It's teacher hunting season!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Schools grade themselves in the "Progress Report"

The Department of Education has an invalid measure of school performance. A major part of a school's grade is the highly subjective "Progress Report." This report is composed of evaluations, "Learning Environment Surveys," by students, parents, and teachers, of the schools. When we focus on this last piece we can understand how institutional self-preservation can affect a school grade on its "report card." Teachers can, either through personal interest in preserving the schools' reputation or through the principals interest, color their responses to these surveys.
Teachers report of principals who browbeat teachers during faculty meetings on the teachers' assessment of certain parts of the school.
(Incidentally, the city is also spending untold numbers of dollars on subway ads, exhorting parents to complete and submit the surveys.)
One teacher, "Miss Brave," a blogging second grade teacher, wrote of the pressure at her own school. (Thanks to Philissa Cramer at the Gothamist, "Teachers say the pressure’s on to complete the DOE’s survey," for pointed out her blog.)
Recently, we had a staff meeting about this year's Learning Environment Survey. Apparently, we didn't have high enough participation in last year's survey, so my principal wanted to give us the chance to fill it out on school time. And by "give us the chance," I mean "fill our head with strong suggestions of how to grade our school in order to get Quality Review off our backs."

Seriously, they did everything but stand over us with a #2 pencil and whisper "strongly agree!" in our ears. "Last year, some teachers claimed they didn't have frequent contact with parents, but don't forget, you send home a homework sheet every week!" "Last year, some teachers said we didn't offer a wide enough variety of courses, but don't forget, some of the third grade classes are getting a theater course!" Come on, a homework sheet? That counts as contact with parents? And that "theater course"? Is offered to an extremely limited number of classes, once a week for about six weeks. That's supposed to count? It's like we were scrabbling around for anything we could pat ourselves on the back for.

And then there's the whole Quality Review issue -- apparently, if a school receives a high enough grade on its progress report, it is exempt from Quality Review for two years. (Like, "An A keeps Quality Review away.") The learning environment survey factors into the progress report grade. So there was definitely a strong aroma of "give our school high grades just to exempt us from Quality Review" in the air of the meeting. As in, I actually overheard a teacher at the next table hissing, "Lie! Lie if it'll get Quality Review off our backs!"

Here's the thing. I don't view the survey as an opportunity to get revenge on my school (even though I'm not exactly feeling love for it at the moment). But hello, people, it's called constructive criticism, or, in my world, telling the truth. (A novel concept, apparently.) Do I feel supported by other teachers at my school? Sure! Strongly agree! But do I trust my principal at his word? Absolutely not. Strongly disagree!

I mean, don't we want to instill these values in our students? Am I moving Jonathan to a level G in reading just because it'll make him feel better and it'll make my life easier because I won't have to answer questions from my AP about why he's been an F since November? No, because you can't dress up Jonathan as a G reader and you can't dress up my school as a delightful haven for learning where everyone gets along and no one says nasty things about the principal behind his back.

So what did I do on my survey? I told the truth. My fiance says it's because I have integrity, but I say it's because I'm freaking fed up. I am fed up with being shuffled around like a substitute and with the fact that 75% of what we do is a sham to make us look good for Quality Review and does not actually benefit our students. Like, right now our administration is twisting themselves into knots to make sure that every grade has an inquiry team, because Quality Review decrees it must be so and lo, it must be! Except that in order to ensure that every grade has an inquiry team, we routinely hold inquiry team meetings that pull all the teachers from a grade out of their classrooms, and AIS and ESL teachers are dispatched to cover those classrooms, so the end result is that students are not taught. I mean, doesn't that seem backwards?!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Crains: MTA fare increase compromise now supported by exec office-holders, but not supported by legislators; Daily News on wealthy tax hike

The buzz in the last day or two has been that New York State government leaders have an MTA fare compromise that could spare transit riders a 25% fare increase.
Crain's headline to the latest major story is that Paterson, Bloomberg and Silver are on board with the now-famous (Richard) Ravitch plan compromise. (The crucial element of the Ravitch plan is the imposition of taxes on employees in the MTA service region and the imposition of tolls on the East River bridges, in exchange for temporing the looming fare increase.)
Unfortunately, state legislators are not cooperating --yet.
{{Scroll down for a link to NY Daily News article which lays out an Albany (New York State legislature) on tax hikes on the very-wealthy, with a mind to thwarting killer fare increases.}}
"Get on board with MTA fix: Without the Ravitch plan, many face unaffordable increases," March 28, 2009
The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last week did what it had to do in the face of Albany inaction—it raised fares by about 20% and made painful service cuts to balance its budget. This will harm the New York region's economy. Reversing it may depend on the actions of CEOs.

The causes of the MTA's problem are simple. The agency is broke because the recession is pummeling real estate transfer taxes, and it has no money to finance crucial capital improvements because the Pataki administration loaded up the MTA with debt that's now coming home to roost.

