It's teacher hunting season!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bloomberg style makes NYS legislators rethink mayoral control

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's governing style makes NYS law-makers rethink mayoral control:
School Debate Heats Up As Legislative Session Winds Down,
from NY1, cable news station, May 27, 2009:

Lawmakers in Albany have just over a month to decide whether Mayor Bloomberg can keep control over city schools, a task that may prove more challenging as politics and personalities collide. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wasn't in the state capital this week, but still he cast a long and not always flattering shadow.

Never huge fans of the mayor to begin with, lawmakers say eight years of Bloomberg's business-school style politics is giving them pause as they debate renewing his control of public schools.

"I support mayoral control, but I don't support mayoral dictatorship," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.

"There are numerous examples - and it does speak to a certain style which is obviously a closely held corporation," said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick.

Complaints crescendoed Tuesday night at a secret Assembly sitdown, where sources say, Democrats unleashed complaints and bruised feelings, with one even calling the Independent an egomaniac.

As evidence, accusations resurfaced of being strongarmed on congestion pricing, along with complaints about his handling of the flu scare.

The Assembly's education chair, Cathy Nolan, disputed the tone Wednesday.

"In any given conference, you're always going to have a lot of diverse opinions. There are 95 people in that room. But I think that we're on target to try to do something positive," said Nolan.

After seeing many a dream die in Albany, this time Bloomberg may get much of what he's after. Gripes notwithstanding from rank-and-file, Albany leaders are backing his central plan, with some tweaks.

There's also little talk about forcing the ouster of Chancellor Joel Klein, whose firing was once thought to be a price for renewed control.

In the meantime, Bloomberg continues to sound optimistic.

"You gotta give credit to the Speaker and education chair, Cathy Nolan, for trying to address the issue. I think everybody understands schools are going in the right direction," said Bloomberg.

"The system's transcends any individual. One of the things we've said over and over and over again is parents should have an involvement in the education of their children," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The Speaker's framework has two parent appointees on a schools board, and boosts oversight of test data and school budgets. Terms for board appointees, however, are still up in the air.

Europeans eye U.S. models to ease school segregation |

Europeans eye U.S. models to ease school segregation |

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Clickable NYC school overcrowding map

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the organization that successfully sued New York State, for more funds for New York City schools,
has launched an interactive, clickable map, at a site called,

Enter qualifiers or search limiters, such as borough, district or elementary or high school, and you can see the degree of general overcrowding and trailer siting of classes.

Once you survey the results and find them objectionable, you can then click the "Take Action" tab, leading to links for contacting public officials.

Daily News Prints Teacher Op-Ed Criticizing Mayoral Control

Sunday, May 24, 2009 the Daily News printed an opinion piece by Queens teacher Arthur Goldstein:
"Teacher Against Mayoral Control: All that power hasn't made things better"

As a teacher in an A-rated school, I believe mayoral control has been an absolute disaster.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Our federal and state governments have checks and balances so no one person has total control, which is a synonym for dictatorship.

City kids need reasonable class sizes and decent facilities. Under Mayor Bloomberg, class sizes just took their biggest leap in 10 years.

Some people say class size doesn't matter, but even the best teachers can give more attention to 20 kids than 34. The fewer kids I have, the more individual attention each one gets.

Under this mayor, charter schools get the best of everything, including small classes and new technology.

My high school was built to hold 1,800 but enrolls 4,450 students. My kids sit in a crumbling trailer, with no technology and often no heat in the winter. So much for efficiency.

The mayor says it's his way or "the bad old days." That's a false choice. We need a system that works better than what we have.

We need a chancellor who works for the kids, not the mayor. The chancellor needs to fight for what's best for kids whether or not the mayor agrees. He can't do that if the mayor can fire him for not following his orders.

A few years ago, the mayor fired two members of the Panel for Educational Policy who had the nerve to disagree with him.

Consequently, the PEP is a mayoral rubber stamp. No mayoral appointee dares to stand up for kids.

This mayor boasts about accountability. Teachers are accountable. Principals are accountable, but the only time the mayor is accountable is once every four years.

