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!]

Tilson goes on to tell stories coming out of Teach for America teachers about how horrible the system is with kids roaming the halls all over the place. The Tilson Klein vs. Cashin debate is a straw man, there being no choice, both being top-down centrally managed, though from a different location.

My retired teacher friend defended Cashin on Tilson’s blog:
“Maybe part of the reason is a curriculum that is mostly smoke, mirrors and jargon that makes absolutely no connection to kids, especially middle schoolers. If Cashin is "a total control freak" and runs her district with an “iron fist," what do you think Neutron Jack Welch taught all the newbie principals at the Leadership Academy? There is plenty of talent in the NYC school system and it is not restricted to charter schools — (who by the way play with a rigged deck because they can skim quality students).

“To say that Cashin's way is inferior to Klein's just doesn't wash. Klein has NO WAY. There is no thought with going from the regional plan to empowerment. The only thought is that the old way is not working. (For this I give him credit). The sad part is that great damage is being done with a literacy program that makes very little connection to the majority of kids in the system. It is heavy on structure with no content. Without engaging content you lose the interest of the kids-especially the middle schoolers who are failing at ever increasing rates. These are the kids who are roaming the halls of your Teach For America folks' halls. I get the impression from the Times' article that Cashin relies on content and methodology that has proven effective, especially in her districts

"For a guy who is a financial whiz has it ever occurred to you how much the city is getting ripped off by Columbia Teacher's College and how much teaching time is being lost to send people there for training?”

Get those daisy petals out. Cashin-Klein-Cashin-Klein-Cashin-Klein. Having had some “issues” with Cashin in the past, here I find myself in the position of almost defending her system of education, which I worked under in District 14 and grew to despise, an indication of how BloomKlein have alienated just about anyone who was ever been truly involved with teaching. I’ve always been for maximum teacher power and input in making educational decisions.

I’m trying not to gag over the fact that Cashin vs. Klein might be our choices of how schools should be run. That my union, the UFT, plays in this “no power for teachers” game sends me searching for a giant bottle of Pepto.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On Closing Large High Schools

From Leonie Haimson listserve:

The Comptroller has received several calls from other elected officials concerned about the closings of these schools. We are interested in finding out if anyone can tell me if the DOE did any outreach at all to parents or the effected communities prior to making this decision….and if they have any plans do so now with respect to the next steps they will take re: the creation of new schools/programs at these site.

Comments from Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters on Dec. 12:

The pattern that we have repeatedly seen of closing failing large high schools down and opening up new small schools in their place sounds good; but in the end, it often hurts rather than helps our neediest students, leading to even higher discharge and dropout rates.

For example, Tilden HS has 300 special ed students and at least 300 ELL students, many of them sent there originally because other large high schools nearby were closed in recent years, like Bushwick, Prospect Park, Wingate and others.

Why? As we know from recent reports from the CCHS, Immigration Coalition and NY Lawyers for Public Interest, most of the ELL and special ed students will be excluded from whatever new small schools are formed in their place.

When a school is being phased out, no one cares about the students who still go there – they no longer count in terms of any accountability system. This may be one of the reasons we’ve seen a steady increase in discharged students over the last four years. In many cases, these students are denied the classes they need to graduate, even if these same courses are being given at the small schools opening up in the same building.

If they don’t manage to graduate in the few years that their original school continues to exist – and many won’t – most of the lowest-performing students will be discharged to “alternative” or GED programs, or transferred to other large high schools. These schools in turn will likely become even more overcrowded than before – and in many cases, destabilized.

In either case, many of the students at the schools that are were announced today as closing will likely end up as dropout statistics, or even worse, if “discharged” they will be expunged from existence, and not even counted as dropouts.

Today I spoke to a teacher at Tilden HS, one of the schools being closed down; he told me that school has never been given the resources or programs it needed to improve. He has many ELL classes that have 30 students or more – classes that should be no larger than 20.

Four of these five schools also had principals who graduated from the Leadership Academy. What this shows is that leadership alone does not help, unless classroom conditions are also addressed.
Until this administration has a plan to improve opportunities for all our students, including providing them smaller classes no matter where they go to school, we will continue on in this cycle of failure, far into the future.

A Primer on Mayoral Control

by John Elfrank, chapter leader, Murray Bergtraum HS

In NYC it has been a corporate-style takeover. An extreme historical analogy would be that of Pol Pot (the genocide of Cambodia, that tried to wipe the slate clean and start the Zero Year), where there were mass firings in the Board of Ed (new DOE). The belief being; if you were part of the old system, you had nothing to offer. Historical/institutional memory counted for nothing.

continued at

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Where’s Waldo – er– the Union at Far Rock?

With the recent announcement that 5 schools would be closing, 3 of them large high schools in south Brooklyn, I thought this story of how the UFT operates in relation to these closings would be of interest. Ed. Notes and ICE have been opposed to these closings, calling for the resources to be placed into the schools to fix what is broken. The breaking up of large schools into smaller schools is a gimmick that just moves teachers and children around as chess pieces and serves to further destabilize other large schools as students, especially ESL, special ed and ultimately discipline problems, are forced into them. It also destroys what is often strong UFT chapters. Now add the disastrous provision from the '05 contract that teachers from these schools who do not find jobs will end up as subs and the new '06 provision that after a year as a sub these ATR's will be offered an "incentive" to leave. How fast can you say Guantanamo?

Below is a note printed in the April '05 edition of Education Notes from Michael, a 3rd year teacher at Far Rockaway back in 2005 when they announced the closing of their school.

Michael invited me to attend a union meeting at Far Rock after school right after the announcement as an ICE rep. I followed all school procedures in checking in and was sent to the auditorium where the meeting was to take place after a faculty conference. The school administration passed by me as they left and not a word was said or asked as to who I was. (You'll see why this is important later.)

Ray Tureskin the Unity CL spoke at first and after finishing said it was my turn and left. I talked about how the UFT went along with all the closings without raising a ruckus about fixing what is wrong with the school in the first place and that closing schools was mostly about getting rid of the teachers. If the UFT actively opposed the closing and aligned with parents and the community something could be done. I was there about 15 minutes.
Michael was U-rated at the end of the year and forced out of teaching, mainly because he did not remain quiet and raised educational issues in the school. He received a letter in his file for inviting me to the meeting. That letter was used as part of his U-rating hearing. There was not a peep from the union at that outrage as Unity takes the position that only they should be able to walk into schools and lay their propaganda on people and I would not be surprised if the UFT did not play some role in getting the admin to use this against Michael. Unity will use any tactic to punnish people for flirting with the opposition.

Michael is now happily living in Israel. He called me from there not long ago to talk about the farce of how the union represented him at his hearing when he came back for a visit this past summer.

Michael's frustration and outrage at the way the union deals with school closings is expressed below.

Where’s Waldo – er– the union at Far Rock?

Apr. 4. 2005: Today our 100 minutes professional development was interrupted for a staff meeting in the auditorium for the Region 5 LIS to tell us the school had officially been put on the reorganization track under a “Fast Track” title...though no one truly knows what this means. As usual the rhetoric was that the Region and everyone really cares for us at Far Rockaway(HS) and now it is the “big, bad state” that has come in to ruin and reorg and mess this whole mess up even worse....