The solution, worked out by civic leader Richard Ravitch, is fair and equitable. It imposes relatively modest fare increases, a small regional payroll tax on all downstate employers and tolls on drivers crossing the East River bridges. Gov. David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver agree the Ravitch plan makes sense. Yet Democrats can't marshal the votes to pass it in the Senate. Breaking that deadlock requires winning over Senate Republicans—and that's where the CEOs come in.

The business leaders who make up the Partnership for New York City have stood solidly behind Mr. Ravitch, despite the fact they would be paying a new tax when they could least afford to do so. They haven't been powerful enough to tip the balance in the Senate in part because the Albany-based Business Council of New York State has opposed the MTA compromise in line with its consistent no-new-taxes position. The attitude is shortsighted and anti-downstate. A change in the Business Council's thinking would help.

Also crucial may be the Real Estate Board of New York, which supports Mr. Ravitch but whose top priority in Albany right now is rent legislation. REBNY has long been one of the most reliable sources of campaign funds for Senate Republicans; it has the clout to pressure them to support the Ravitch plan.

Some suggest the answer lies in firing another CEO, the MTA's Lee Sander. He has become a target for those who believe the MTA is bloated and wasteful. In truth, Mr. Sander has wisely streamlined operations and cut costs in his two years in the post. He hasn't solved all of the MTA's problems. Who could in such a short time? And he hasn't been the most effective politician in selling what he has done. But is that really a fault? Shouldn't the job go to a seasoned transportation professional rather than a politician?

Without an MTA fix, countless New Yorkers face an unaffordable increase in one of their most basic necessities—and the MTA's capital plan will simply stop, putting the system on the track to ruin. There are many important issues to be decided in Albany in the coming days. None is more important than saving the MTA.

On Friday March 27, 2009 Kenneth Lovett and Glenn Blain in "The Daily News" reported on an Assembly (our lower house in the legislature) plan to increase taxes on three tiers of the people with income earnings over $300,000 per year. The Senate Democrats have a competing plan on people earning over $350,000 per year. Either of these plans would lessen the blow to subway riders, modest income taxpayers in the MTA service region, and drivers passing over the East River bridges.
Overall, propects are not looking encouraging for this plan's success, as our Democratic governor (David Paterson), Assembly leader (Sheldon Silver) and Senate leader (Malcolm Smith) are not in agreement on these plans. These leaders are evidently kowtowing to the ultra-rich, while the working and middle class New Yorkers are quaking with dread at the prospect for 25% fare increases in the midst of an economic crisis.

Diane Ravitch's sterling analysis of mayoral control

Diane Ravitch wrote a moderate length piece in "Huffington Post" on mayoral control in New York City. She debunked the mayor's myths on the efficacy of mayoral control, and she pointed out has Mayor Michael Bloomberg has played loose and fast with statistics on student performance. She conceded that gains had been made; but she strongly disputed the claims of miraculous double-digit increases in performance. (Her piece was in response to a glowing report in "USA Today" that addressed the national trend toward mayoral control. OK, it is exactly two years old. But the point remains: the mayor has pushed a myth that mayoral control has produced miraculous improvements in student performance. Note the paragraph that I have given bold type: it argues that improved student performance has been the result of reforms implemented under the Chancellorships of Rudy Crew and Harold Levy.)
USA Today Gets It Wrong on Mayoral Control of Schools
Posted March 23, 2007
I don't know why. I can't help it. I just can't tolerate inaccuracy and misuse of facts. I do my best to get the facts right when I write something, and I expect others to do the same. Ordinarily, when I read something in the newspaper that I know is wrong, I have to forget about it because I don't write letters to the editor (by the time the letter appears, no one remembers the original story). But the beauty of the blogosphere is that I can nail the errors and do it fast.

My latest beef is with USA Today, which ran a cover story on March 21 with the headline "More Mayors Are Moving to Take Over School Systems." The article correctly contended that there is a movement in which mayors are taking control of urban school systems. There is indeed. But the article was accompanied by a misleading and inaccurate graphic called "How school takeovers have fared." The data referred to changes in test scores in Chicago and New York. I am not familiar with the Chicago numbers, but the New York numbers (supplied by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Department of Education) are grossly misleading.

The chart showed that New York City's test scores had soared from 2000-2005 in fourth grade English language arts (from 42% to 54%), in fourth grade mathematics (from 46% to 78%), in eighth grade mathematics (from 23% to 41%), while remaining flat in eighth-grade English language arts (from 33% to 33%).

It is strange, however, to use the data from 2000, since the State Legislature granted the mayor control of the schools in 2002, and he did not install his reforms in the schools until September 2003. So the first state test results that reflect the mayor's reforms were reported in 2004. Since the mayoral reforms began, there have been three state tests from 2004 to 2006.

