Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bill Perkins Charter School Hearing: The Longest Day

Updated, Friday, April 23, 7am and 8am

Just back from the Perkins charter school hearings. Shades of January PEP hades.

I took almost 8 hours of video - it didn't end until after 9pm I think - and I was the last speaker with about 6 people in the room. I just read the Gotham live blogging by Anna and Maura at Gotham along with comments. In the live blog they lost some necessary background (or being so young they missed some subtle points). Also in the attempt to be balanced there is some tipping and not enough skepticism over some things pro-charter school people say and some extra skepticism over what some anti-charter people say. It is nice David Cantor gets to testify to Gotham privately. Why don't I get to do that too? And actually taking the questions of Assemblyman Michael (I want vouchers - along with buying an Edsel) Benjamin seriously- give me a break.

For Gotham to make this the lead based on a typically biased article in the Post is tipping:

Rise & Shine: Could charter stance push Perkins out of office?

Was this the take away from 12 hours of hearings? I call it tipping. If people want to go there just watch the army of people who come out to defend Perkins if he comes under attack from Wall Street (see below.) I NEVER get involved in political campaigns but I would for this one.

Here is what I remember - I'll add to it in the morning if more comes back to me. (I WOKE UP AND ADDED A BUNCH).

I got there at 10am. The street around 250 Broadway was filled with a bunch of Harlem Success Academy people demonstrating.

Peter (I assume Goodman from the UFT - and father of the former UFT middle school charter principal) left this comment at Gotham.

Got to 250 Bdwy at 8 am … room was full and no one allowed in … charter school parents (?) arrived with anti-Perkins, anti-UFT signs, and young white guys in suits clearly in charge. I asked they who they were and who they represented, they scurried away.

TV crews identifying themselves as “independent” media were doing interviews. Saw NY1, WNYC, NY Teacher reporters interviewing … after an hour the “picketers” left.

Take whatever Goodman has to say with a grain of salt but I also saw signs of these HSA "shadow" organizers at previous events.

I was able to get in with my press pass from The Wave and some HSA charter school people, having seen me at various meetings, started screaming about it but the guards let me in.

Got up to the packed hearing room but as press I was able to squeeze my teeny camera and tripod down in front - thanks to UFT pfotog Jack Miller for making room for me - he was working hard all day. By the way, the room had a fair number of Unity Caucus UFT people so it looks like they filled the seats while Harlem Success was outside demonstrating. There were lots of complaints from HSA people about favoritism showed to the UFT but there were also plenty of non-UFT community anti-charter people present too.

I caught the end of Diane Ravitch and she was fabulous. Mulgrew did a good job - except when he had to waffle on the performance of the UFT charters - but he even didn't do too badly on that. He was so much clearer that Weingarten ever was so it was a breath of fresh air - and his wise guy attitude served him well when he came under attack. I liked his performance and shook his hand as he left. Next came the NYSUT guys and I turned off the camera to save tape but so much of their testimony on charter school malfeasance was so compelling I turned it back on.

The $10,000 UFT contribution to Perkins came up when Perkins asked Mulgrew to check his pockets to see if he was in there. I watched the Post's hitman Carl Campanile as this exchange took place. I was going to go over and ask why he didn't look into how much money pro charter school politicians received but he works for the Post (which also had Yoav Golen there - pretty interesting to have the same event but I think I also saw Rachel Monahan and Meredith Kolodner from the Daily News who did that story on charter school malfeasance that was referred to so often during the hearings, so this is considered a pretty big event.

One of the state senators, Craig Johnson, was totally pro-charter, so the pro-charters got their digs in through him. He was pretty well prepared and Mona Davids accused him of being a shill for the charter school association. An assemblyman from Harlem named Michael Benjamin was also pro charter - his questioning was somewhat ridiculous but it is so long ago I forgot why - I just knew I was seething to question him and break him down. Oh, I remember - he attacked the UFT over not supporting the community in 1968 - real grandstanding since the mayor got control because of perceived problems with community control.

Will the NY Post report how much money these guys got from pro-charter forces? I think someone said Johnson got $65,000, a paltry sum compared to the UFT giving Perkins 10 G's. By the way, I took some video of Post reporter hit man Carl Campanile when he wasn't taking notes on some testimony that might damage his boss.

Magnificent Mona (no longer moaning) Davids was there with her crew of charter school parents who are on our side (one person active on Leonie's list came over to whisper I should be nice to MM since she has shifted - I am being nice though we still disagree a bunch.) They talked about parent and teacher rights at the charters and stressed that they wanted to protect teacher rights to assure they speak out against the abuses of charters since they were the only ones willing to stand up for the kids and some were fired. That was the very reason for tenure in the first place and many of us have been arguing that it is teachers who defend kids, not supervisors who often are the ones who want to cover up.