MORE appalling was the union meeting after this brief interruption by [UFT Queens HS Dist. Rep, now head of the Queens borough office] Rona Freiser and another person claiming the DOE doesn’t know anything and blah blah blah about our rights and how they are here for us....Before I opened MY big mouth a seasoned teacher asked what the union had done for us....and where they had been and what about the past year and what about now....needless to say Rona got a tad bit defensive and had the NERVE to say she has been at our school a b’zillion times....(last time I saw her was the very beginning of last year (Sept/Oct 2003!!!)....I said loudly “I never see you!!”...she wasn’t pleased .....another colleague said we have felt abandoned....and I reiterated my plea for some help.....and questioned Randi’s absence (“Where’s Randi? in “Where’s Waldo”?)....we have been wondering where she has been the past 2 years.....not this week....last she was at Far Rock....she posed for a photo op and said that her and Joel Kelin were working together to make Far Rock a safer place......hmmpphhh...the union reps were trying to make us feel as if we owed Randi and them a thank you for provision 18-G allowing for some type of rights when a school is reorg’d in the city.....THATS THEIR JOB!!!!....

Welll....since I had asked these “reps” or whatever they should be called...about supporting us with press releases, ads in local papers, and some media exposure(if you aren't aware the states concept is to do away with the staff--at least 50%--at Far Rock.....where the new staff is coming from is beyond us all)......Rona Freiser responded “The Mayor has control of all the papers”.....I mean the audacity and idiocy to insult my intelligence--and as if they can’t get something printed either locally or regionally or nationally.....really!!!!!....hold a press conference, be proactive...anything!!!

We need parents attention and even a bit of support and she dismissed the parents of Far Rock as ever possibly voicing concern or support over losing such #’s of staff at our school....however to give up with no attempt is like me saying my kids can't read, so why bother.. "

A sidelight to this story is that Rona threw a fit for my daring to print this and even whined to some ICE Queens chapter leaders about it. Tough. Rona has been part of the UFT coverup of the actions of Principal Grace Zwillenberg at John Admas HS in Queens as the UFT seems more concerned about protecting her than the teachers she has harassed. I will write soon about the role Rona played in stealing an election from an ICE person as chapter leader at Forest Hills HS.

Monday, December 25, 2006

peter the cat comments from Seattle

peter the cat comments (on "The Empire Strikes Back" post below and raises an interesting point:

How do we fashion a grass roots/cross-coalition resitance movement of anti-Kleinites/anti-Bloombergians from the ranks of the dissatisfied/disgruntled/very, very angry and disgusted teachers/scholars/activists/parents/students/community organizations, etc. which CAN AND MUST BE an active and present SHOW of force (peaceably assembled) with a clear message against the surreptious privatization of the NYC public school system. Less blogging, more organizing, but how? Any ideas? (Battle in Seattle, but peacefully. Can we recruit some Seattle(ians?)?

peter the cat,
Send us any help you can from Seattle but keep Bill Gates (and the rain), whose tinkering has led to all sorts of problems in the schools.

Your question is right on but you leave out the union aspect. Right now we can only focus on the UFT where we can reach out to people. That has not been all that easy as angry teachers want more instant solutions and this is a long race. Part of what Ed Notes and ICE tries to do is provide people with the information they need if they decide to get activated. While doing that we try to make alliances with all the groups we can, union and non-union.

Because there are over 1400 schools in NY and Unity Caucus actively works to keep alternate points of view out of the schools, the web and blogging will hopefully be part of the organizing as a way to reach people and also to hash out and clarify issues. But the real struggles take place in the schools where progressive anti-Unity Caucus people have to battle the forces of BloomKlein and the Unity hacks. (Not all anti-Unity people consider themselves progressive and we need to see how to build alliances.)

NYC Educator who has used his blog to great effect in a very short time while also getting more active with the union at his school is a great example of people who have activated themselves, almost building an online virtual caucus.

We need to get you to move to New York and join us.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ed. Notes Has No (Great) Expectations

While rummaging through the Feb. '02 edition of Ed Notes I came across this article. The Exec Bd meeting referred to probably took place in Jan. '02 and Randi Weingarten was hinting that someone was leaking info from the meetings to the NY Post, looking at me while she said it. If anyone was leaking it was surely her people, if not she herself. This was a very short time after Bloomberg was elected and the honeymoon was still on, which by the way I still think never really ended no matter what has been said. A great cartoon if you just change the location and author. (Any photoshop experts out there who want to take a shot?)

At a recent Ex. Bd. meeting, Randi Weingarten made some comments regarding Ed. Notes. She seemed to feel that Ed. Notes was holding her to certain [unattainable?] standards. Or perhaps she assumed the laptop computer being used by the Ed. Notes reporter had a direct link to the NY Post.

Weingarten should be assured that Ed. Notes holds her to no standards.
We know that there will never be changes in the Taylor Law, no matter how many of our endorsed candidates get elected.
We have no expectations that she will deliver a contract with anything of substance other than money.
She will continue the tradition of her predecessors of promoting a contract that has been basically unchanged in over 30 years.
We don’t expect her to address the horrendous working conditions, the demoralization of teachers (Will a big raise really solve THAT problem?), the large class sizes, the negative impact of testing, etc., etc., etc.
We do not expect her to try to find long-term solutions to the many problems that teachers and schools face.
We do expect her to continue to put the bulk of our union’s energy into short term crisis management and into the political arena.
By the way: the Ed. Notes reporter was playing Solitaire on the laptop and wasn’t even listening. We’ve heard it all before.

Ed Notes Reprint Feb. 02

Bloomberg and Weingarten to Tie The Knot

In an attempt to forge an alliance that would result in a fast track towards a new teachers’ contract, UFT President Randi Weingarten and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced their engagement. Shocked members of the press bombarded the happy couple with questions. “I know he’s short,” said Weingarten. “But I’m shorter.” “Michael and Randi have had a wonderful relationship for a long time,” said a UFT spokesperson. “She was even his date at a dinner a few years ago. And the sweater gift---that was the clincher.” As part of the engagement agreement, the Mayor’s 22 year old daughter Emma will become the new Chancellor. It was also announced that the UFT & Bloomberg, LP will merge into a new firm to be called BLUFT.
The couple will live in the fancy penthouse digs atop the new UFT headquarters near Ground Zero, enabling both to walk to work. “Michael won’t have to take the subway anymore,” said Randi. The expected savings on the train pass have graciously been donated by Bloomberg towards the new contract.

Education Notes reprint, Feb. 2002. Photo is new, created by blogger:


Some words that will appear on this year’s reading tests.
Start preparing your children now!

Coffee (n.), a person who is coughed upon.
Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent
Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightie.
Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
Gargoyle (n.), an olive-flavored mouthwash.
Flatulence (n.) the emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a proctologist immediately before he examines you.
Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddish expressions.
Circumvent (n.), the opening in the front of boxer shorts.
Pokemon (n), A Jamaican proctologist.

reprinted from Education Notes, Feb. 2002 (because I'm too lazy to look for new stuff.)
None of the above are in any way the creation of the editor, just old stuff off the internet.

Tilden H.S. Refuses to Go Quietly Into That Dark Night

(From Flatbush Life)

By Michèle De Meglio

Community residents are putting up a fight to stop the city from closing Samuel J. Tilden High School. The school is one of five that the city Department of Education (DOE) said it would phase out and replace with several small schools but locals don’t want the plan to move forward. A small group of activists, parents and students gathered at the school this week to protest the restructuring and the DOE’s decision not to ask community members if they think Tilden should stay open or become the site of three or four small schools.