So what has happened to scores since the mayor's package of reforms was installed? Instead of a 12 percentage point gain in fourth grade English arts, the gain was 6.4 percentage points (from 52.5% meeting state standards to 58.9%). Instead of a 32 percentage point gain in fourth grade mathematics, there has been a gain of 4.2 percentage points (from 66.7% to 70.9%). Instead of an 18 point percentage gain in eighth grade mathematics, there has been a gain of 4.5 percentage points (from 34.4% to 38.9%). Only in eighth grade English was there an appreciable gain, from 32.6% to 36.6%, but the score is only 1 percentage point higher than it was in 1999.

The gains since mayoral control are thus respectable but modest, not the miraculous double-digit increases portrayed in USA Today's graphic. For sure, there have been no historic gains since the mayor took charge. Maybe some day there will be, but not yet.

None of the gains, by the way, match the test score gains in the city schools that occurred the year before mayoral control began. In that year, 2002-2003, fourth grade math scores leapt by nearly 15 points, and there were double-digit increases in some of the city's poorest neighborhood schools. Also that year, fourth grade English scores went up by 6 points, which was equal to the increase recorded in the next three years of mayoral control.

The intriguing question, therefore, is what happened in the year before the mayor put his programs in the schools, because that was the year that achievement went up dramatically, especially in historically low-performing schools. Most experts at the time credited the improvement in test scores to the reforms initiated by the previous two chancellors of the schools, Rudy Crew (now superintendent of schools in Miami) and Harold Levy (now at Kaplan Learning).

The story also implied that New York City had eliminated an elected central school board, which is not true. New York City has not had an elected central school board for more than a century.

The story rightly pointed out that the elimination of all school boards--both central and community-based--has left many parents feeling disenfranchised and angry. Anyone wanting to see what New York City's parent leaders think about mayoral control should take a look at the NYC public school parent blog, where parents express their frustration about overcrowded schools and overcrowded classes (the largest class sizes in the state) and their anger at being marginalized and excluded in a school system that has no lay boards at all. (I blog there too, having been named an honorary NYC public school parent by the parent activists who created the site.)

Two months ago, in late January, the Department of Education inexplicably reorganized the school system's vast school bus routes, leaving thousands of children without bus service during the coldest days of the year. The uproar that followed ignited a parent protest movement against the mayor's Department of Education. Parents became aware that this hare-brained scheme was concocted by a team of highly paid consultants from a firm called Alvarez & Marsal, which received a $16+ million no-bid contract; half a dozen of the consultants are paid $1 million each per year to advise the Department on cost-cutting. This is the same firm, by the way, that previously managed the St. Louis school district, which was just taken over by the state of Missouri because of its academic and financial condition.

One of the great claims for mayoral control is that it establishes clear accountability. But regarding the school bus fiasco, no one was held accountable; no heads rolled. Outraged parents haven't calmed down since then.

If there were a school board, the parents would have been lining up to make their voices heard, face to face. But the mayor brushed off the critics and hired a "family engagement officer" at $150,000 a year, hoping to mollify the parents. The protest movement seems to be growing. It turns out that education requires some form of democratic governance, and that is the role of a school board, whether it is appointed or elected.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Teachers call for ouster of Queens JHS 8 principal John Murphy

Principals possess near total power. Their assessments of a teachers performance can make or break a career. On the blogs we can read about arcane procedures such as 3020-a proceedings and mysterious "teacher reassignment centers," or "rubber rooms," in vernacular contexts. Prior to reaching those stages at which administrators terminate teachers' careers are the moments when principals harass teachers.
A terrible bind that boards of education create is their assumption that teachers and principals are fully responsible for student violence or inadequate academic performance. The city-level supervisors rate principals by statistics on these matters. This creates great pressure on principals and other administrators to mask student inadequacy or student violence.
The pressure increased on New York City principals in the early 2000s when they agreed to give up tenure in favor of higher salaries. This was a short-sighted choice, for principals in schools with violent students or students that fail to perform MUST suppress any negative statistics, or they will lose their positions.
Principal John Murphy of JHS 8 (Jamaica, Queens)laid out the connection between bad statistics and how the city views when addressing one teacher, "Failures, suspensions and school incidents all play into your school's grade," according to teacher Melissa Weber.

See Clare Trapasso's March 27, 2009 article in the "New York Daily News":
(I have bolded the principal's statements that represent the tip of the iceberg in public education in New York City.)"Teachers call for ouster of principal John Murphy, accused of outburst that sent aide to hospital"
It can't be easy being John Murphy.

Last week, the Middle School 8 principal was accused of a verbal outburst that upset a teacher's aide so badly that she went to the hospital.

This week, teachers protested outside the Jamaica, Queens, school every day calling for his removal.

They accuse Murphy - who many say is abusive to teachers and staff - of intimidating them into inflating grades to boost the school's ratings.

"We were told last year that we could not fail a child under any circumstances," said Melissa Weber, an eighth-grade social studies teacher.

"Failures, suspensions and school incidents all play into your school's grade."

Weber said she found out the hard way how important that was to Murphy after she failed five of her 120 students last year.

"I was called into his office and asked how dare I not follow a directive," Weber recounted. "He explained to me that I had to change them. ... I was afraid that I was going be fired if I didn't."