There was some contention when John White and the SUNY and State Ed Dept reps were on the panel discussing how charter schools get approved and monitored, with most of the fire directed at White. In previous testimony, Councilman Jackson talked about how his constituents were getting calls and mail about charter schools, even at private numbers and Perkins wanted to know how that information got into the hands of the direct mailing company - Vanguard- that has a contract with the DOE. One of the few times I ever saw the usually inflappable White (one of the Tweedies parents seem to despise the most) show signs of sweating.

Things between Perkins and White flared up again over Democracy Prep's Seth Andrews' threat to raise money from his Wall St. buddies to go after Perkins with Perkins trying to get White to discuss whether there should be an investigation over the involvement of someone running a NYC chartered school in the political arena. White responded that only if school funds were involved. Perkins did not come off that well in this exchange but he was getting real hot over the issue, as were his colleagues Velmanette Montgomery and Inez Barron. This allowed White to regain the high ground and he recovered to defend the DOE against Assemblywoman Inez Barron's criticism of the results city grad rate and test results, which I felt she could have done more effectively. But her track record as an educator (teacher, principal) gives her great creds and she said she would track down stats for future fisticuffs.

As I sift through the tapes, some of the White segment should go up first.

By the way, the crew from District 15 and PS 15 were shocked to actually have Velmanette Montgomery actually recognize that PS 15 and Red Hook were in her district since she has never responded to their pleas for assiatance in their battle against PAVE. Maybe a sign the heat being applied by the CAPEers from PS 15 and strong allies like Jim Devor, CEC15 head, who also testified, is having some impact.

I ran out of tape after 5 hours so I took an hour off to get something to eat (a Cubano sandwich with rice and beans) and go to J&R and buy some more tapes - and check out the new Macs. I almost didn't go back.

But I was glad I did as a bunch of good buddies were about to speak. Bill from PS 123, Lydia from PS 15 (with what I consider the single most powerful testimony of the day - this should be the tape that goes up first), Akinlabi from CPE , Jim Devor from CEC15 and a bunch of others I am too tired to remember. I have to check the video. (By the way, they streamed the entire day's testimony as a webcast and the guys taping said the entire tape will be up on the web soon.

A bunch of pro charter school people came next - Peter Murphy who Perkins tweaked often about his editorials was one.

And Harlem Link founder Steve Evangelista threw in the kitchen sink as he trashed the two public schools he taught at as the reason he started his own school. He had a whole list of what seemed from my experience to be legitimate complaints but some seemed a bit off. He complained that he had all these pullout teachers coming into his room in his former public school and wasn't allowed to talk to these people. I wonder what would have happened to him if he did? I can't conceive of a teacher who felt it important to discuss kids with colleagues not doing so.

It seems he had 2 bad schools and has used that to bludgeon the public schools, teacher unions, etc. I heard lousy testimony about a few charter schools too and pleas to not judge all charter schools based on that. Did he try to find a better public school? It would seem that fighting to make the public schools a place for people like him to work in and to serve the 98% of the kids left out of charters would be a worthwhile political fight.

As someone who felt the same type of frustrations, I was equally frustrated by his testimony that used just about every Ed Deform buzz word - my favorite was OUTCOMES. You know what outcomes are Steve? Finding out what happened to your kids in 20 years. Many of us back then and the teachers I work with now in GEM did not run off to start our own schools and serve a little corner of 2 percenters while abandoning the rest. They stay and fight and even risk their careers.

The fireworks really flew when he called Perkins a liar and Perkins responded - I have to check the tapes for details.

One interesting comment he made: he is competing with Harlem Success to some extent now - and may the best school win. It is capitalism, isn't it? But I don't think he has to worry since Eva has enough schools in Harlem - how much creaming can you - and is moving on the skim off the south Bronx.

I was the very last speaker as the rumble of people's stomachs almost drowned me out and made the point that John White extolled charter schools as performing so much better that the public schools he runs. He also bragged about the enormous demand for charter schools - from people running away from the schools his bosses manage.

I was on a panel with 3 passionate charter school parents from HSA who are very proud of their kids and their school. I said I couldn't blame them for making a decision to not have their children attend schools they see as not being the best for their children.

There were many signs at HSA supported events talking about public school failrues. But then HSA use parents in a political manner to support mayoral control - at the big HSA rally they gave out cards to every attendee urging them to support the continuation of mayoral control - giving power to the very people who were managing the schools they were running away from.

As I often say, charter schools are about political ideology, not education.

One of the parents was a very nice guy who carries a pack of 20 books around that his daughter had to read. I told him next time we would get public school parents to come with a pack of 30 books their kids had read as proof the public schools work better than charter schools. I see HSA bringing fork lifts with stacks of books to upcoming meetings.