“It’s unfair to our community that we didn’t have a voice and we didn’t have a say in this,” said Tiffany Tucker, founder of Redemption Inc., a non-profit organization offering after-school programs to local students which organized the protest with the James E. Davis Stop Violence Foundation (JEDSVF).

Read the rest:

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Rubber Room—The Department of Education’s Black Hole

by Benjamin Zibit, Freelance journalist
New York City, August 2006

The Pentagon has Guantanamo Bay. New York City’s Department of Education has 25 Chapel Street. And 333 Seventh Avenue, 1 Fordham Plaza, 175 Ocean Terrace, Queens Plaza North, and a host of other smaller locales.

25 Chapel Street, a tall, brown and tan brick building behind basketball courts on Tillary Street in downtown Brooklyn, is actually a new home among the Department of Education’s detention centers for teachers and administrators under investigation and pulled from their schools. The common name for these centers, known well to almost every teacher on the Department of Education’s payroll, is the ‘rubber room.’ On the tenth floor of this behemoth of a building near the Manhattan Bridge sit over one hundred teachers, principals and support staff, ordered out of their schools by the Division of Human Resources for infractions ranging from minor arrests to serious charges of sexual abuse, dereliction of duty, or inappropriate behavior in the classroom or school.

The rubber room at 25 Chapel Street measures approximately 120 feet by 30 feet. There are tables, with chairs grouped around them. There are mattresses to lie on. There is a portable stove and a microwave. There is air conditioning, although at times, according to D., one former resident of the rubber room, the lights and air conditioning have been known to go out and hours can pass before the electrical problem is fixed. Sometimes arguments break out. Sometimes rubber room residents go AWOL—they just disappear.

The rubber room is not a prison, not in the ordinary sense. It is not windowless. There is an administrator assigned to monitor it. He usually sits by the door, reminding people to clock in each morning.

Teachers and staff assigned there by the Department of Education’s Bureau of Inquiry and Investigations arrive by 8:20 am, and clock out at the end of their day, 2:50pm, unless starting time at the school they once worked at had them working on ‘late schedule.’ The day at the typical rubber room ends before 4:00pm. Summer vacation spells relief for the sojourners there. Rubber room residents get summer vacation, too, just as regular teachers do.

But there is one difference: the average stay in a rubber room for a re-assigned teacher or principal is from one to two years. People have been there for much longer. Cases generally take approximately a year to resolve. At the end of summer vacation, rubber room residents and staff report back to a Regional Operations Center, where each rubber room may be found. At the Staten Island rubber room, according to an administrator there, there were 117 people in attendance in mid-June. Keith Kalb, press spokesman for the Department of Education, when reached on July 17, 2006, quoted a figure of about 570 reassigned staff in all the DOE’s rubber rooms. Carol Gerstl, a spokeswoman for Randi Weingarten, UFT President, confirmed this number. However, Ms. Gerstl admitted that 570, a number that “sounds right,” depends on DOE data, rather than an independent union assessment. S., who arrived at the rubber room at 25 Chapel Street in February 2006, told this reporter in late June that he believed there were over 800 DOE staff in rubber rooms around the city and personally attested to the fact that five or six new attendees come in to 25 Chapel Street every week.

The UFT, the city teachers’ union, which has been publicly silent on the existence of these rubber rooms for years, is becoming restive and uncomfortable about them. Ms. Weingarten, in a June email, commented that the union is trying to take action on the rubber room situation but added that some members do not want “to vindicate their rights.”

In a corporate environment, where a complicated union contract might be non-existent, rubber rooms would not exist. CEOs and Human Resource Divisions would almost certainly be free to terminate employees accused of malfeasance or more serious crimes quickly and without much fanfare. But the UFT contract with the Department of Education protects employees accused of violations of the Department’s code of behavior. If letters in an employee’s file do not serve to discipline him, then the DOE must send the accused staff member to a rubber room, where, according to the union contract, he is “reassigned to administrative duties, pending the outcome of (an) investigation.”

The union contract with the DOE, put in place on November 16, 2000 and amended by a new contract vote last November, also defines the limits of rubber room confinement. Any ‘reassigned’ employee must be restored to service in his school no more than six months after his removal, unless formal ‘3020-a’ charges have been lodged against him. Section 3020-a of the New York State Education Law permits a school board to bring state charges against tenured employees, with an eye to dismissing teachers and other staff who would otherwise be protected by tenure rules. A three-person jury hears each case, and since September 1994, when the New York State legislature revamped the state’s tenure law, the average time between being charged and receiving a formal hearing dropped to about 192 days. This is just over six months. The majority of detainees in the rubber room stay twice as long. 3020-a charges are not usually filed, as this is an expensive legal procedure, and, as a result, teachers simply languish in the rubber rooms. Many wait just for a DOE hearing to determine whether or not their case should proceed to a higher state level.

Rather than file state charges, the DOE relies on pressure and attrition to weed out employees it does not want. Many residents of DOE rubber rooms are there because of hearsay evidence against them. Apparently, it doesn’t take much to end up at 25 Chapel Street. A student may report an incident involving a suspect teacher to a school’s principal and the next thing the teacher knows, he is reassigned. Teachers do not necessarily have the right to see the specific evidence backing up charges against them. Nor are they usually given the opportunity to confront their accusers in the open, a right guaranteed all criminal defendants by the 6th Amendment to the Constitution.

Since charges brought by an employer against an employee are administrative in nature, unless serious enough to warrant arrest, the Department of Ed may have some wiggle room here, avoiding the Constitutional requirement that any accused person be confronted by the witnesses against him. Until the June 29, 2006 Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld Supreme Court ruling, the Pentagon used a similar argument in its treatment of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo detainees were treated as extra-judicial, administrative detainees. Now, true military courts martial and adherence to the Geneva Convention must be the rule for terrorists held incommunicado in American military detention facilities.

Union contracts seem to fall into a gray area, somewhere between true Bill of Rights protections and labor law. Until late August 2006, there was no complete version of the published contract between the UFT and the Department of Education; both sides simply put out written pronouncements changing the existing contract, with the old contract still technically in force. Now, in early September, a new official contract copy, sent to union members by the UFT, is in the hands of most teachers. The current contract expires on October 12, 2007.

In 2006 DOE teachers face increased chances of disciplinary action, from U-ratings to threats of dismissal. Principals have been known to conclude that allegations against a teacher are true, simply because a teacher fails to respond directly to the charges against him without a lawyer present. This is the fate S. suffered. The accused does have the right to union (UFT) representation, but that doesn’t always stop DOE authorities from writing formal file letters (which can adversely affect a teacher’s rating.) “The reason they put people in the rubber room,” S. says, “is that they’re hoping you’ll quit before it comes to a formal hearing.”

A trip to the rubber room may start with a written accusation against a teacher, a counselor, even a principal, but the story rarely ends there. Once a Department of Education employee is placed on the “Ineligible/Inquiry List,” he descends into the labyrinth of the DOE’s administr ative bureaucracy. Lawrence Becker, the Senior Deputy Executive Director for Human Resources at the DOE, whose office is at 65 Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, sends the accused notification that he has been placed on the Ineligible/Inquiry List. If a serious charge is involved, the Arrest Notification Unit, also at 65 Court, comes into the picture. Finally, the personnel manager at the nearest Regional Operations Center formally instructs the accused where to report. Then the long wait begins.