Weber is one of several teachers who say they were told not to fail students.

Murphy could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Pressuring educators to change grades is a serious offense, said Jay Worona, general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association.

A principal who alters grades to make a school look good can lose his or her administrator's certification and job, he said.

Following the incident with the teacher's aide, city Education Department officials said there were no plans to fire Murphy.

"Under Principal Murphy, [MS] 8 has improved from a D to a B, and the school just came off the state's list of failing schools," said agency spokesman David Cantor.

But the agency is investigating Murphy for the teacher's aide incident and another case - not necessarily for grade inflation - an official said.

Inflating grades isn't the only thing Murphy's been accused of since he came to MS 8 in 2005.

"He's had consistent complaints of harassment, intimidation and demonization of the teachers, parents, students, volunteers," said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans). He has urged Murphy be removed.

That doesn't surprise William Murray, president of a Connecticut teachers union.

Trouble has followed Murphy since he was principal of Danbury High School - from the summer of 2003 until he resigned in March 2004, said Murray.

"Some people felt that he was intimidating," Murray said. "The whole climate was not pleasant."

Teachers such as Deborah James, an MS 8 special-education instructor, are hoping Murphy resigns again.

"We plan to demonstrate until his removal," James said.

See also Maggie Hickey, WCBS-TV, Channel 2's report on Principal Murphy, "Teachers, Parents Want Queens Principal Ousted: Dr. John Murphy Of Junior High School 8 Accused Of Verbally Abusing Those In His Charge, Acting Like Dictator."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Addendum on PIP+ dangers to teachers

An addendum to my post earlier this week on PIP+ perils.
Thanks to Chaz and his blog, "Chaz's School Daze."

He has brought important statistics to the pattern of using PIP+ to terminate teachers.
See Chaz' latest blog post on PIP+ in the Gotcha Squad process.
What is very interesting about how the "gotcha squad" works is that they seem to require that the targeted teacher go through PIP+ where 75% of the teachers are found incompetent. More about PIP+ in a later article but it is safe to say that the union approved PIP+ is just another Tweed tool to terminate teachers. Furthermore, the Principals are required to fill out the "Principal Worksheet To Terminate The Teacher." Finally, the Principal gives the poor teacher her final "U" observation once PIP+ is completed and the teacher is now removed from the classroom and the eventual filing of 3020-a charges a couple of months later.

Public forum: NYC school closings on March 28, at John Jay College

NYC teacher activists have planned a public forum on NYC school closings for

March 28, 12 PM (noon), John Jay College, Room 1311 of The North Building
445 West 59th Street (west from Columbus Avenue, toward 10th Avenue)
The conference is open to the public, not just to teachers.
For more information call: 718-601-4901 or email:

Speakers will also address: the Absent Teacher Reserve ("ATR") issue, as well as high-stakes testing.

Here are the websites of the main sponsoring organizations: UFT-ICE, Independent Community of Educators,
and a non-caucus groupNY CORE, New York Community of Radical Educators.
The conference has been endorsed by Teachers for a Just Contract and other teachers' organizations.
Click HERE for a pdf flyer for the event.

Dozens of schools have closed under Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Click here for a list (posted by Norm Scott) of the high schools that the Department of Education has closed since 1999. The number has leapt considerably, since Joel Klein replaced Harold Levy in 2002. Scott has listed schools by the last year that freshman classes were accepted. Bayard Rustin High School, Louis Brandeis High School, both in Manhattan, and Franklin K. Lane in Brooklyn, are the latest casualties.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

MTA closer to hike; Gov. Paterson playing chicken

Doomsday News: MTA Votes, Paterson Plays Chicken
by Brad Aaron on March 23, 2009

The MTA's doomsday scenario came closer to fruition today, as agency board members took a step toward implementing planned fare hikes and service reductions while state lawmakers appeared mired in stalemate. Here are a few tidbits.

Newsday filed this report on the MTA Finance Committee meeting (as live-blogged by Second Avenue Sagas), where members voted to recommend revenue-saving measures to the full board, now set to make its decision on Wednesday:

MTA board chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger urged the agency's finance committee to adopt the fare hikes and service cuts even though he called them "horrific."

"This represents as good a job as human beings can do to divide the pain as equally as we can," he said.

The Gothamist site reported late Monday on details of the increase:
A ride on the subway is fast becoming a luxury item: Today the MTA Finance Committee voted to approve a package of steep fare hikes that would increase the cost of a single subway or bus ride from $2 to $2.50. In addition to the base fare increase, the cost of a 30-day unlimited-ride MetroCard would go up to $103 (from $81), while a weekly unlimited-ride MetroCard would increase $6 to $31. The full MTA board will vote on the fare increases Wednesday, and the changes will likely go into effect in June unless legislators in Albany can come to terms on a bailout package for the MTA.
One alternative plan being batted around Albany would feature a smaller, 8 percent fare increase, tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges, and a payroll tax on businesses in counties served by the MTA. Testifying before the committee, Gene Russianoff at the Straphangers Campaign called the fare hikes "ugly" and criticized the State Senate's bailout plan for "failing to address the transit system’s rebuilding needs."

