Tag Archives: Schools

SEVEN SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE FOR NYC PUBLIC SCHOOLS

New York City teachers come back to work tomorrow after an early Spring Break. Just in time too because rumblings of change are everywhere here in the city. The nation should have its eye on what happens in the New York City school system over the next year or two.

Together, the 7 Seals of the Apocalypse are on the horizon for our education system. This doesn’t mean that I think NYC public schools will disappear. It means that, if they were to disappear, these would be the things that will do us in.

First Seal – False Prophets 

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

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Elections for new leadership in the union will take place shortly after we return to work tomorrow. The Unity Caucus, who has had a stranglehold on power from its inception, is facing a challenge from MORE this year. Don’t be surprised if MORE has some measure of success in this election.

The Unity Caucus has been running a non-campaign: not engaging with or acknowledging MORE in any way and not taking any public actions or stances recently so they don’t risk alienating more teachers. If we hear anything, it will be about how Unity brings us “experienced” and “competent” leadership.

Michael Mulgrew and the rest of Unity are the false prophets upon our land. They will speak about how they did not cave to Pharaoh Bloomberg’s impossible teacher evaluations, then they will cave soon after the elections are over. Unity will play nice with teachers over the next month, then will do a whole bunch of selling out once elections are over. Seeing as how they have three years before they face another election, they will try to get all of their selling out done over the next two years in order to give us a chance to forget before the 2016 elections.

Second Seal – War 

“Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.”

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New Yorkers will be voting for a new mayor this year after 12 years of the Reign of Pharaoh Mike I. The Democratic Party in NYC is locked in a battle over who will win the nomination and, thereby, the Mayoralty. Presumably, the favorite is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the woman responsible for allowing Bloomberg’s illegal third term to sail through the City Council. She is the person who many New Yorkers just assume to be a BloomClone.

The Red Horse of the apocalypse is supposed to be a good guy, but the red warrior in this election is most definitely fighting for the dark side. Quinn is the quintessential political operator who believes in nothing and stands for nothing. Her plan for the schools is Bloomberg Lite. She went out of her way to block the paid sick leave bill and then reversed herself when some of her biggest endorsers threatened to retract.

If Quinn ends up winning the war, our schools will not have proper leadership for the foreseeable future. This is the woman for whom the UFT wants us to wait because she would give us a “fair” contract, unlike Bloomberg. Unity’s entire “wait for the next mayor” approach to contract negotiations under the guise that the next mayor is going to be our Great White Hope is laughable.

Third Seal – Famine

“Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’”

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The “economic crisis” is a term that hangs over us with a sense of permanence. Despite the fact that the federal government and private industry are throwing more money into the education world than ever, the poor state of the economy will continually be used as an excuse as to why less and less money finds its way into our classrooms.

We have seen the deterioration of most after school programs outside of bare sports funded by the Public Schools Athletic League. Art and music have been nixed, foreign languages are starting to feel the pinch and the handwriting is on the wall for Global History. Our curriculum will be streamlined based upon what is tested and the only subjects tested are the subjects that will keep us “competitive” in the 21st century. Everything will be cut away except testing and STEM subjects. The specter of “budget cuts” will be the handmaiden facilitating this bare-bones education.

Fourth Seal – Pestilence 

“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

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The plague of standardized testing promises to grow and deepen over the next few years. A vast amount of resources have already been spent on reorienting the entire education system coast-to-coast around standardized exams. The richies who have plunged billions of dollars into the emerging testing economy will not abandon their precious investment without a protracted fight.

For high school teachers here in NYC, the new scoring policy for the Regents Exams will ensure chaos. Most importantly, it will lead to an across-the-board dip in all test scores. In his final year as the “Education Mayor”, Pharaoh Bloomberg will once again be embarrassed when the test scores by which he used to measure his own “progress” end up showing exactly the opposite. It will be a fitting kick in the pants for Bloomberg on his way out of the door.

On the other hand, it will be a sad development for the teachers who remain in the system because the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse is:

Fifth Seal – Martyrdom 

“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of The Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’”

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Once UFT elections are over, you can be assured that a deal for a new evaluation system for teachers will be squared away. Although we can’t know the details, we do know for sure that it will cause an unspeakable amount of suffering everywhere in the city.

Teachers will be judged by their students’ test scores or, more accurately, by how much “value” they “add” to the learning of their students. We will also be forced to conform to the “Danielson” rubric, named for its inventor who has a questionable education background and questionable motives for pushing her rubric. Combined with the dictate that two “ineffective” ratings in a row is grounds for termination, many good and dedicated teachers in New York City will lose their jobs.

These are not even the things that concern me the most about the evaluation system to which our union leaders agreed. The most disturbing part is how it weakens an already anemic system of due process for teachers. Restoring the integrity of due process (making it harder for principals to trump up charges against teachers, making teacher investigations open and fair and having a rational standard for handing out penalties as decided by fair labor arbitrators) should be among the highest priorities of our union leadership. Instead, they have proven willing to allow due process to rot away until we are as protected as teachers in “right to work” states.

Sixth Seal – Signs from Heaven

“There was a great Earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.”

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It looms on the horizon like a conquering army. Every teacher in New York City knows that “Common Core” is coming in 2014. Everyone inside of every school building in the vast majority of the country will have felt Common Core’s presence by then, if they have not done so already. We did not ask for it. Parents were not necessarily clamoring for it. But, like every seal of the apocalypse, it came despite our wishes.

Some people like the Common Core and others believe it is a tolerable system. No matter what you think of the content of the Common Core, the intention is obvious: to institutionalize the standardized testing regime on a nationwide basis. Imagine a uniform standardized exam that every child in the country has to take every year? Can you imagine the windfall for companies like Pearson and Wireless Generation (whatever it is called now)?