The parent is a policeman and I asked him what would be his reaction of he worked in a high crime area and the mayor said it was his and his colleagues' fault - their union you know - if only the cops would donate a few extra hours a night just think of how many more cops on the street and how crime could be reduced. So a solution would be to set up a competing precinct down the block run by private agency but using public money.

I hope he thinks about that scenario the next time HSA does its union bashing.

Oh, yes, I pointed out that HSA brought 2 nice shiny buses and a professional videographer and sound guy to the PEP meeting. A nice piece of change - I know, I know it is private money (that could have gone to the classroom but when you have everything why waste it on that?).

As I said - political, not educational.

In the end we had a very nice chat on the way to the subway and promised to keep the discussion going.

On the way into the hearing I heard, "Mr. Scott" and there was a former student from my school from around 1970-71 waiting on line for some other business. She told me her son was a special ed teacher. Now get this - I also had her son as a student - in the early 80's yet - scaaary. But she had him when she was even scarier young - like young teens, so not impossible. I think he may have been in the same 4th grade class as the other kids I have recently connected up with. He went through some issues I think as a teen so this was good news - YIKES - GOOD NEWS, WORKING FOR THE DOE? That's the 2nd student from that class to become a teacher. Didn't I learn them better? So far all of the kids I've connected up with recently have done pretty well in the world. Other than the one who got out of jail after 28 years. Makes me less pessimistic.


NYC Educator said...

Hey, we don't work for the DoE. We work for the kids we teach!

Anonymous said... we know the identity of the commenter Kitchen Sink on GS? What a tool that guy is. From the very quick googling that I did, it seems that all is not peachy at Harlem Link...

ed notes online said...

I don't know for sure. Just making a guess from comments he makes as KS. Could be someone else that I have in mind.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the time you put into sharing all of the info from yesterday's hearing.

Anonymous said...

I watched a few hours of the live streaming yesterday afternoon/evening. I still don't understand why anyone would be against oversights and accountability for charter schools.. whether you're for or against them, it just makes sense. I listened to you speak Norm and I thought you did a wonderful job!

A few comments on what I saw/read about the hearings:

From the signs outside it seems like the pro-charter parents aren't happy just having their successful schools, they want to destroy the public schools, the teachers' unions and the public school teachers in the process... why???

There are some bad teachers in the system, I've run into a few during my 15 years teaching in NYC in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan (mostly at very troubled schools which makes me wonder if they were always bad teachers of if they had been so beaten down by the out-of- control students and the "system" that they had given up) BUT and this is a BIG BUT... the OVERWHELMING majority of the teachers I've worked with (at least 400) are talented, hardworking, ethical people who absolutely want the best for their students. It's true that many are frustrated by being forced to follow strict, scripted programs that they know are not helping their students. They KNOW what works better but to use their proven methods might put them in jeopardy of being sent to the rubber room or losing their positions and their pensions. So they conform, they try to make it work, but they are feeling a bit defeated. There's a climate of fear and intimidation in the NYC public schools. Rag papers like the NY Post constantly attacking the UFT and NYC teachers are hurting not only the teachers but the children of NYC. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have in my opinion been disastrous for NYC Public Education. Now we have the charter brigade who for some unknown reason think they have to destroy public schools in order to be successful.

I'm tired of hearing "It's about the children" Yes, it's about the children but no, it's not ONLY about the children. The adults in the school community matter too. Some of us still have respect for those who've come before us, those who have dedicated their lives to educating children. Yes, we CARE about our colleagues and why shouldn't we?? Should they be dismissed for incompetence because they might not be able to sit on the floor anymore without struggling to get up? They may be within years of retirement... should we push them down further or give them a hand to help them get back up. Or perhaps give them a chair to sit in as they conference with their students. Have we become such an ageist society that we think our elders no longer have any value? Should we eat our old so that the young arrogant teachers like those at Education4Excellence can stay?

Of course we're there for the children and there's not one person at my current school (or at nearly all of the schools I've worked) who doesn't get that. But must it be an all or nothing.. can't we care about the children AND care about our colleagues as well? Can't we care about all the "people" in our lives... young AND old?

Good teachers come in many shapes, sizes, colors, nationalities and ages. Stop the insanity! Let's FIX the problems in the schools so that all students and teachers can have a place of learning where they feel valued, respected and productive.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I thought Perkins did a great job! I was laughing when he was reprimanding the man?... boy?... clown? in the bow tie for saying he was a liar. :)

I didn't see/hear Mulgrew's testimony but I have heard him speak many time before on TV interviews and in person and I have the utmost respect for him. We finally have a real educator who knows the issues representing us. Now if we could just get some real educators calling the shots at the DOE maybe we could really see schools begin to improve.