The MTA Finance Committee vote took place as state lawmakers in Albany sought to reach a compromise on a bailout plan that would avoid the worst of the planned fare increases and service cuts.

At a news conference after the committee vote in Manhattan, Hemmerdinger was asked if he had any message for Albany. He said, "How about: 'Help!'"

In Albany, Governor Paterson engaged in what Liz Benjamin of The Daily Politics described as "a game of political chicken" when, flanked by a silent Malcolm Smith and Sheldon Silver, he urged the MTA to go ahead with higher fares and service cuts without waiting on assistance from the legislature.

"Delaying action, to me, would just ring too true to what's gone on in Albany too many times," Paterson said. "I'm not in favor of delaying any action that was scheduled."

Where does Working Families Party on transit hikes?

Monday, March 23, 2009
Where Does the Working Families Party Stand on MTA Rescue?
by Ben Fried

Millions of New York City bus riders are counting on an MTA rescue plan to maintain service and hold fares down.
Last week, some of the biggest unions in New York came out in favor of the Ravitch Commission's MTA rescue plan, including the bridge tolls that a handful of state senators refuse to support. So, what is the stance of the Working Families Party, which is closely aligned with labor? Founded in 1998, the WFP is a growing force in city and state politics. Its endorsement, and the ballot line that comes with it, has become a sought-after electoral commodity. In the current round of state budget talks, the party is widely credited for advancing higher taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, now viewed as all but inevitable.

A plan to save transit service and spare New Yorkers the burden of drastically higher fares would seem to match the Working Families Party agenda perfectly. The party has a public transportation plank, and has touted a halt the hike website in tandem with the Straphangers Campaign when higher fares loom. The car commuters who would pay bridge tolls earn far more, on average, than the transit riding majority. But on the question of the Ravitch Plan, the party has been mum in public.

"We haven’t taken a pro position on the Ravitch Plan itself," said WFP spokesman Dan Levitan. "We haven’t had the bandwidth to do a public campaign around this, since we've been fighting so hard on the general budget. We've been trying to defend the Silver/Paterson [transit funding] compromise in the Senate."

In the last election, three of the key players in the Senate hold-out were endorsed by the party: Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, Fare Hike Four member Hiram Monserrate (indicted on six counts today for assaulting his girlfriend), and Kevin Parker, a bridge toll opponent whose Brooklyn constituents face a slew of service cuts [PDF]. Will the Working Families Party ballot line still be available to these legislators if doomsday comes to pass?

Monday, March 23, 2009

NYC teachers: Beware of the new PIP+ !

New York City's Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers have established the Peer Intervention Program to assist teachers that have received two unsatisfactory, or “U” ratings in a row. (The principal wants the teachers out of the school and the profession.) The PIP observers observe the teachers for ten weeks.

The are several problems of grave concern to the teachers under review in the new version of the Peer Intervention Program. PIP has changed from the original program format. The new program is the “PIP+” program. In the new design of PIP+ there are aspects of secrecy, of non-transparency, that work against the teacher, and in favor of the principal.
The intent of the original PIP program was to provide teachers with an opportunity for growth. Experienced teachers could be trusted to work in confidence with teachers, and as aides with the teachers. Under the original PIP program teachers would be spared the risk of being observed by an administrator for the period of months that the teacher was being observed by the PIP observer.

In the new PIP+ program, the PIP+ observers do not show the observations to the teachers, instead, they only show their reports to the principals. The observations only are revealed to the teachers when they are charged at the 3020-a hearings (incompetency hearings, to strip teachers of their teaching license). These observations are used as ammunition against the teachers, as part of the charges against them in the 3020-a process. The teachers have been told that if they do not participate, this will be used against them as act of insubordination at the 3020-a proceedings.
The PIP+ observers write things about the teacher that might not even be true. The teacher will not have any defense. One PIP+ observer told a teacher that she was an ideal teacher, that she did not actually understand why the observed teacher was being subjected to the program. However, the observer wrote in her report that the teacher was incompetent in performing her lessons.
The observers have the appearance of being independent outside observers, but they are being hired by and paid by Department of Education. There is a known case in which a principal called a PIP observer, asking her to come in, to observe a teacher. The observer testified under oath that she had never been in the school before. However, the teacher in question hired a private-eye to find the truth. The investigator uncovered that the PIP observer had previously been in the school, that she had lead a professional development session at the school.

The conclusion that teachers and their advocates should draw from these details is that a teacher should not sign up with the PIP+ program. Teachers that are pressured to sign up with PIP+ should ideally say, “I don't want to say anything or participate in anything that could wrongly jeopardize an assessment of my performance. I need to know that what actually happened in the classroom is going into the observation report.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

It's 11 O'Clock --Why is the library lit like a Christmas tree????