That's not enough, particularly for a man who is prepared to spend $100 million to buy reelection and who scoffed at the voters by changing the term limits law they twice affirmed.

Four more years of this system guarantees the privatization and destruction of public education in New York City. That's a prospect we should all oppose.

Weiner, Emperor Bloomberg's ad millions and the curse of Buckley v. Valeo

It is a terrible statement on American democracy that a candidate is able to buy an election. Anthony Weiner recognized this squarely in his public statement on why he is dropping out of the mayoral race.
Appearing at his old family home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with his girlfriend, Huma Abedin, a top aide for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, at his side, he gave his public dropping-out announcement.
He cited the usual serve his constituents, time with his family and dear ones and so on reasons, and he cited (emperor, I mean) mayor Michael Bloomberg's record-breaking electioneering spending.
Even more spot-on was his op-ed contribution to the New York Times, "Why I'm Not Running for Mayor".
He wrote:
. . . It’s for this reason that I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about whether I should run for mayor. While that’s been the question on my mind, a lot of people I have talked to have asked a different question: “How can you win?”

It’s easy to understand where they are coming from. All you need to do is see the avalanche of television ads for Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose huge war chest and incumbency can be daunting. It’s also easy to understand the desire to focus on the horse race aspect of a campaign.
. . . .
But it’s also true that there is no escaping the reality that political campaigns have become longer and more negative, and often seem focused on style and non-issues instead of substance. The mayor is expected to spend $80 million of his own money in the race, more than 10 times what candidates who have not opted out of the city’s public campaign finance program, as Mr. Bloomberg has, can spend in a primary.
. . . .
With spending like that, regular debates about real issues will probably take a back seat to advertising. As a native of Brooklyn, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t savor a good scrap. But I’m disappointed because I’m increasingly convinced a substantive debate simply isn’t likely right now.

The sad truth for a political candidate without deep pockets is that while money isn’t the only thing, it does matter. Campaign finance laws are vital, not just to keep special interests from dominating campaigns, but also because in this case they could help prevent vast disparities in spending.

The other truth is that the Supreme Court decision in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, which allows candidates to spend however much they want on their own races, makes it possible for billionaires to swamp middle-class candidates.

Well, kudos to Congressman Weiner for citing the Warren Burger era Supreme Court's Buckley v. Valeo decision.
This was an ignominious decision for democracy. The decision struck down limitations that candidates can spend on their elections. The authors of the Bill of Rights amendments to the U.S. Constitution did not live in our time. Surely, they could not envision the lop-sided ability of corporations or even individuals to sway public opinion. Surely, they were thinking of the right to produce and disseminate broadsheets, posters or newspapers, not the blanketing of every imaginable venue of public advertising, in unbelievable volume.
The mayor is swamping the city with mailed literature, regular advertisements on all the commercial television stations one-half year!!! prior to the election, along with billboards, subway and bus ads, radio advertisements.
The mayor's spending rate is double that of his level of spending at this time four years ago in the 2005 mayoral race: From the New York Times, May 15, 2009:
Despite a commanding lead in the polls, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has already spent $18.7 million on his re-election campaign, nearly twice as much as he had spent at this point in the 2005 race, according to documents released on Friday.

Here's how the breakdown of the information-shaping spending goes:
The filings show that Mr. Bloomberg paid $8.3 million for political advertising, $1.5 million for polling and $225,000 on rent for the campaign’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. The bill for refreshments? About $18,000 . . . . The filings offered a glimpse into the sometimes glamorous, other times more mundane conditions faced by those who work on the mayor’s campaign. Staff members have stayed at the Bryant Park Hotel ($349.83), dined at Morton’s steakhouse in Brooklyn ($362.64) and used private car services (at $30 an hour). They have also dined on fare from Dunkin’ Donuts, Ruby Tuesday and McDonald’s.

Political consultants said the mayor ran the risk of alienating voters with his spending in the middle of a deep recession.

Columbia University professor Steven A. Cohen called this, “It’s a shock-and-awe approach. . . . He’s making it very hard for the opposition to gain any traction.”