Sometimes, investigators from the Office of Special Investigations show up at a rubber room or even at a school to interview the accused. Investigators are often former police officers, now working for the DOE. An officer from the Special Commissioner of Investigation’s office interviewed S. According to S., the investigator never read him his rights, never said, “You have the right to remain silent.” “If you know your rights,” S. added, “you can refuse to talk. But the investigators never mention that you might have a representative present.” The investigators work in teams of two. One watches while the other interrogates. There is no tape recorder present and the interrogating officer simply takes notes. S. never received a transcript of these notes.

A teacher, guidance counselor or principal can expect to face long hours of tedium each day at the rubber room. Some reassigned staff don’t mind. While their cases slowly wind through the bureaucratic maze, the DOE pays them and they do not have to face the stress of interacting with students. In some cases, however, tenure in the rubber room resembles a theater of the absurd. One teacher has been in the rubber room awaiting final disposition of her case for two years. Despite many lawsuits against the Department of Education, she is still there. Another man, from the Caribbean basin, has been in rubber rooms for six years. He was formerly a guidance counselor and had a dispute with his principal over his alleged failure to report a case of suspected child abuse. A year or two after his reassignment, he had a DOE hearing and was apparently cleared of wrongdoing. Yet he is still in the rubber room. His physical appearance has deteriorated and no one wants to hire him. Still, contractual limits prevent him from being fired. In fact, according to S., who has spoken with him, this long-time resident of the rubber room doesn’t want to leave.

Keith Kalb, DOE spokesperson, expressed irritation at the seemingly intractable dilemma of the rubber room. “There is a $20 million cost for the rubber room. That’s money that could be spent educating kids,” Kalb said. Kalb also bristled at the description of rubber rooms as detention centers. Instead, he called them “reassignment rooms.” Kalb pointed out that even though the rubber rooms are closed for the summer, summer school staff can still be sent to them. Summer school teachers and other staff accused of misdeeds are fired from their summer jobs, may forfeit their pay (depending on the results of an investigation) and must report to Regional Operations Center rubber rooms in September. Since most summer school teachers are regularly appointed DOE staff during the school year, they may not report back to their assigned school and thus are lost in the system until their cases resolve themselves.

Because (as of June) there were—by its own count—almost 600 Department of Ed employees in rubber rooms, with more apparently coming in each week the schools are open, a new and disturbing trend has emerged. If the DOE would rather simply fire wayward employees and has the power of its state mandate to run the city schools by mayoral authority, then the Department of Education is using a disciplinary system it abhors to keep teachers in line, or out of the classroom. Threats of rubber room confinement or letters in an employee’s file have spread fear throughout the system. Since teachers cannot view accusatory statements made against them, they do not know when they may be summarily removed from the classroom. Students may have unwittingly become power brokers in the struggle between teachers and the DOE, with student safety the reason for removal of unwanted teachers from the classrooms. However, student safety is not necessarily enhanced if teachers work in an atmosphere of fear.

No education system or parent wants dangerous individuals around vulnerable children. But there is no way of knowing now where all the rubber room detentions will lead. The number of detainees in rubber rooms may level off, or it may increase in the coming months. It is hard to justify keeping nearly 600 employees in reassignment centers for months, if not years. DOE spokesperson Kalb claimed that due process rights of reassigned employees are not being violated. But if administrative and labor law continue to guide relations between the DOE and its employees, then civil rights law may end up in the back seat. In the meantime, S. is still waiting for his case to be settled. He would much rather be back in the classroom. But for now and perhaps for months into the future, S. will wait, like hundreds of other DOE employees, in limbo. And in 2006, that is a tough place to be.

Dr. Benjamin Zibit is a freelance reporter and former educator in the New York City Dept. of Ed. He taught for twenty four years in high schools and at CUNY and has a doctorate in the History of Science. Dr. Zibit has written several stories on topical issues in 2005-2006, including pieces on immigration, the bedbug epidemic in New York City, and on the international situation. Dr. Zibit knows several teachers who have been swept into the rubber room system at the DOE and wanted to write on their struggles and the conditions of their confinement. He continues to write on the current difficult situation and hopes the days of the rubber room are numbered.

Contact him at:

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Failed Executive Rescued by Klein


"Mr. Cerf will assume responsibility for all areas related to human capital, including labor relations, leadership development, and principal and teacher recruitment, training, and support. His responsibilities in the area of external relations include media and communications as well as political affairs."

The Perfect Resume for the DOE - the former, failed CEO of the anti-union Edison. The DOE can truly be a haven for corporate waste. Does Cerf get stock options?

"Mr. Cerf brings extensive experience to his new position. Currently a partner in the Public Private Strategy Group, he advises school districts pursuing comprehensive reform strategies. Previously, Mr. Cerf served for eight years as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Edison Schools, Inc. He earlier served as Associate Counsel to President Clinton and as a partner in two Washington, D.C., law firms. Mr. Cerf is a graduate of Amherst College and Columbia Law School, where he was Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review, and served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Prior to attending law school, he spent four years as a high school history teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mr. Cerf graduated from the Broad Urban Superintendents Academy in 2004."

Broad is part of the privatization movement in the schools. He also gave the UFT $1 million for its charter schools. Cerf and Randi have appeared on panels together. Maybe they should have a merger of the DOE, Edison and the UFT.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

NEA Attack on anti-NCLB petition - a response

This is an interesting development since the AFT cooperated in developing NCLB. Ed Notes was on the case from the beginning, criticizing Sandra Feldman and Randi Weingarten for being part of a process that could only increase drastically the impact of high stakes testing. The NEA staid on the sidelines and lobbed critiques.

Where is the AFT on the issue? (And to think, the NEA is supposedly more democratic than the AFT. But then again, as the recent NY Sun article pointed out, the UFT's Randi Weingarten will be the next AFT President whenever she wants the job - that ought to solve the democracy problem.) Recently, Weingarten has been making some noise about NCLB, testing, etc. But that may only be the usual noise. She formed a task force, the usual response of politicians to make it seem they are doing something. Of course, she formed a previous task force on testing years ago that disappeared into the jaws of UFT bureacracy. The behind the scenes guy on both was UFT staffer Joe Colletti. If you see him, ask him if they hid the first task force with the weapons of mass destruction.

An Open Letter to the Rank and File Members of the National Education Association

Check out the ICE blog on high stakes testing for the full text of the letter.

Please direct all inquiries to Dr. Philip Kovacs, Director of the Educator Roundtable, at .

Cartoon courtesy of Susan Ohanian web site.

The Empire Strikes Back – Part 1

by Norman Scott

(From The Wave, Dec. 15, 2006)

The first shot in the school wars circa 2009 was fired in the glowing Dec. 4 NY Times article on Region 5 Superintendent Kathleen Cashin (“the best turnaround artist in town”), a possible precursor to her becoming the first post-Klein chancellor. There’s so much delicious meat in the article, your cholesterol count goes up while you’re reading it.