The idea of national standards for public schools has traditionally been a goal of progressives. It was a policy originally devised to motivate states to uplift their worst schools to the level of their best schools. Despite the long-time progressive pressure for national standards, it only became a reality when businessmen realized there was money to be made and a working and consuming population to be dumbed down as a result.

Seventh Seal – Trumpets of the Apocalypse 

First Woe – “And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.”

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Michelle Rhee recently invaded New York with her lobbying firm, “Students First”. Their machinations can be found behind the law empowering the State Education Commissioner to impose a new teacher evaluation system on NYC. They will continue to ravage our land no matter who the mayor or governor happen to be.

Second Woe – “It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breast plates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur.”

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The troops with the multicolored breast plates are obviously a metaphor for computers. 200 million is the amount of computers that stand to be manufactured if the idea of “e-learning” gains any more currency. The horses who blow fire and sulfur are the online classes that purport to “educate” students.

Learning is at risk of being perceived as something that can be done on the fly, at a distance and on the cheap just like “e-shopping” and “e-mailing”. Education is being commodified like cosmetics and fast food. First it was the boutique charter school with the hyperbolic name. Now, it is the online learning program marketed as a replacement for flesh-and-blood teachers.

In NYC, e-learning is the serpent that lays close to the heart. Programs like I-Learn are increasingly being used by schools as a cheap way to give quick credits to students who need to graduate on time. Very soon people will start to say, “if computers can help make up credits, maybe they can do everything else.” The destruction of public schools as a physical place will not be far behind.

Third Woe – “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet (see articles in our Prophecy section). They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day.”

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By the time all of the seals of the Apocalypse have set in, New York City schools will be ripe for the taking. The culprits will be “the Kings from the east… performing miraculous signs…” They will be the richmen who will reduce education to a series of prompts from the internet, a model which stands to make them a lot of money.

Online learning will be said to “perform miracles” with graduation rates and test scores. We will be told that the best way to get bang for our tax bucks is to shut down all brick and mortar schools in favor of online academies. We will also be assured that private firms will run these academies for less cost than the government can run them.

And then the destruction of New York City’s public education system will be complete.

While it is unlikely that all of these things will happen as I say it will, what is not arguable is that all of these forces will greatly reshape our schools over the next two years.

By the end of 2014, our children and our teachers will be operating under a whole new different set of rules than the ones in place today. It is up to us to make these rules as unobjectionable as possible.

HOW MANY INEFFECTIVE TEACHERS ARE THERE?

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This is a question we hear being asked with greater frequency. The structure of the question is telling about the climate of teacher bashing in which we currently live. It assumes that there is some sort of numerical answer, either in a percentage or an absolute value. It assumes that we can reliably arrive at this answer. Most importantly, the existence of the question itself assumes that the “ineffective teacher” is a problem, one that presumably has a solution.

Let us say that we can arrive at a numerical answer. What do you do with that information? Do you identify the “ineffective” ones so they can be better trained? Do you merely fire them? A bit of both perhaps?

Assuming there is a core of intractably awful teachers who should be fired, what do you do next? From whence is the next generation of superstar teachers coming? This is the problem. The question of how many ineffective teachers exist is part of a wider discourse that has been inhospitable to teachers. Teacher unions are breaking, if not totally broken. We have a proliferation of new standards, uniform exams and other measures designed to hold teachers “accountable”. And make no mistake about that word “accountable”. It is not being used as a promise to better inform our practice or the quality of service we deliver to our communities. Instead, it is being brandished like a noose by a lynch mob, a mob that has been stirred into an anti-teacher frenzy by a well-funded media campaign orchestrated by so-called “reformers”. We will be held “accountable” right up until the moment our necks snap.

In an environment like this, who in their right mind would want to be a teacher? What kind of person with a 4.0 GPA would want to dedicate their life to a profession accorded so little respect? Where are these great teachers for whom the way will be cleared once we fire all the ineffective ones?

Those today who ask the question “how many ineffective teachers are there” automatically disqualify any plausible solution. It is born out of a teacher-hating environment  that discourages the potentially “effective” teachers of tomorrow from entering the profession. Add to this the rising cost of college and the raising of the bar of entry into the teaching profession (including a teacher “bar exam” here in New York State, an idea that has been supported by Randi Weingarten) and you have an environment perfectly suited towards driving anyone in their right minds away from the profession.

The foregoing assumes that there is a way to identify ineffective teachers to begin with. Reformers like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan assume they have found a way: teacher evaluation schemes that rely on student growth on test scores. Despite the fact that this has been tried in major cities like Washington, D.C. with disastrous consequences, Duncan has been scaling up the standardized testing regime with his Race to the Top program. States like New York will now judge their teachers’ effectiveness with “value added” data that have such wide margins of error as to make them useless.

The consequences of this are predictable. Teachers will merely “teach to the test”. Those who dare teach students with learning disabilities will be at greater risk of being rated “ineffective”. Teachers in Long Island will be held to the same standard as teachers in the South Bronx, despite the fact that they receive generally less funding and have more “externalities” to overcome. There will be an exodus of teachers to school districts with lower rates of poverty, crime and learning disabilities.

So why the narrative of the ineffective teacher? If we don’t even have reliable ways of identifying ineffective teachers, how do we know there are any in the system, let alone an amount that warrants wholesale reform of teacher evaluations?

It has currency with the general public because most people have been to school at some point. This fact alone seems to cause people to believe that they are some sort of authority on matters of education. Moreover, everybody is a taxpayer and, therefore, the boss of every public school teacher out there, or at least the teachers in their district.

Sadly, most of these people in the general public seem not to remember their teachers with fondness. They probably did not learn a whole heck of a lot in school, or only did so despite their teachers. I can say that, throughout my public school career, I did not learn much myself. In these instances it is easy to blame the teachers. People brandish the accountability noose in revenge for all of the crappy teachers they had when they were in school.