It's 11 PM. We're in an energy crisis, in a manner of saying. And we are without question in a financial crisis in New York City.

So, why are public libraries lit ALL NIGHT LONG? If it is a matter of security of the buildings, have a sole light, connected with an electric eye, and a red night light.

The expense of powering the buildings' lights would make it economically rational to have metal gates on the windows instead of turned on lights.

Alas, none of that in New York City.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

AFT, UFT President Weingarten, critical words (on News Hour) for testing emphasis

American Federation of Teachers and United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was among people videoed for comments, in preparation for a PBS "News Hour" report on Arne Duncan and current issues in education.

Weingarten had critical comments on the emphasis of testing in schools today.

Anger at a public forum on Mayoral Control of NYC schools

Here is the text counterpart to Beth Fertig's report to WNYC radio, March 13, 2009, "WNYC News Blog: Tempers Flare at Hearing on Mayoral Control of Schools":
(Notes such as references to names refer to photos from the forum at WNYC's site.)
Sparks flew in the Bronx today at the State Assembly Education Committee’s hearing on mayoral control of the public schools.
Shana Marks-Odinga and Zakiyah Ansari of Campaign for Better Schools at the Assembly Education Committee hearing today in the Bronx. They want more checks and balances on mayoral control when the law comes up for renewal in June.

With the law granting Mayor Bloomberg full control over the school system of more than a million students set to expire in June, assembly members peppered Department of Education officials with questions - specifically about programs for English Language Learners. It was an especially relevant issue as the Bronx is now more than 50 percent Hispanic, according to census figures.

Milton Bustamante, Jeanette Iglesias, and Karin Weekes at the State Assembly Education hearing at Lehman College in the Bronx. They all have children who attend the Family Life Academy charter school and they believe having the mayor in charge has improved the schools.
Maria Santos, the Education Department’s executive director of English Language Learners, testified that there are now more programs for these students. She said the number of English Language Learners performing at the lowest levels has decreased in the Bloomberg years and that the city has created more dual language programs - though she conceded the graduation statistics were less clear. But Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo called her a “liar” (in Spanish and English) and proposed a collaboration with a University in Puerto Rico to prepare more teachers for working with English Language Learners. And parents and community members in the auditorium at Lehman college erupted with boos as Santos testified.

Jane Hirschmann of Time Out from Testing opposes mayoral control in its current form, and wants the mayor to have a "partnership with parents" with no veto power. Her three children attended the public schools.

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell also asked why a school on the Upper West Side was being replaced by a charter school that has no experience with teaching English Language Learners. Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf said he would have to look into the matter, but said charter schools overall are serving many English Language Learners and have academic achievements that surpass those of schools with comparable populations. Cerf’s comments were cheered by the dozens of charter school parents in the room, who support mayoral control. But opponents of mayoral control gave the panel Bronx cheers. Assemblyman Mark Weprin muttered a word of advice to the the Dept of Ed representatives: “Like A-Rod you gotta ignore the crowd.”

Monday, March 9, 2009

Choices of high speed Internet providers

In the old days you could visit a NYNEX office; in between their various merges and name changes Verizon closed off the option of going to an office to straighten out your bill, request or acquire a telephone directory, or pay your bill.

Now, the customer service has gotten worse.
A service representative provided poor service, refused to let me speak to a supervisor, and as a result has lost a Verizon customer.

Here is a good way to compare and shop for an Internet Service Provider (ISP): read comparison reviews.

More professionally, J.D. Power reviewed several ISPs and provided a chart at this address, comparing aspects of service of several ISPs.
Verizon rated inferior to Cablevision, Cox, EarthLink and Time Warner's Road Runner in terms of customer service and billing, two main areas of concern for me, in terms of how Verizon has handled my concerns.

PC World's ISP comparison table, from Fall, 2007.

PC Magazine's comparison article, early 2007.

Computer World's ranking of ISPs.

The user forums include discussion of the various packages, dial-up, DSL, high-speed, cable-provided Internet, FIOS, and Internet bundled with television cable service.

Here is Broadband Reports / DSL Reports' site assessing Optimum Online.
And their site for user reviews of Verizon.
And their site for user reviews of Earth Link.
Their site for Cablevision.

These sites include ratings for pre-sales information, install coordination, connections reliability, tech support, services, and value for money.
(And here is a meta-comparison result, at ConsumerReasearch, of competing ISPs.)

Optimum Online, a broadband subsidiary of Cablevision, does not appear in most of these ratings (except Broadband Reports / DSL Reports). This is probably becauses the service has a regional area (metropolitan New York and parts of Connectict, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

What to unplug, to save electric bills

An energy institute has measured the power usage of various types of chargers and appliances. Unplugging the right appliances can save you money in your electric bill.