The reporter, David Herzenhorn emphasized differences between Cashin and the Tweedle Dees and Tweedle Dumbs.
“While Mr. Klein has derided the ‘status quo crowd’ and sought to bring outsiders into the administration, Dr. Cashin is a lifelong city educator. While Mr. Klein wants to free principals from the control of superintendents like her, Dr. Cashin believes even the best principals need an experienced supervisor.
“Where Mr. Klein insists that school administration must be reinvented to reverse generations of failure by generations of educators, Dr. Cashin, a product of the old system, insists she can get results with a clear instructional mission, careful organization and a simple strategy of every educator’s being supported by an educator with more experience.
“…Dr. Cashin stands, in a way, as the antithesis of Mr. Klein’s mission to slash midlevel bureaucracy and let principals sail on their own, a challenge to the notion that changing governance structure is the key to turning around schools.
“She runs her schools in Region 5, with more than 85,000 students, the same way she ran her schools under the old Board of Education and under previous mayors.”

Wow! Is Cashin a candidate to wake up with a couple of horse’s heads in her bed, or what? The article reflected a shift in the position of the Times which had given BloomKlein unabashed support, often underreporting many of the emerging scandals while the Post and the News were getting one scoop after another. But wait! There’s more.
“Dr. Cashin prefers principals who come up through the system over graduates of the chancellor’s Leadership Academy, which has focused on recruiting candidates from other professions. And while Mr. Klein has dealt with the teachers’ union on a war footing, Dr. Cashin has made the union a partner, hiring it to train teachers instead of using outside vendors.”
“Though she uses the citywide math and reading programs in many schools, Dr. Cashin does not believe they are sufficient and customizes them extensively, with an emphasis on writing. She also uses an array of other initiatives of her own choosing or design.”

Holy Cow! Cashin actually tampered with the DOE’s Holy Grail — the curriculum? Maybe a horse head followed by cement shoes.

But she has even gone further to dis Klein. Cashin to her credit has been able to resist the imposition of Leadership Academy grads specially trained to torture teaches and small animals. That action alone must have gotten her on the Tweed enemies list.

To add further insult, only 15 principals joined Klein’s so-called “empowerment” zone where principal’s are supposedly given autonomy to run their own ship, but also putting their heads on the chopping block. It should be called the “disembowelment” zone.

When BloomKlein came along they had to rely on the old guard like Cashin until they could recruit enough people who had never set foot anywhere near a school since they graduated from high school. Now that they have what they consider a critical mass to truly take over the school system from the bottom up, they are into phase 2 which they hope will drive out every remnant of institutional memory.

The Times reported, “since the start of the mayor’s second term, Mr. Klein has pushed to reduce the role of superintendents, giving wider authority to principals in an effort that could lead to consolidation or elimination of the 10 regions. That could potentially leave the regional superintendents without jobs or perhaps filling a new role in which principals choose them to advise groups of schools. They would no longer be supervisors but rather support staff.”

So, the battle is on. For those anti-Kleinites who are beginning to cheer, let’s not get overly excited here. A look under the hood shows that Cashin is still mucho in line with focusing on the bottom line of scores to the exclusion of all else, being for plenty of test practice, gobs of micromanagement and a total top-down management system, policies she followed when Klein was still a whipper snapper nipping at Microsoft’s heals.

Yet, that Cashin would so brazenly be quoted just on the edge of arrogance toward the Tweed crowd given the climate of fear running through the ranks of middle and upper level managers at the DOE, both at the central and regional level, is remarkable, showing some of the cracks between BloomKlein and the old education aristocracy that existed BBK (Before BloomKlein). But no worries, for Cashin’s future, at least. The Times article is a clear sign that the empire is striking back.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Party for 7637

It's parteeee time for all 7637 souls who voted NO on the contract. Radio City Music Hall has been reserved and the Rockettes will dance to the tune "We Don't Really Hate Randi, Just Her Policies," a musical piece specially commissioned by ICE for the occasion. It is expected that all 7637 people will attend the next ICE meeting, to be held in an apartment in Brooklyn. Extra chairs have been rented.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

ICE to Disband After Contract Vote - Will Join New Action

With the UFT leadership demonstrating such overwhelming strength in its 9-1 victory on the contract vote, the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) has decided to disband and join New Action en masse. New Action and Unity have tightened security at the borders to allow for an orderly retreat. A spokeperson for ICE said, "This is it for us. The Unity onslaught is relentless and we can't take it anymore. From now on we will just attend Executive Board meetings to eat. At least we won't have to worry about that Polonium stuff they've been sneaking into our portions." ICE will be putting its entire stockpile of nuclear weapons up for sale on E-Bay.

Parents Against Charter Cap Being Lifted

The pro charter school, anti public education, anti union movement always claims it is teachers who are opposed to lifting the charter school cap of 100 schools in New York State. Of course, the union has a problem addressing this issue since it runs 2 of the 100 schools. The UFT says it will compromise if it is easier for charter school teachers to join a union. There are even back door rumors that the union would even make a political deal in exchange for who knows what.

If you subscribe to Leonie Haimson's listserve, which serves a large group of parents, you will notice that there is a lot of sentiment to oppose charters because they draw resources from public schools. Here are 2 emails posted today (12/14).

Assembly woman Sylvia Friedman:

Please Ms. Friedman. Vote against this charter school amendment, which proposes, among other things, to raise the cap on charter schools excluding New York City from a cap altogether. Besides the fact that this bill is designed to gentrify certain neighborhoods, including Harlem, there are problems with this bill and maybe the law itself. How can a charter school share a regular public school building with a regular public school and be granted smaller sized classes, but the other school has to over crowd its classes? I know this is in certain situations but still it can happen. However, even if a charter school took over a building altogether or moved into a new one, why would it not be considered that the charter school is underutilizing the building space, but under the same circumstances a regular public school would be considered? In other words, why does one school get to have 17 students per class, mas or menos, and the other school 30-35, or whatever the cap is?

I understand that the new amendment allows for the chancellor to place schools as he sees fit, unlike the current law which only allows him to place schools with one another only upon the grounds that such school is underutilizing the school building space or failing. But I have problems with that too. Under our Education law he is supposed to provide for an equal opportunity for all students in the city schools. One public school cannot have the benefits of a smaller class size by enforcement and the other not, also by enforcement. So you see where this is going to lead us? I would think in court. Parents are not going to stand for this.

The assembly will get their raises from the next governor. But the assembly should not violate the trust of the people for a raise. That will lead us in court too.

Yours truly,

Edward Dixson

The legislature did not raise the charter school cap and the Senate has been dismissed, supposedly until next year. But Spizer was quoted as being disappointed about charters:
"Civil commitment and charter schools are important issues that need to be addressed, either in the current special session or early next year. Other measures, such as lucrative early retirement proposals, should not be rushed through before they are fully analyzed and debated."
Here's a link to the Times Union blog for an account of the events:
If Spitzer supports an increase in charters, the pressure to remove the cap will be much greater. With the cap on charters removed and the CFE money provided with no accountability or strings attached, the Mayor has the elements in place needed to create his parallel system of schools. Our overcrowded schools will be left to wither.
If there was ever a time to reach out to our elected representatives and demand resources be applied to our public schools, this is surely it.