However, just because we did not learn much in school does not mean our teachers were ineffective. First off, I have been a student in many schools and I do not really recall any teachers who did not try to teach. There are people who seem to think that teachers drink coffee and sleep at their desks all day, even though this clearly runs counter to even their own experiences. Therefore, our not learning anything certainly was not due to our teachers not trying. So if they tried to teach us, why did we not learn? Sure, it is easy to say that they were boring. Their methods did not capture our attentions. They did not seem to care about us as people. Maybe this is true to an extent but it leaves out one thing: our own complicity in not learning.

I did not learn in school because I did not pay attention most of the time. I did not pay attention most of the time because there were other, more exciting things in the world to think about other than grammar and algebra. My mind was swirling with so many disorganized thoughts and so many fleeting desires. After all, I was a kid. Furthermore, I was a kid growing up at the end of the 20th century. There were all types of toys, commercials, television shows, popular music songs and technology out there geared specifically towards me. These were usually the images and the sounds that were dancing in my head while the teacher was talking about stuff like the Declaration of Independence. It is no wonder I did not learn anything.

Yet, here I am typing away using vocabulary, sentence structure and organized paragraphs. If I did not learn anything, how did I learn how to communicate in the English language at all? I know that it was at some point in kindergarten that I was introduced to the alphabet and how to use it. I will be damned if I remember how it was taught to me. But something stuck. Many things apparently stuck because I somehow ended up knowing stuff by the time I graduated high school. Sure, maybe I did not learn the type of detail that some of the gifted students learned but there was and still is stuff in my head. I learned and I did so despite myself.

It would be easy to chalk up my ignorance to my teachers. They did not “get” me. They were “lame”. Maybe there is some truth to that. Maybe there is also truth in the idea that I was a spoiled brat who took for granted an education that children in other nations would die to have. Alas, it is uncomfortable for people to actually believe that they once were, or still are, a bunch of brats. Politicians and education reformers certainly are not going to tell them that. So blaming teachers is easier. It lets us off the hook for our own shortcomings.

The other part to the teacher -bashing has to do with unions. Apparently, most Americans are miserable at their jobs and have the fear of being fired dangling precariously over their heads. They believe that teachers, these lazy and ineffective bums that did not “get” them when they were in school, are not miserable or insecure enough. Coming from a school of thought that holds the specter of poverty and homelessness makes workers better, people have had an obsession with eliminating “tenure” under the false impression that it means a job for life. Somehow, if teachers do not have the protections that allow them to advocate for their children and are held to accountability standards that measure how many bubbles their students fill in “correctly” over the course of 3 hours, schools will “improve”.

It is a sign of a selfish, petty and downright fearful society when one group of workers does not feel that another group of workers is suffering sufficiently. Apparently, they see no connection between stripping one group of workers of its due process rights and the deterioration of their own working conditions. It used to be that teachers were pitied because they pulled in long hours without making much money. Now they are envied because they make too much money and have some tepid job protections. Rather than attempting to get “tenure” for their own lines of work, they would rather engage in a race to the bottom where nobody has any job protections anywhere.

And this is supposed to keep the “effective” teachers while attracting more “effective” teachers in the future? I hope that people eventually think about the implications of what they are saying and realize the reformers are prescribing educational poison. You think schools sucked when you were a kid? Just wait until every teacher in America has to turn their classroom into a 180-day test-prep session.

WHAT RISING GRADUATION RATES TELL US

Which world is closer to the one the new graduates are inheriting?

Which world is closer to the one the new graduates are inheriting?

So the news has been flooded with headlines about how national graduation rates from public schools are up to a level not seen in nearly 40 years:

More than 3.1 million high school students received their diplomas in spring 2010, with 78.2 percent finishing in four years, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported Tuesday. The rate is a 2.7-percentage-point increase over the previous year, and those two rates are the highest since the 75 percent rate in 1975 and 1976.

This is not the cause for celebration that the media is making it out to be. If we look at the cheating scandals in D.C. and Atlanta we see the greasy underbelly of the motor driving these graduation rates.

Public schools have been bludgeoned into accepting so-called “accountability” programs that have held teachers responsible for tests scores and pass rates. We drill and kill for exams that seem to get just a tad easier every year. We overlook behavior issues and shoddy scholarship as a shortcut to getting kids to pass. Our jobs as teachers have increasingly involved getting students to fill in the correct bubbles in a certain 3-hour span, the rest of the education process be damned.

This isn’t due to anything we have done as teachers. Our educational leaders, from the Secretary of Education on down, have done everything in their power to put this system into place. With their myopic interpretation of what counts for “achievement”, they have reduced the learning process to a series of numbers and the teaching profession to a series of steps to color within these numbers. So now we focus on the “data” instead of the child; the “value” we “add” instead of what our communities teach our children to value.

Of course we would have high graduation rates in this type of environment. We have become adept at manipulating numbers because our jobs depend on it. The Secretary of Education, the governors, mayors, chancellors, superintendents and principals all need the numbers to go up. The testing companies and data-collection companies need to show that the numbers are going up. All of these entities require the numbers to go up in order to justify their influence. They have been in control of America’s education systems for so long that the numbers better have gone up by now.

The fix was in ever since the appearance of this thing called “education reform”. They came to us and said schools were not doing our jobs. They said they were taking over the schools and running them like businesses. They expected results and they were going to get them. It was foreordained that graduation rates would reach such high levels. They made all of us conspirators in their game of reform. The teachers were taken into a shotgun marriage that tied the survival of the educational leaders to the survival of teachers.

“If these test scores don’t rise, we won’t be around long. But we will make sure that you also will not be around long.” This was the Faustian bargain with which reformers presented teachers. Stand up against the system by not teaching to the test or by exercising your union rights and you go down. Play the game and get the numbers up and we will feature you as one of our success stories, as one of the “good ones”. Everyone wins. Teachers get to keep their jobs. Reformers get to say that their policies work.