Click on this link to access Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's table of "Standby Power Summary Table."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

School Governance flyer - ICE's excellent critique & recommendations

It is a travesty that the New York City Education Department (formerly the Board of Education) is run so autocratically and that overpaid, no-bid consultants soak up funds that would be better used in the classroom. Additionally, it is a travesty that Chancellor Joel Klein has NO educational experience and that the Education Department has rushed administrators through the Leadership Academy. The result? Far too many principals and assistant principals now have as little as two or three years in the classroom as teachers.

The following is the content of the Independent Community of Educators caucus of the United Federation of Teachers (ICE-UFT)'s flyer that outlines an alternative vision of school governance. This makes it all the more essential that concerned individuals (parents, teachers) attend the final public meeting on school governance, on March 20 at the Marriott Hotel, on Adams Street in downtown Brooklyn. (See my blog post of March 1 on this issue.) There is an imminent deadline of June 2009 for finalization of any revision of school governance policy.
Now, the flyer's contents:
Independent Community of Educators
Minority Report: School Governance

The imminent deadline of June 2009 does not permit time to deliberate and articulate the details of a comprehensive governance structure. A Transition Team, appointed by the NYS Ed. Department for a period of no longer than one year should be established to maintain the system on an interim basis and plan for the structure. Public hearings should be held. They should be well-publicized and held at times and places that insure maximum turnout.
We suggest the following guidelines:
1. The system must be based on democratic participation of the community with decision making flowing from the school level to a central body.

The creation of true school leadership committees with shared decision making, as defined by NYS Law, will create a Comprehensive Education Plan which will set goals and make recommendations about improving the quality of education in each school, with reference to but not dictated by citywidepolicy.The administration, faculty and parents will have an equal role on the committee. In their augmented role in the school committees will be reconstituted, with special attention to making them more inclusive and accessible to teachers and parents.
The duly elected and well trained committees appoint their principals who will maintain a collaborative relationship with the committee and the entire staff.
Management begins at the school level, with a central organization to standardize some components, manage overall system responsibilities (licensing, payroll, contract negotiation, etc.)
District Superintendents are selected by school leadership committees in the District in which they serve. The major function of the District Superintendents will be to provide friendly criticism and support, monitor the implementation of the Comprehensive Education Plan and to advocate for the needs of their respective schools.

2. The DOE must be politically neutral and not tied to any one political office. A school system cannot change/adjust according to the whim, caprice, political aspirations, career, or ideology of a politician. It must be run as an independent office with responsibilities to the people of the City and operate within the regulations and laws of the NYS Ed. Department.

A Central Board responsible for general and overall policy and oversight of all services that are centrally located will be made up of five elected members, one from each borough; one appointee from each of the borough presidents and three Mayoral appointees. A teacher representative will be selected by the UFT. All will be elected/appointed for set terms and removed by the Central Board by a 2/3 vote only for cause.
The Central Board will appoint a Chancellor, who has demonstrated success as an educator.
The Chancellor’s role will be to advocate for policy, law and funding; develop guidelines, benchmarks and tracking systems for school needs and achievement; report to all elected officials; monitor the District Superintendents; establish a human resource department; negotiate contracts, and insure that they are upheld.

3. Benchmarks are to be established and evaluations conducted by an independent agency.

Evaluations of schools and students should be based on multiple measures and should be used for gathering information in order to provide support.
Responsibility for the analysis and evaluation of the Dept. of Education's programs will be given to the Public Advocate. The Advocate's Office will have statutory authority to review all Dept. of Education documents and willreceive all resources currently allocated to the Dept. of Education for the review and analysis of their programs.
The Advocate's Office will be required to produce an annual report evaluating the progress of the Dept. of Education in advancing students' skills, reducing absenteeism, increasing the high school graduation rate and any other measure that would demonstrate success. The Advocate's Office would then produce reports based on an established schedule determined by when data is available.

4. Inherent in the system design must be respect and support for all constituents.

School leadership committees, representative of their schools’ constituents, (staff, parents, students in the middle and high schools and their community) under the leadership of democratically oriented principals decide the programs and teaching strategies best suited to their students. Teachers are respected for their experience and expertise in teaching and learning.
All schools provide a comprehensive education program including the core curricula areas, performing and visual arts, health and physical education, career and technical education, and technology.

5. Funding must be fair, equitable, transparent, with budget decisions made at the school level.

A larger portion of the funding received by the federal, state and city will be managed by the schools. The school leadership committees will determine how funds are spent.
Equitable funding developed by central staff and approved by the Central Board will determine how much money each school receives. Budgets and expenditures at all levels of the system will be made available for review by the public. The City Council is to be involved in this process.
Funding and spending will be monitored by the Comptroller.
All contracts will be put out to open bid and made public via the Internet.

6 . School and District lines must be drawn in a way to preserve and strengthen the integrity of neighborhoods and communities.

In the creation of district lines, consideration can be given to existing community planning boards/combining boards.
All registered voters and parents are eligible to vote for district councils.
Non-registered parents can vote on separate voting machines at each poll site dedicated solely for the purpose of electing the councils or with a mail in ballot. While this will necessitate an additional eligible voters list, the input of the public is necessary in a democratic society that must take responsibility for schools.
District councils will serve as a public forum for parents and community and serve as a liaison between the District and the Central Organization.