Patrick Sullivan

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lafayette, South Shore, Tilden to Close - UFT Goes Along for the Ride

From Lafayette HS:

"It's official now. Lafayette will have no freshman class next year, and three to four new schools will start moving into the building. UFT VP for HS Frank V. and Dist. Rep Charlie F. were there to answer questions. 50% of new school positions are guaranteed to Lafayette teachers, we were told. We were also told South Shore and Tilden will meet he same fate. Even though the announcement by the DOE was not unexpected, we are stunned by the news."

The DOE attack on large schools continues. Instead of putting in the resources necessary to fix these schools, the DOE will allow 4 schools to compete for resources, the most precious to them being kids who can perform. And 3 more schools full of teachers being thrown under the ATR bus.

The role of the UFT reps seems to be to smooth the way and answer questions instead of fighting like hell to keep this from happening.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Indecent Exposure

"School Scope" column reprint from The Wave, Dec. 1. 2006 by Norman Scott

After years of being part of a tiny minority in sea of BloomKlein worshippers amongst the NYC and national press corps, it’s nice to see the worm finally beginning to turn.
In recent months, we have seen articles in the mainstream press exposing some major foibles of the BloomKlein hostile takeover of the NYC school system.
Years ago, in one of my usual fits of hyperbole, I that the school systems of Kabul and Baghdad would recover sooner than the NYC school system and that one day Joel Klein will be taken out of Tweed with his coat over his head.

A short list of crimes and misdemeanors
Inflated graduation rates.
Inflated test scores and cover-ups of massive cheating scandals in addition to scores being pumped up by constant test prep. “Test-mania fuels cheating at many schools, teachers say,” said just one headline that is just the tip of the iceberg. The overwhelming majority of school personnel will remain silent due to fear. (Maria Colon, the union rep at JFK HS in the Bronx, is being persecuted and may lose her job because she exposed her administration, which has gotten off Scot-free.)
Inflated boasts for the success of the small schools where there are no at-risk students for the first 2 years (and bet on discouragement of their enrollment forever) while destroying so many children’s lives and teacher careers in large comprehensive high school.
Inflated salaries at the revolving door at Tweed.
Inflated amounts given to consultants.
Inflated claims for the impact of the reorganization that has left so many crucial services in shambles.
Inflated claims that the money saved is going to classroom instruction rather than pet projects
Inflated (enormously) gifts to real estate developers to squeeze houses anywhere they want without making arrangement to provide for adequate schools.
Inflated claims of class size reduction while NYC has the highest class sizes in the state, if not the nation. (Any reference to how teachers and schools with large class sizes can be held accountable are treated as “ excuses.”)
Every teacher and administrator who spent significant time in classrooms knew without consulting any reports or studies that these claims were lies, maybe one for the major reasons for the attacks on so many experienced teachers and administrators.
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters reports on her listserve that an independent analysis by “Policy Studies Associates” found fewer ELL students at the small schools and that students recruited for the small schools had better test scores, grades, and attendance on average than the those left behind at the low-performing high schools.
Haimson also pointed to a report by “NY Lawyers for the Public Interest” that showed how the small schools discriminate against special ed students, “yet the conclusions of report after report, study after study, are denied by the administration.”
A joint report by “The New York Immigration Coalition & Advocates for Children of New York” quoted a small schools administrator in the Bronx:
“We don’t have ELL students. They can apply, but we can't serve them. Eventually we will have services for them, but we just don’t have the people to do it right now. If the students are accepted, we end up transferring them. Now that we are in our third year, we have to accept [ELLs], but we are still trying to find a teacher for them.”
At a press conference, Joel Klein bragged about how the grad rates were even higher than first announced (57% vs 54%). The state claims the rate is 43%. Responding with hocus pocus figures he said something about trying to compare apples and oranges, one of his favorite expressions. He proudly pulled out charts comparing the even higher rates than the averages from the small schools that he had championed, comparing them to the dismal rates at the large comprehensive high schools.
Rather than try to fix the large schools deemed failing, they have been shut down in a painful spiral – squeezed by crowding small schools that are treated favorably into their buildings, forced to accept the most at risk kids, etc. For every kid helped by the small schools, who knows how many have suffered? When 4 schools replace 1 large one, there are reports that they are populated by totally different kids. Where did most of the kids from the large schools go?
When I raised questions that there were few or none of the kinds of high risk kids in the small schools that can drain the resources of even well-run schools, Klein claimed there was no difference and that they didn’t engage in “creaming” of the best students by the small schools, pointing to income and the number of level ones and twos. My instincts said there was something wrong. I know full well that even if you hold a lottery there is a significant advantage to recruiting kids whose parents are even aware of the lottery and get it together to apply. But not having proof other than my common sense based on experience with the realities, I could only hope that some day the real story would be exposed. Hopefully, the time has come.

The Greatest Contract Ever Sold
We went to see NY Times columnist Frank Rich and Columbia Provost Alan Brinkley (David Brinkley’s son) at CUNY recently. Rich’s book, “The Greatest Story Ever Sold,” about the unraveling of the Bush administration has opened up a window to the way the Iraq war was sold to the public and the shameful buying into it all by the press. We found eerie similarities to the way the Ed press in New York and nationally have bought into the BloomKlein story of reform in the NYC school system. As the Bush story has unraveled, the press has begun to try to wipe some of the egg off its face. As reported above, the BloomKlein fiction may be going through a similar unraveling.
Speaking of selling snake oil, a book should be written called “The Greatest Contract Ever Sold” about how the UFT leadership managed to sell the 2005 contract, the worst contract ever signed since it gave back so many of the gains over the last 40 years; a contract being compared unfavorably with the one the Indians signed with the Dutch — the UFT didn't even ask for the $24 in beads as a takeback.
Despite the sell job, 40% of the teachers voted NO. The new 2-year extension of the “GCES” current being voted on will not require as much effort, but the UFT leadership is not taking any chances and is sending “the suits” into the schools. These “suave” characters will actually end up getting some people to vote against the contract just based on their obnoxious attitude.
Remember the promises of a year ago? Coming soon – 55/25. The end to micromanagement? Teachers having the freedom to choose the schools they want to go to?
Ask the numerous teachers, many of them over 40, whose schools have been closed (which many of us suspect are often for bogus reasons designed to get rid of all the teachers, something the UFT has gone along with) and are now day-to-day subs. This can happen to any school that closes. Attacks on experienced teachers continue to go on as the DOE is trying to run a Peace Corps where it replaces and retrains teachers every few years. An article in “Fortune” talked about how Goldman Saks and JP Morgan are teaming up with Teach for America so that Ivy League grads can spend two years teaching and then go directly into high-paying jobs in finance.
Klein loves TFA because they provide a continual, expendable resource of cheap teachers. “Generally, the TFA teachers are much less excuse-bound and more entrepreneurial and creative," Klein said. Almost 8 percent of new teachers this year came from TFA.
TFA teachers who do stay will one day find themselves under the same attacks, as the DOE implements a corporate culture that drives people out as they age. The new 100G salary? Sounds great but what percentage of people who enter teaching will stay long enough to get it? As salaries climb, attempts to make people leave will rise with it.
The new contract offers a “voluntary” buyout to the people who cannot get jobs who have to work as day-to-day subs. They will probably put people in the DOE version of Abu Ghraib until they say “I give.” Or just maybe a simple transfer to somewhere as far away from their home as possible. Or make them take the “A” train. Look for the DOE to put out no-bid contracts for water-boarding equipment and electric shock therapy for each region.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Seymour Papert in a Coma

Anyone who has been involved in tech education for any length of time is aware of the impact Seymour Papert has had on education. When the first Apple computers arrived in my school around 1983, just about the only program it came with was LOGO, the computer language program where you got to program a turtle to move around the screen, a wonderful envirnmeent for teaching and learning. One of my favorite projects was having my computer classes use LOGO to write nursery rhymes. Seeing even 2nd graders putting Humpty Dumpty up on that wall and having him fall down and splatter as all the kings horses and all the king's men march on, was a delightful experience. Though LOGO is not used much in public schools in NYC, its successor is used in many private schools. Eventually, LOGO and LEGO came together and spurred robotics programs in so many schools. As I head off to a robotics event that is being put on by the Brooklyn Tech robotics team this morning for about 25 schools in Brooklyn, I can only wish Mr. Papert a speedy recovery.