And what type of graduates do we have? We have graduates who have been trained to bubble in answers. We have graduates that need an increasing amount of remedial classes once they get to college. This is exactly the type of graduate one  would expect from a school system run on the business model:  one-dimensional, unskilled and mass produced. They are light plastic cogs to be used in a giant machine, easily tossed aside and replaced when they get used up.

And what type of world are our graduates entering? One with proliferating low-wage jobs touted as “job recovery”. One where food stamp rolls, college debt and poverty are rising. This isn’t the bright open future baby-boomers saw on the horizon. Today’s graduates are inheriting a world of diminishing limits. The future is dark and small.

What more can we expect? We have concentrated on getting “achievement” as measured in “data” so much higher because the schools weren’t preparing children for “the future”. In the process, we have neglected to prepare a future for our children to inherit. The ones who would create the future for our children took over the school system and prepared them for exactly the type of future they had in store.

Blank graduates for a blank future.

Education reform is not about improving schools. It is about hollowing out the schools because the future will be hollow. These new graduation statistics are just the results of that.

So no need to be happy. It is the low tide of education reform leaving behind the effluvia they created.

MICHELLE RHEE BOOKS THAT NEED TO BE WRITTEN

We all know the hagiography written about Michelle Rhee called The Bee Eater.

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This inspired me with some more Rhee book ideas that, in my humble opinion, should be explored. Here are just some of the Rhee books that have yet to be published. Together, I think they capture the real Rhee experience.

The Rhee Cheater

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A young Adrian Fenty wins his mayoral race in D.C. by promising to improve the school system. Who better to run his school system than a Teach for America nooblet who never ran an organization in her life? Unfortunately, things go sour when all of the dramatic gains in test scores turned out to be the result of widespread cheating woven into the system Rhee put in place. The cost? Thousands of teacher jobs, millions of children’s futures and one bonehead mayor’s political career.

The Rhee-Peter

rheepeterThis is a story about a boy in one of Ms. Rhee’s classes named Peter. One day he was making too much noise on his way to the lunchroom, so Ms. Rhee duct taped his mouth shut. Traumatized by the experience, Peter was left back. Meanwhile,  Rhee got a promotion as the chancellor of D.C.’s schools. This is not quite the feel-good story Dangerous Minds was, but it has its moments. Instead, it is more like Misery by Stephen King.

THE MONEY RHEEPER

moneyrheeperThis is similar to the Bee Eater in that it discusses many important Michelle Rhee reforms. The difference is this book shows for whom she does the reforming. Read the stories about how Michelle Rhee will do and say anything for money and the billionaires that have it. Read how she is bent on turning schools into memorization factories and teachers into fast food workers all to satisfy anyone with deep pockets who stands to profit from all of her reforms. This book will show you who put the $ in StudentsFirst.

MY HUSBAND, THE PEDOPHILE

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Ok, so I cheated here. Let’s see you come up with a Rhee-tastic title for this one. My Husband, The Pedophile details the romantic courtship of Michelle Rhee and former NBA star (and unrepentant pedophile) Kevin Johnson. Michelle Rhee did what anyone who puts “StudentsFirst” would do. She helped a pedophile who took advantage of his position as a school leader to cover up his disgusting acts. Usually, people like Kevin Johnson go to prison to be ritually beaten and shanked by the other inmates. But, thanks in part to Michelle Rhee, not only did KJ get off scot-free but he got a wife out of the whole deal. Read how KJ scarred several children for life and how Michelle Rhee found this irresistible. It is a match made in heaven. Both KJ and MR put students first in their own ways.

Seriously, how are these books not best-sellers yet?

Pyongyang in New York City

Most Glorious Leader Kim Il Sung brings the people of the DPRK much success from beyond the grave.

I think comparisons to Nazi Germany are overused. Comparisons to North Korea, however, are still fair game.

Pyongyang is North Korea’s capital. It is a city located towards the center of a country mired in famine, propaganda and gulags. Foreigners who visit North Korea are given a “guided tour” by state-employed handlers who take you around to see the most glittering parts of the city: the giant statue of Kim Il Sung, the underground rail system, the beautiful traffic ladies and the cooperative farms on the outskirts that are greener than all the other farms in the land.

Those who live in Pyongyang are the elite living a relatively privileged life due to the largesse of the “Dear Leader”, or whatever Kim Jong Un is called. Although these elites still have limited food and frequent power outages, it beats the hell out of starving in the countryside or eating rats in a forced labor camp.

Pyongyang is the showcase city. This is what happens when a dictator with absolute control runs a small, isolated nation.

And here we have Michael Bloomberg, the Kim Jong Un of New York City’s Department of Education. He abolished the democratically-elected Board of Education to replace it with his Politburo, er, I mean Panel for Educational Policy whose members only answer to him.  He has ravaged the countryside, er, I mean schools under his control through indiscriminate “restructurings” and “turnarounds”, leaving husks of institutions in their wake.

As the Daily News points out today, there is also Bloomberg’s version of Pyongyang:

New schools founded in the last three years get more money per student than schools the city began shutting down this year, a Daily News analysis finds.

Under a reform — ironically called Fair Student Funding — the city distributes the bulk of school funding based on the enrollment and demographics of each school.

The reform introduced in 2007 hasn’t been fully funded because of budget cuts in recent years, but all 30 new schools opening this year get their full share of the money to which they’re entitled while the struggling schools remain badly underfunded.

“These are the mayor’s showcase schools. He wants to show they’re doing well,” said Gregg Lundahl, a social studies teacher and teachers union chapter leader at a closing school — Manhattan’s Washington Irving High School. “It’s very unfair.”

“Showcase schools”, that says it all.

This is “Fair Student Funding”. It reminds me of the “Great Leap Forward” in China where millions died of famine.