7. A system of checks and balances will be put into place to give voice to all constituents.

Parents and Students will have access to an Education Council within the Office of the Public Advocate to provide assistance and guarantee its rights. School staff will be represented by their unions.
The City Council will have non-voting representation on the Central Board.
Professionals creating and implementing instructional policy should have classroom teaching experience so that they have a clear understanding of the implications of their decisions.
The Chancellor, principals, assistant principals and other pedagogical supervisors must be experienced educators, with a minimum of five years of classroom experience; no waivers will be granted.

February, 2009

Again, click here for the ICE-UFT "Minority Report" flyer on school governance.

Organizers' workshop ("Troublemakers School")

We are beset by onerous workplaces, undemocratic unions and politicians that do not heed the full wishes of the people. It is always helpful to build one's skills by listening to the words of more experienced organizers.

This current economic crisis and the stalling by some Democratic politicians against redistributive change (e.g., New York's Governor David Paterson) make activism all the more urgent.

Saturday, March 21, Labor Notes, the labor magazine oriented towards addressing autonomous (i.e., bottom-up, workplace-based) union activism, is hosting a "Troublemakers School" in New York City, at the Murphy Institute, 25 W 43rd Street, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

The opening session theme is "The Economic Crisis and Working New Yorkers."

Click here for the pdf flyer on the event.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Seldom a snow cancellation of classes .. Notice given FAR too late

Here we are, hours away from what is projected to be the hugest snow storm the city (NYC) has seen under Mayor Bloomberg, and there is no comment about a snow day.
(There are estimates that 14 inches of snow could fall by Monday morning's commute.)
In other adjacent municipalities local governments are advising against driving, some advising against leaving the house unless necessary.
Yet, in keeping with an apparent tradition that stretches back, at least to mayors in the 1980s, the mayor is apparently steadfast against a school closure. This is in spite of the fact that on Sunday, March 1's 11 PM television news, nearby school systems, in Newark, Jersey City, Bayonne, and on ... had declared their schools will close.

This reckless refusal to close schools, under almost any snow circumstance, places students and teachers at safety risk. It is truly miraculous that no disasters have struck individuals under these circumstances.
= = =
The mayor gave notice about the storm, far too late, at 5:50 AM. This is a city where schools often start at 7:30 AM. Commutes start early. Additionally, there are teachers that begin their commutes (from the far stretches of the outer boroughs, Long Island or even New Jersey) at about 5:50, or shortly thereafter. This notice was given far too late.

Rally against Gov. Paterson's cuts

Governor David Paterson is really governing as a centrist. Though a Democrat, his budget proposals are wielding a sharp axe against essential public services, i.e., hospitals and hospital workers.

Join the rally of education and health workers, at City Hall (albeit, the seat of city government, not state government) on March 5, 4 PM, protesting against Paterson's cuts. Click here to download the flyer.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

You, the public, and your last chance to speak on mayor control of the schools

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has transformed the New York City school system by centralizing the schools under his control.
He has had as a partner, Joel Klein, to serve as schools chancellor. He is a corporate lawyer, who had no experience with the education field.
Seldom mentioned among education critics has been the role by computer software and operating system monopolist Bill Gates. Through his Gates Foundation he has pushed his educational ideas and agenda. The roles by Klein and Gates are problematic because they lack experience in education. Schools are not businesses; they cannot be addressed in such a manner.
Later this month, on March 20, 10 AM, the public will have its last chance to speak out on school governance. People will have an opportunity to express their reactions to the direction of school policy. People will have much to say about the Mayor and the Chancellor.
The meeting will be in the auditorium of the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel at 333 Adams Street. (Take the 2,3,4, or R to Boro Hall or the A, C or F train to Jay Street/ Boro Hall.)

(See the ICE faction of the United Federation of Teachers and their report suggesting an alternate direction for school governance.)
Another teacher's public statement against the UFT's stance on school governance.

Privatization of government, policy
Many critics have criticized, and will criticize on that day, the closed manner of public policy making by the Mayor and Chancellor. However, they should also criticize the overlap of private organizations in the city's education system. We have a democracy so that we can participate in our government. Instead, the mayor has elided any public role. In its place he has concentrated all decision making power for himself and the chancellor. And along the way he has made private institutions have a central role. He has hired no-bid private consultants.
The critics should not forget to criticize Bill Gates' role. What right does Gates have in setting an agenda for our public schools. Through his foundation he has pursued an agenda of replacing large established schools with smaller schools. Where was the public discussion of this matter? Where was any discussion that cited literature and weighed the benefits and disadvantages of pursuing a small school movement?

On another front, in a period of budget crisis, when there is a hiring freeze on teachers, the city is hiring more bureaucrats and lawyers at the Education Department's Tweed offices. (See "The New York Daily News," February 23, 2009.") This further illustrates an imperviousness on the part of the mayor and chancellor.