Vietnam: U.S. Expert on Computer Teaching in Coma
Published: December 8, 2006

Seymour Papert, a computer scientist internationally recognized as the leading expert on how technology can provide new ways to learn, was in a coma after he was hit by a motorbike in Hanoi. Mr. Papert, 78, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus, was among more than 100 experts from 30 countries who gathered in Hanoi this week for a conference on teaching mathematics with digital technology. He was an inventor of the Logo programming language and is an adviser to the One Laptop Per Child project to build a $100 laptop for the children of the developing world.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Ding, Dong

Michele Cahill, a top adviser to Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, has resigned and will return in January to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, where she worked before joining the Education Department in 2002. Ms. Cahill, as senior counselor for educational policy, was one of Mr. Klein’s most trusted aides and a driving force behind signature initiatives, including new programs for students most at risk of dropping out. NY Times

Old Kleinites never go away totally, but often find time to keep feeding at the trough as consultants. With stories coming out of St. Lous about A&M's role there, the recent NY Times article critical of the DOE (on Region 5's Supt. Cashin), and other revelations, is the Good Ship Lollipop taking on water?

Praha Go Bragh-ha

Prague (Praha in Czech) and Budapest have developed reputations as hot places to go. So I went. Since the late 80’s, Eastern Europe is in the midst of massive redevelopment. The idea is to get there and see a touch of old Europe as it was before the entire continent gets turned into a giant strip mall.... My favorite Czech expression: “Strc prst skrz krk.” Translation: “Stick your finger through your throat.”

Read about my recent trip to Prague at the LostWriters web site in the Wanderlust section. If you are over 30, bring your passport. While there, check out the weekly (Saturday) postings of Holly Hagen, one of my fiction writing group buddies, who is also the editor of the travel section.

Prague building after drinking a few tons of beer, the Czech national drink.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Education Notes - December, 2006

The print edition was distributed at the UFT Delegate Assembly on Dec. 6, 2006. A pdf is available for distribution to your schools by sending an email to

Where We Lie Down

Formerly titled “Where We Stand” (circa 1990) and “Where We Sit (circa 2000)
People opposed to the Unity Caucus machine have been branded as complainers and malcontents with no positive ideas. I find that funny since in the over 10 years education Notes has been around, we have put out numerous proposals, most either rejected outright or talked to death. With the end of the year coming, I though I would reprise just a few. Read more about where we lie down on the ednotesonline blog. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Fight Abusive Principals, Defend Members in the Schools Vigorously and Most Importantly, PROTECT CHAPTER LEADERS
Look at the results rather than the bullshit. What are the conditions in your school of your chapter? Is being chapter leader a fun job? Are people scared shitless?

I won’t go into all the details of our 10 year fight to take care of the core business of the UFT. When my principal threatened to dismantle my computer program as retaliation for my activities as chapter leader in the mid-90’s I brought resolutions to the DA calling for protection for chapter leaders. (This was in the days when Klein was more worried about Microsoft than lesson plans.) The Unity packed DA overwhelmingly said NO.

Here is an interchange I had with a blogger who urged ratification of the contract:
“We should ratify this deal. But we should be clear about what we are ratifying. The agreement is mediocre. We don’t lose anything major, nor do we gain much. The money almost keeps up with inflation. We don’t win back anything we lost in the last, awful contract. And there are a couple of provisions that make me nervous. Then why ratify? We are not strong enough, our union is not strong enough at this juncture to have done substantially better. We can use the time to strengthen ourselves. We must.”

I responded:
Why has the UFT leadership, which has been in control forever, had no ability to keep the union from being so weak? Given that fact, and assuming they will continue to be in power, what makes you think they have somehow come up with the magic formula to do what they have not been willing or able to do up to now? Is there a magic bullet? Or must we go back to the basic organizing that built the union in the early days?

If the answer is the latter, I claim that the current leadership is so satisfied and entrenched and sitting out of harm’s way that they have no reason to be hungry enough to do that gut level work. If they were ever threatened by a serious opposition [see note on the “responsible’ opposition below], something we are very far from seeing, that might do the trick. Which is why I claim that trying to build such a viable movement in the UFT will have the biggest impact on accomplishing what you want to see. In that light I can say that a NO vote would be such a sign as opposed to accepting that we are just too weak to fight. That attitude is so counter to strengthening the union. Can you imagine the conditions the organizers of the UFT faced when a relative few walked out on strike for the first time? That is the kind of toughness and spirit that is needed.

A perfect example took place at the UFT Exec Bd. meeting on Monday, Dec. 4. A teacher from Norman Thomas HS pleaded for relief from an abusive AP who had made so many people’s lives miserable. Randi said, “Do you want me to come,” which caused guffaws from those of us in the back who had watched the UFT allow this crap to go on. Chapter Leader and TJC member Nick Licari interrupted (calls of out of order came from the Unity faithful) that the UFT Manhattan Borough office had the case for a year and did nothing. Boro Rep Jerry Goldman defended their actions by saying they did not have enough information to file a grievance and the people at Norman Tomas could have appealed but didn’t. What a joke! Here is an AP running rampant over scads of teachers for a year and Randi wants to go there after the body is practically in the ground.

Randi promised 80 teachers at Lafayette HS sufffering under the famous Jolanta Rohloff an article in the NY Teacher. So far? Nada! Columns in the Wave and in Ed. Notes exposing Rohloff in the “Galleries Lafayette” articles prompted an email from Rohloff complaining about my articles. (NOTE: Some Unity Caucus Lafayette reps have said that Weingarten has really helped, but they are Unity, so take this with a grain of salt.)

At Sheepshead Bay HS the Leadership Academy principal is running rampant giving people U-ratings, yet District Rep. Charlie Turner smugly shows up only to tell people how great the new contract and yell at them for not standing up to her.

Turner and Goldman are indicative of how the union works. Blame the victims while these guys are safely ensconsed at UFT HQ (and getting all the raises the members get from the new contract without any of the risks.)

Randi Weingarten has been too busy worrying that John Stossel made her look bad to take care of core business. That demo at ABC should have been held at Norman Thomas, Lafayette and Sheepshead Bay high schools.

Charlie Turner, the Brooklyn HS District Rep and prototypical Unity goon, who has always refused to accept anything I hand out, came over and asked me to step outside to "talk." I refused. "Don't use my name without talking to me first," he threatened, calling me a scumbag. I called him a useless piece of shit. UPS can be the new catchall name for Unity goons.