That is exactly what it is too: famine. In order to fatten up the schools with loyal administrators and younger (see: cheaper) teachers, the schools in the countryside with more veteran staffs get nothing. They starve for resources, having to nurse a piece of chalk for days or limit the copies they make to save paper. Those who speak against his regime, or just plain make too much money, are disappeared, charged with phony crimes, hounded by his education police and put through a kangaroo show trial.

Of course, like all dictators, Bloomberg takes no credit for these disparities in funding. This despite the fact that he claimed he would have “all the accountability” for what went on in schools once he seized control of them.

See how Bloomberg holds himself accountable:

“Efforts to raise all schools to 100% of the Fair Student Funding formula continue to be implemented gradually, and have been hampered by the five successive years of budget cuts during the recession,” said Education Department spokesman Connie Pankratz.

Adding to the budgetary slight, the turnaround schools were supposed to receive an additional $31 million in federal school improvement grants. City officials said in August they would provide the schools $18 million to help offset the loss of the grant.

That is right, it is not his fault. It is the state and federal government not putting up the cash. That is Pharaoh Bloomberg’s way of being “accountable”.

When millions of people died of starvation in North Korea during the 1990s, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il never took responsibility either. It was not his bungled agricultural plan or that he failed to account for the fact that the Soviet Union was dead and would no longer be able to artificially prop up his odious regime. No way. He told his people it was because of an “embargo” by the United States and Japan. For some reason, one day, the U.S. and Japan said “you know what, we should cause the horrible death of millions of innocent people today. Let us create an embargo.”

It is an “embargo” from the state and federal governments that Bloomberg blames. If you buy that excuse, there is an isolated dictatorship in east Asia waiting for you to move there.

When the historians finally get to work on the Bloomberg regime, they will see that his policies have meant desolation for the students, teachers and parents of New York City.

A Turn of Fortune

In the last post, I explained how Save Our Schools put the kibosh on showing the film about Mary Thorson because of the accusations made against the filmmaker, Myra Richardson, some 10 years ago. By allowing an unsubstantiated accusation to determine how they treat a fellow teacher, I explained that that SOS was feeding into the culture of teacher bullying for which Mary died.

God sometimes works small miracles because SOS did allow the film to be shown at the opening day of their conference yesterday. The catch was that I would present the film. It was also shown at the very end of the day, after the keynote address and after many people had spent the day traveling long distances to get to the conference here in Washington, D.C. Needless to say that the turnout was not great and there were many sleepy eyes in the audience of those that remained.

Hopefully, the movie had an impact on those that saw it and they will go out and screen the film for their colleagues back home. This is the only way any important idea or film is promulgated among he national teaching force.

Here is the text of the speech. Hopefully, it had an impact on those who were there that night:

Presentation Speech – The Killing of Mary Thorson (8/3/12)

Thank you for having me here tonight. My name is xxxxxxx from New York City. I am 33 years old and have been teaching history in the city’s public high schools for the past 12 years. Public schools have been a major part of my life from the age of 5. Every single year since then, I have had a first day of school and always feel the trepidation that comes with i

Whether as a kindergartener, a high-schooler or a teacher, my trepidation stems from the same anxious question, which is: will I be accepted? We want to be accepted because we know the ramifications if we are not, which could be isolation, harassment or bullying. We do not want to be judged unfairly by others and have that erroneous judgment follow us for the rest of the school year.

We know if that happens, that judgment becomes a label. There are going to be people that know of us exclusively through that label. When they see us they will not say “Hey, there is Dave” or “Hiya Susan!” They will merely say there is that weird person or stupid person or ugly person. Labels objectify us, turn us into memes and dehumanize.

Dehumanizing leads to harm like teasing and violence. This is the anatomy of “bullying” that has become such a popular watchword in recent months. While the anti-bullying campaign certainly has an admirable goal, and those who have participated in it certainly are genuine in their efforts to combat bullying, I wonder if all of this new-found vigilance against schoolyard bullying is being used as a subterfuge by certain interests to downplay another type of bullying no less epidemic in our country today: the bullying of teachers. To contrast it with the schoolyard bullying that our children face, I’d like to refer to the bullying of teachers as schoolhouse bullying for two reasons: one, the worst of it takes place within the confines of the schoolhouse and, two, the word house connotes opacity, since the bullying of teachers is a secret from the public.

On Thanksgiving Day, 2011, a 32-year-old middle school physical education teacher from Illinois named Mary Eve Thorson put herself in the path of an oncoming semi on an Indiana interstate. In her suicide note, she referred to her students as her “babies”. Her babies were suffering from a school climate that repressed teachers through abuse and harassment. Towards the end of her note she asked a question that more and more teachers are asking: why isn’t anyone stopping this?

The origins of Mary’s nightmare can be traced back to the familiar culprits: No Child Left Behind, the high-stakes testing regime, the rise of convoluted education data, Race to the Top…. the bludgeons of the ed reform movement. Teachers like Mary Thorson, teachers like us, are required to comply with the conversion of their children into numbers no more valid than the numbers Wall Street dealt in before and after the financial meltdown of 2008.

Teachers have a front row seat to this corporate education show. There is a chance that a good many of us are horrified by the dehumanizing of our students as numbers. It is imperative that teachers keep that horror to themselves. To ensure this, the teachers who have civil service job protections, mistakenly dubbed “tenure”, have been the targets of a nasty media campaign to garner public support for tenure’s erosion. The media dutifully does the bidding of local leaders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York. They run stories daily about teachers accused of horrible things, or how teachers are to blame for sub-par test scores, and how tough it is to fire “bad” teachers.

They have used the very word “teacher” as an insult. It connotes an old, burned out mossback who reads the paper all day while eager young minds cry out for an education. The United States is losing ground to other countries, countries producing the next generation of nuclear scientists. Furthermore, bloated teacher pensions are bankrupting state governments during this time of economic recession. Condoleeza Rice and Joel Klein inferred that teachers were threatening national security, so teachers joined the ranks of Alger Hiss and Osama Bin Laden.