Also insidious are the "Keep NYC Going" ads in the subways, with the message that schools have improved since 2002 (i.e., the beginning of mayoral control)
(Here is WNYC radio's March 18, 2009 news report of the self-serving subway ad campaign.
And Gothamschools' report on these $270,000 subway ads.
Bloggers at Gothamgazette and Eduwonkette chimed in with facts that counter the rosy picture that Bloombergs' whoops, I mean Kennedy's foundation conveys.)

These have been running for months already, indicating that the 2009 campaign began in 2008.
(Just click to the keepnycgoing site; in a year-old statement, Caroline Kennedy, cites changes under Bloomberg: "Over the past six years, tremendous changes have taken place in our city’s public schools.")
There is an implicit political agenda in these ads. Mayor Bloomberg explicitly said that he was staking his mayoralty on education. He has implemented his education policies via (autocratic, meaning rule by one) mayoral control. Keep NYC Going ads are implicitly, then, promoting the extension of Bloomberg's oversight of the schools, which could only be implemented with the renewal of his mayoral term.

These patterns --overkill ads, self-serving "public service ads" (Keep NYC Going) ads consuming the ad space for one side of the interior of one subway car-- cannot be called democracy. Where is the conceivable capacity to have a balanced discussion and debate?
{As one comment-poster to WNYC radio's website wrote: "I am limited to giving a maximum of $5000 to political candidates. Why is Bloomberg allowed to give more than $5000 to himself?" --Why Didn't the Court in Buckley v. Valeo consider this angle?}
Here's WNYC's Bob Hennelly, reporting on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's early spending on the election:

Comptroller William Thompson, the recipient of borough Democratic organizations prior to Weiner's withdrawal from the race should excoriate the mayor for this unbalanced spending. The Times wrote, "Political consultants said the mayor ran the risk of alienating voters with his spending in the middle of a deep recession." Thompson should shame the mayor on this issue, as he campaigns for mayor. Yet, so far, his campaign has little passion or nuanced political critique.

Congress and democratic-minded campaign reform should examine this election, and recognize it for the history making sham;
they should draft a constitutional amendment to amend the First Amendment.

All the activism in the world, along with blogging, emailing, etc., are no match for the mayor's millions spent on this election.

The mayor has cast education re-working (I won't endorse his changes with the loaded term "reform") as a civil rights issue. Hasn't anyone noticed that he has secured the endorsement of dozens of minority neighborhood community organizations, and has placed the organization names in "Keep NYC Going"-type ads in community newspapers, such as "Our Times News"?
Yet, as one comment-poster at the same WNYC message page writes, the police are continuing a grossly racially imbalanced stop and frisk policy:
"Is the city Safe?
Not if you are black or Latino.
Stop and Frisks were up to over 500,000 in 2008. 82% of those stopped are black and Latino. That is a 500% increase under Bloomberg." And the news reports buttress that contention. And Brooklyn College professor Alex Vitale also cites the police department for racially imbalanced stop and frisks.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Academic paper: Gifted and Talented largely a white preserve

Study of Midwestern community argues that Gifted and Talented programs can be racially imbalanced, targeted for white students and under-representing minority students.

The study in question.

Other authors argue that the poor are also under-represented in such programs:
"Miss T. Fide," "Public school programs: Gifted and Talented in New York City" at

An October NYC parents blog post argued that the racial gap, racial disparity, is growing between white students and students of color. The blog post, "Racial gap in gifted and talented grows larger," cites published reports in the city's newspapers and studies.

In one-half dozen districts, concentrated in minority, low income districts, there is no Gifted and Talented program, according to "Fewer Children Entering Gifted Programs," in New York Times, October 28, 2009.

An archived Juan Gonzalez piece in the New York Daily News on "Manhattan Beacon School’s Racial Hope Dims"

An academic study argues that the high-stakes standardized tests for admission to such classes establishes racial segregation at an early level of students' schooling.

With the rush of many more middle class families into the NYC public schools this fall, the gifted and talented programs are likely to feel some strain in availability of slots.