Mayoral Control: UFT Will Stay the Course
Literally minutes after Randi Weingarten uttered the words she was in favor of this abomination in 2001, we opposed it. Our position has always been to set up a system that gives the most say to teachers in their schools. The leadership’s goal is a system where they have the most influence. These are NOT the same thing. Mayoral control where they control the mayor is their goal. But mayors do change.

Here’s the skinny. Randi supports it and will always support it no matter how many task forces she forms or what they come out with as a recommendation. Her problem is to make it look like she has reservations or is opposed. But that should be easy. Say one thing and do another.

Watch the UFT either be neutral, which amounts to support since it’s the only body capable of marshalling enough support to kill it. Judge actions by the final result: Mayoral control will still be intact with a few cosmetic changes in 2010. Bet the ranch. Check out the ICE leaflet on this issue and support the ICE resolution. Weingarten claims that ICE want to stop the members from discussing the issue. The members have spoken. Not sure? Just ask the people in your school.

Cut Class size through contract negotiations
UFT leaders always frame this issue in terms of class size reductions will come out of the salary package and come up with gimmicks. This argument is specious. Do health benefits come out of the salary package? Copy machines? Books, desks, supplies, etc.? Would the leadership argue kids should stand so we could get more money? How about toilet paper? BYOR - Bring Your own Roll and earn 50 cents more a week. It was good that at some point the union DID negotiate class size limits or there would be 80 in class. Check the success rate of the UFT policy on class size: the highest in the state, if not the nation.

New Action and Unity Seal the Deal
If you missed our piece last month (check the blog) on the arrangement being made between Unity and New Action to run a joint slate with cross-endorsed candidates in the UFT elections this spring, the deal has been sealed. New Action will get a bunch of at-large seats, guaranteeing their election, and 3 out of the 6 high school candidacies to challenge the ICE/TJC slate, which will now have a battle to maintain independent voices on the Exec. BD. The goal of Unity/New Action it to create the illusion of a “responsible” opposition, which translates into supporting Unity on every issue. Again, watch what they do, not what they say. Does anyone think that the old guard of unity Caucus that disliked New Action leadersfor numerous reasons are happy? The word “sycophants” about New Action leaders often gets whispered by Unity faithful. Stronger words have been used by the old New Action constituency which had fought Unity for so long.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Mayoral Control

The UFT leadership quickly cobbled together a resolution on mayoral control at the Dec. 4, 2006 Exec. Bd. meeting after the ICE resolution calling for the UFT to call for the end of mayoral control was emailed to Randi Weingarten by an ICE member asking for speaking time to present the motion at the Dec. 6 DA. That these people spend so much time worrying about what teeny tiny ICE is doing is beyond bizarre. And watching the machinations of Weingarten to try to paint ICE as being the ones not being democratic is truly a special treat - definitely better than some of those stale cookies at the meeting. Randi is trying to make it look like Ed Notes and ICE just came up with the idea of putting forth a resolution on mayoral control in respone to a Unity plan to create another task force - the usual method politicians use to stall an issue. In researching an article the Dec. paper edition of Ed. Notes I went back into the dusty -- cough, cough – archives and dug up some oldies but goodies. I had been writing about the negative impact of mayoral control on school systems around the nation in Ed. Notes in the monthly editions handed out at the Delegate Assembly since 2001. When Ed Notes expanded to a 16 page tabloid in the fall of 2002, the first edition (with a circulation of 12,000) had the following article on the front page.

September, 2002

Coming Soon to a School Near You: Mayoral Control

When UFT leader Randi Weingarten floated a proposal to give the mayor control of the school system in May 2001, Education Notes took strong exception, arguing that giving politicians control would only result in a system of education by the numbers in a corporate style system.

Our criticism caused a breach in our relationship to the UFT leadership that has not been healed to this day. Weingarten took exception to what she perceived was an accusation that she was selling us out. We did not go that far, but we did feel that she was in favor of recentralizing the school system, thus opting for short term gains (a quick contract) while sacrificing the long term interests of school workers, whose ability to control the conditions under which they work decrease significantly under centralized control.

Mayor Giuliani’s scornful rejection of that deal delayed our contract for more than a year. It was the union’s behind the scenes support for giving Mayor Bloomberg control that finally got the contract done. Did Weingarten sell out our educational interests for a pot of gold? The next few years will allow people to judge for themselves.

This month, we give our readers a break from our diatribes against centralized corporate style mayoral control and turn instead to surrogates.

We reprise the article George Schmidt, editor of Substance, Chicago’s independent educational newspaper, did for us in May (2002) which points to the lessons of Chicago over the last 7 years as a guidepost to the future of education in New York. A group of teachers had the pleasure of meeting George when he visited us this summer. (Note: This meeting with Schmidt was a precursor of the group that eventually formed ICE, which had gotten together primarily because of Weingarten's support for mayoral control.)

We include excerpts from an article on Chicago Teacher Union President Deborah Lynch. We also reprint Lynch’s campaign speech to the Chicago House of Delegates just before she was elected. This rousing speech talks about the impact of the corporate model.

Another Deborah (Meier) also comments on mayoral control in excerpts from an interview she gave the NY Times. Meier has been a legend as a progressive educator who seeks realistic long term solutions to problems and doesn’t just look to create the veneer of “let’s make things look like they’re okay” like the majority of “educators” do.

Howie Schwack, editor of Rockaway’s newspaper The Wave, gives us his surreal account of a meeting with City Council members and points out how politicians just don’t have a clue about education. Schwack’s account makes the future of education in New York look bleak. But then we know that already.

Deborah Meier on mayoral control
Deborah Meier has been a hero to those who wanted to see change in the NYC public school system. Meier seemed to have rational solutions to complex problems. As a teacher she ran open classrooms, started the small schools movement in NYC, and set up a progressive system at the Park East complex in Dist. 4. She finally gave up on the system and moved to Boston to set up a school. Now 71 she was the first public school teacher to win the “genius” MacArthur Foundation grant.

Excerpted from NY Times, 9/3/02, Jane Gross, author

"I can't imagine anything they can do that would make a substantial difference," she said, except bucking a nationwide trend of more and more standardized testing. "If the only thing you want is better test scores, it poisons the game."

Ms. Meier said that the current "mania for accountability," with rewards and punishments for students, teachers and administrators, was borrowed from the corporate world. "It's like Enron," she said, pointing to all the ways that educators can cook the books to make attendance, graduation rates and test scores appear better than they are. "When the goal is the numbers," she added, "it leads to distortion of the data. The connection to reality gets problematic."

What would she do? She would start with a small schools movement:

“Clustered in networks of half a dozen schools, teachers and principals could observe and critique each others' work, design accountability systems to suit their individual needs and systematically study what worked and what did not. It would take five years to arrive at effective measurements,” Ms. Meier said, “and probably a generation to make the small-school model and its less rigid accountability methods the norm.”

Her critics, she said, wanted "a faster, more guaranteed route," like the order to lift test scores annually. Her counter argument is that "being in too much of a hurry leads us to do things that are a waste of time" or to jump on the latest fads. Among them, in Ms. Meier's opinion, are putting city school systems under mayoral control, appointing chancellors who are not educators and moving district superintendents to a central location.

Ed Notes, September 2002