These labels and judgments create the environment that supports the bullying of teachers. The public does not know us as Dr. Ravitch or Mr. Kozol anymore. They know as those lazy hacks, union bums and public enemies. This gives local politicians, beholden to the billionaire boys’ club, the popular mandate to railroad unions in contract negotiations, which has led to the denuding of workplace conditions and job protections for teachers.

This means that those above the teachers in the education bureaucracy: principals, superintendents, chancellors and mayors, are given ever widening latitude over our careers. The bureaucracy now rewards those administrators who are the most effective at entrenching the worship of data in public school buildings. A good administrator is one whose data looks good. The easiest and most surefire way to get the data to look good is to pressure teachers to make it look good through dishonest means like scrubbing. Those teachers who refuse to do so have no protection from any harassment the administration might unleash. This is where the next step of the bullying process, direct harm, comes into play. Any teacher with a conscience and a sense of ownership of their profession is a target.

The system rewards good data. Children are the numbers they attain on high-stakes exams. Teachers are the numbers their students attain on high-stakes exams. A new generation of educators, both teachers and administrators, are being trained in this philosophy. The idea of humanistic education is becoming foreign, in favor of a worship of numbers that dehumanizes the entire learning process. Inhuman systems breed inhuman behaviors. Teachers who don’t play ball in the new regime risk facing fake and embellished charges from their administrators. Pushing a teacher out of their career, depriving them of their livelihood through harassment and intimidation, is easy in a system where humans are numbers. It is classic bullying: first dehumanize, then harm.

And so, in 2010, Rigoberto Ruelas jumped off a bridge when the Los Angeles Times published data portraying him as a bad teacher. In 2011, Mary Thorson stepped into the path of an oncoming semi. As a union leader, I have worked with many harassed teachers whose only crime was questioning the worship of data and speaking up in defense of their students. They faced termination because of it, faced living on the streets and being stripped of their identities as teachers, unable to provide for themselves or their families. I have sat with too many teachers who have cried and talked of suicide. Every time I do, I have to stop myself from crying.

Why isn’t anyone stopping this? That’s Mary Thorson’s question. Her suicide note is a primal scream of frustration over what it means to be a teacher today. The things that worried her about the profession are the same ones that worry us. Not once in her note did she mention her own horror story of bullying. Instead, she was gravely concerned for her babies and her colleagues. She was concerned that tremendous harm was being done to them and nobody cared. She was locked in an educational fiefdom where harassment and extortion from above were the norms. Why isn’t anyone stopping this? Does anybody care?

As you will see in this film, Mary did what she did for us. She wanted to draw attention to the anonymous suffering that goes on in our schools by sacrificing her very existence, which was the only thing she had left after being methodically and systematically bullied for so long.By making this film, Myra Richardson has taken the first step towards redeeming Mary’s sacrifice. With nothing but a simple camera and a laptop, she interviewed those closest to Mary Thorson and the bullying she faced. The film is a series of in-depth interviews, each of which peel back the onion of Mary Thorson’s story.

By showing this film, Save Our Schools is taking the next step towards redeeming Mary’s sacrifice. This is the first time SOS is showing a film. By being here right now, all of us share in a very important moment for the teaching profession in the United States. I thank Myra Richardson, Save Our Schools and all of you for being here for this moment. It is my honor to introduce to you Dying to Teach: The Killing of Mary Eve Thorson, Educators Who Bully

 

Dear Teacher, In Your Absence…..

Substitute teacher, the unsung hero of education.

My mother has been very sick as of late. It has necessitated me taking many days and periods off. In times of stress like this, I find temporary respite in reflecting on some of the more trivial things in life, like absentee lesson plans.

It is the policy of most schools in which I have worked for teachers to hand in three days’ worth of emergency lesson plans for the main office’s file. I suppose that, from an administrative standpoint, it helps in the smooth functioning of the school day.

While I do not like taking days off, it is something that I have lately found unavoidable. It is has given me cause to reflect upon my entire absentee lesson philosophy.

From my days as a student in New York City’s public schools, as well as a teacher who has both covered classes and had classes covered for me, I have a pretty good idea of the mood of a class when the teacher is absent. In high school, students walk into a room where the teacher is absent and reflexively think “free period”. They will sit next to their friends, usually well far away from their regularly assigned seats, and set up shop for a bull session, a card game or a freestyle cipher.

To be honest, I used to leave busy work behind when I was absent in the first years of my career. I would provide a history crossword puzzle or graphic organizer because I felt the students were more likely to do them. But then the teacher who covered my classes complained to me that the students were done too quickly and had enough free time to play around and cause trouble.

That is when I decided to go to the other extreme and provide dense readings with tons of questions. It would be the type of work that took way more than one class period to complete. I figured it would keep the students more than occupied and I can grade them on the amount of effort they put in rather whether or not they completed the entire assignment.

Then, one day, one of the school’s favorite substitutes complained to me that the students found the work “boring”. He was having trouble motivating them he said, so he scrapped my handout and did a lesson with them on the fly about the topic. His tone could be described as gloating, as if he had one-upped the regular classroom teacher, which was me. I did not have the heart to tell him how little I cared.

At the same time, I have also covered my fair share of classes. The first thing I do when I get a coverage is look over the attendance roster for names of students I might know. It usually gives me an idea of the type of class with which I will be dealing. Once I and the students are in the room, I look on the teacher’s desk for any assigned work for the period. I do not really care what type of work it is, since it is not my class and I assume the teacher knows best what their students can handle. At the start of the period, I introduce myself, ask for their indulgence while I take attendance and lay down some modest ground rules. Then I ask them the topic they are studying, hand out the assignment and let them know that I would be happy to help them complete it on their own. They will be collected by the end of the period.

There are those circumstances when the work is easy or there is no work at all. Far be it from me to let the class off light with a free period. I usually take the opportunity to test myself and pull a lesson out of thin air. If I do not know the topic, which is most likely the case with any subject that is not history, I rely on the most vocal students to guide the class through explanations. Sometimes I refer to the textbook and struggle through the topic out loud so the class can see the thought process in action, and maybe get a few laughs at my expense.

I do not recall there ever being a time when I had a nightmare coverage. For many years I was a dean, which meant I had the pleasure of getting the toughest classes to cover. For my entire life I have been a big, tall loudmouth, which means I still get the pleasure of the toughest classes to cover. Never once did I think of leaving a negative report for the regular teacher, even if the class was not the most angelic. I know that, for my part, I do not like the feeling of being told that my classes or lessons suck by another teacher. This goes double time if I am returning to work after dealing with an emotionally draining personal problem.

My view is that I am a professional and that any class will be safe while I am in charge. The regular classroom teacher should be free to recover from their illness or deal with their personal life without the fear that they will get reports about paper airplanes being thrown and “kick me” signs being taped to the substitute’s back.

I have never understood the tension that exists between the substitute and the regular classroom teacher. Substitutes always seem to find a reason to bemoan the work the classroom teacher leaves behind, or lack thereof. Classroom teachers always seem to find a reason to bemoan how the class was handled in their absence, or how their lesson plan was not followed.

Teachers have enough guilt and worry calling out as it is. No matter what work is left behind or not left behind, take your day, deal with what needs to be dealt with and come back to work when you feel you are ready to face the day. Your colleague will be there to pick you up because, at some point, we will all need to take a day for ourselves.

The days that I have had to call out lately have solidified my policy for leaving behind absentee work. My number one bottom line rule is that the work must be relevant to the unit we are currently studying. At the start of each unit, I hand out a sheet that has all of the homework assignments that go with it. If I am able to anticipate calling out ahead of time, I make copies of the exact lesson plan that I would have delivered if I had been there that day. Their assignment is to do the homework that goes with that lesson. Their motivation is that they will not have any homework for the class when they go home that evening. It is not perfect, but I find that it works most of the time.

On those days when I cannot make copies ahead of time, or when the class has just taken a test (meaning they did not yet receive the new homework sheet), I call in an essay prompt over the phone about the last lesson we studied. Sometimes, I will offer extra credit on the previous or next exam for those students who do a good job. It is a hard assignment to cheat on. As a matter of fact, students will try to work in groups and compare information. They will think in their minds that they are cheating. In my mind, they are doing exactly what I want them to do. They are working  collaboratively to write the strongest essay possible. Not only can it be an actual learning experience, but it co-opts the natural urge to socialize when the teacher is absent, marshaling that urge in the name of education. It feels good to return to work and get a stack of 30 essays packed with historical information (it feels good until I have to grade them, that is). Even the students who usually do not do homework or write essays hand in the assignment. And, in the end, if they really think they have gotten away with cheating, who does it hurt? Let them have their fiction.

So, if you ever cover my class, I apologize ahead of time if you consider the work I leave too boring or too easy or both. I am doing the best I can. We all have our days when we need to handle life outside of school. If, for whatever reason, you think you have a better way to handle my class for the day, go for it. You are the one that has to deal with them then and there, not me. I respect your judgment as a professional, even if you do not respect mine.

And when the day comes that you might need me to cover your class, I will do it dutifully and ensure that your darlings are engaged. You will not receive a bad report about your class from me. I have your back.

A Tale of Two School Districts

What do you know? A school that does not look like a jail.

To teachers in New York City, schools in the “suburbs” are mythical places. They have parking lots, swimming pools, computer labs, debate teams and lacrosse. Class sizes are small, educational resources abound and students sit still with hands folded and have names like “Cody” and “Brianna”. Teacher salaries are higher while less is generally asked of them. The only negatives we hear are about the parents who, as the polar opposite of many of those in NYC, are overly engaged in their children’s education and ready to challenge a teacher as to why their kid received a 95 and not a 97.

Urban myths? I guess it depends on the suburb.

I have a friend who is about to finish his first year as a high school teacher in an upper class school district. Before this gig, he taught in NYC for several years. In his own words, the transition from urban to suburban has been a “culture shock”.

He is treated like a professional. Administrators do not yell at him, subject him to useless professional development, lecture him in staff meetings like a child or berate him because he did not hand in or sign off on some meaningless paperwork. They respect his time as a teacher and understand that he has lessons to write, assignments to grade and students to tutor.

Perhaps this is because there are so few administrators at the school: three for a student body of about 1,300 kids. They handle the day-to-day operations of the campus while teachers lead academic departments. The only time the principal asked the teachers to do anything outside of teach is when she tried to mobilize the staff to resist the new value-added teacher evaluations.

My friend still has a tough time believing that a school like this can exist. He still fears that, whenever he sees the principal, he is going to be yelled at or harassed. He fears that one day the principal is going to take off her mask and reveal herself to be a reptilian overlord out to make his life a living hell. I think he can sue the NYC DOE and his former principal for an acute case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Since his time there, no teacher has been sent to a rubber room or reassigned. In fact, he has never even heard of any teacher being investigated for anything at the school. The staff is filled with veterans who have been there for several years, if not decades. Teachers hug their students, entertain them in their classrooms during lunch and routinely give them pats on the back and reassuring rubs on the shoulder.

And there is no small-minded administrator or ghoulish newspaper reporter there to cry “pervert”.

If I did not know any better, it seems as if my friend teaches in a healthy environment. Teachers do not come to work fearing what their principal will put them through today, nor do they have to put up with an autocratic mayor who sees himself as God Almighty. They can come to work and focus on teaching which, hard as it is for us in the city to believe, is the real job of the teacher.

You think the students at the school benefit from having a veteran teaching staff whose professionalism is respected? Gee, I don’t know, that is a tough one.

And what about us poor schlubs in the city? We may not be able to have the swimming pools or lacrosse teams that they have in the suburbs, but why is it that we are not entitled to the same healthy work environment my friend has? Why are we constantly broken down by administrators with questionable teaching backgrounds and ethics? Why do we have to open up the newspaper every day to find another round of bash the teacher?

You think the students at our schools lose out by having a teaching staff who are treated like criminals? Gee, that is a tough one as well.

So, why the contrast between my friend’s suburban school and New York City?

Because the parents in my friend’s upper class school district would never stand for it. They send their children to school to learn, to earn good grades and to build a transcript that will get them into a good college. They do not expect teachers to be babysitters, nannies or counselors. They expect teachers to teach. They cannot do that if they are in constant turmoil. A school that rubber rooms its teachers, wastes their staff’s time with useless meetings and PD and generally harasses them as a matter of policy would bring up serious questions about the leadership of that school. Angry parents will show up to school board meetings, point out the fact that their property taxes are funding their children’s school and call for the administration’s head on a platter.

On the other hand, parents in NYC are largely absent. Not only are they unaware about what their children do at school on a daily basis, but they expect teachers to raise their children for them. This creates a vacuum, one that administrators are all too happy to fill. It starts with people like the Mayor and Governor who claim to be “lobbyists” for children. Of course, this implies that parents are incapable of playing that role. And in the name of “the children”, they foist all types of “reforms” on the system that have nothing to do with learning and everything to do with building a billion-dollar edu-industry of testing and data. In order to implement these reforms, they seek out the most pliant and unimaginative people to be administrators.

That is why when an administrator says they intend to do something for the sake or safety of “the children”, you better run the other way. This means a teacher is going to get harassed. It is just like Napoleon who made all of his reforms in the name of “the people” of France.

Parents in the suburbs do not fall for this shtick. Nobody can tell them what is good for their children because they know what is good. They know what is good because they are present and engaged.

Imagine Mayor Bloomberg going out to the Hamptons to run a school system and telling the parents he knows how to educate their children. Imagine him closing down their schools, harassing their teachers and hiring yes-men (and women) as administrators. He would be run out of town as a laughing stock.

But this is par for the course in NYC, as well as urban school districts across the country. That is why in battling education reform, teachers who actually care about what is happening need to activate the parent community. They need to get parents to take the type of stock in their children’s educations as parents in the suburbs.

There is a long road ahead in this regard, but it is a fight that we cannot give up. The alternative is an eternity of harassment and misery.

The New Civil Disobedience

As I have said before, teachers, parents and students who care about  preserving public education have been backed into a corner where the only weapon they have left is their bodies.

A quality education has come to be seen as a human right. Despite the fact it is not written into the Bill of Rights, we have learned that education is a hallmark of a functioning and healthy democracy. As citizens, we have come to expect a quality education as our due.

This is why the corporate education reformers have been winning the public debate. They have clothed their privatization schemes in righteous rhetoric about our children being entitled to great schools. They have used their wealth and political power to beat teachers and their unions into submission. In New York, as well as in many other states, they have created a new regime that forces all children to be nothing but test-takers focused on short-term goals. It is no coincidence that the hedge-fund managers and Wall Street bankers were lauded for their short-term thinking of turning fabulous profits overnight.

That was until the economy crashed.

Yet,  they want students to spend 13 years of their lives doing little more than preparing for the next exam. The only number that will matter is the next number they receive on the next bubble-in test. Sounds just like Goldman-Sachs or AIG executives who see no further than the next financial quarter.

Parents across the country are making the connection between the push for more education “data” and the push for ever-higher quarterly earnings on Wall Street. Much like the data of quarterly earnings, the data of testing does not reflect much real value at all. They are arbitrary, incomplete and, sometimes, out-and-out fudged numbers that fuel a myopic system where only a few reap any real benefits.

That is why a National Opt-Out movement is developing. Parents who are involved in their children’s educations, as well as teachers who are aware of what education reform really means, are pushing to keep their kids home on test days. At the very least, they are calling for students to hand in blank exams so the private education data companies (Like Joel Klein’s Wireless Generation), have no data to mine.

National Opt-Out is the new incarnation of civil disobedience. Much like the Civil Rights protestors of the 50s and 60s, National Opt-Out seeks to disobey an unjust regime by using their bodies to bring that regime to a halt. They are defending one of our most cherished civil rights: the right to an education.

A recent article on the New York City Public School Parents website examines the problems with measuring kids by data and gives a sense of the growing frustration that is fueling National Opt-Out.

Also, do not forget to show up to the discussion surrounding the New York State teacher evaluation deal and the role of standardized testing therein. It will take place this Tuesday at 5:30 pm at Murry Bergtraum High School.

From NYC Public School Parents:

As wehavespokenout against high-stakes testing this year, after our family was first directly affected by it through our third-grade son, we have had the wonderful experience of connecting with like-minded parents in New York and across the country who are also determined to put education back into the hands of educators.

We have also heard from many teachers who, unlike parents, are often under the direct threat of being fired for speaking out against run-away testing in our schools. We would like to put forward, with her permission, the thoughts of one such teacher working in Brooklyn. What follows are her words, taken from our recent correspondence with her, with comments from us interspersed in italics.
We wish this teacher’s experiences were unusual. But increasingly this is the norm in our public schools. Professional educators across the country are being prevented from exercising their best professional judgment and are actually punished for responding to children as individuals –all in the name of “standards” and “accountability.”
Our position is simple: we want our children to be educated by teachers like this one, who care about children and learning, who recognize and protest counterproductive teaching methods that are forced on them by the state. We will not rest until parents and teachers are once again in charge of education policy, and teachers are free to use their knowledge and expertise to make learning the joyous experience it should be for all our children.
If you are interested in this issue, please attend the forum Tuesday night, April 17, at 5:30 pm, on the new teacher evaluation system and high-stakes testing at Murry Bergtraum HS; moreinfoattheChangestheStakeswebsite. – Anne Stone and Jeff Nichols
Read the article here.