A student's perspective on the gifted and talented program experience.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tot death the 2nd NYC death?; Daily News: City too slow in closing schools?

NYC's second swine flu-related death is the nation's eighth swine flu (H1N1 virus) death.
Attorney at identified AP Mitch Wiener's death as the seventh swine flu death.

There is dispute as to whether the Corona, Queens toddler's death was from the swine flu. If Jonathan Zamora Castillo's death was from the H1N1 virus, then he would be New York City's second swine flu death, and the nation's eighth swine flu death.

Click here for WABC TV's interactive map on the swine flu-related school closings in New York City and Union City, New Jersey.

As of Tuesday, 8:44 PM, WABC TV identified 22 NYC public and private schools as closing due to the swine flu.

Here is a chance to vote, albeit, in an unscientific poll, on the question of closing New York City schools.
* * *

Daily News columnist Michael Daly
wrote a long opinion piece questioning the pace of the city's response
to the flu epidemic.
Here are the most cogent points that Daly makes:
He begins with suggestions to city policy makers:
Figure out some definite rules and let us know.

Even if the number is a little arbitrary, pick one.

Say that if a certain percentage of the student body reports flulike symptoms, or if the absentee rate suddenly spikes a certain percentage above the usual rate, you will close the school.

Meanwhile, issue daily reports of illness at each school.

Fight rumor with fact.

Fight unreasoning fear with a clear policy.

He then goes on to upbraid the city for not responding more forcefully, and he argues that the city teachers' union, the UFT, is taking a greater lead in responding to the flu than the city is.
The best you are doing now is this: "If the number of children with fever and flu-like symptoms at the medical room increases or there is a sustained number of cases over a number of days, we recommend closure."

If the number of kids with flulike symptoms increases from what? And a sustained number of cases over how many days?

Vagueness leaves parents wondering if the city is only shutting schools when the teachers union makes noise.

Read more of his column at:
"City education officials fumble creation of clear swine flu school-closing rules"

Indeed, it was after the UFT launched its telephone highlight on the disease, that the city opened its own hotline, late today. (Tuesday, May 19, 2009)

Closed NYC schools for flu reaches 17; UFT establishes school flu hotline

The number of closed New York City schools reaches 17, in order to prevent the spread of the H1N1, swine flu virus. The number of boroughs touched by the closings has grown from one (Queens) to two (plus Brooklyn) to three (plus Manhattan).

The United Federation of Teachers has set up 11 hotlines to help track and prevent the spread of H1N1 flu or swine flu virus.
The number of schools with unusually high numbers of students and staff with flu-like symptoms continues to grow, and the UFT is working with the DOE and the city to respond and take every precaution possible to stem the spread and protect the health of our school communities.

Accurate and current information is crucial to this effort and so the union has set up hotlines to both gather and disseminate the latest information. The union is asking its chapter leaders, the frontline eyes and ears of the union in the schools, to report the latest data and help minimize the spread of disease.

The union has set up a hotline for every district in Queens, which has been hit the hardest, four additional hotlines for each of the other boroughs and citywide hotlines for Districts 75 and 79. The following are the hotline numbers:
Queens District 24 212-701-9604
Queens District 25 212-701-9605
Queens District 26 212-701-9606
Queens District 27 212-701-9607
Queens District 28 212-701-9608
Queens District 29 212-701-9609
Queens District 30 212-701-9610
Queens high schools 212-701-9611
Manhattan 212-701-9600
Bronx 212-701-9601
Brooklyn 212-701-9602
Staten Island 212-701-9603
District 75 citywide 212-701-9612
District 79 citywide 212-701-9613

We are asking every chapter leader to report daily the following information:

* the number of students in their school
* the number of students absent today
* the number of students sent home today
* the total number of staff in their school
* the number of staff absent today
* the number of staff sent home today
* a brief description of the activity in the nurse’s office today.

The UFT is asking chapter leaders to report to the hotline on the situation in their schools daily until further notice.

The hotlines will also be updated several times a day to reflect the most recent information on school closings.


Wikipedia's article on swine flu deaths makes apparent that AP Mitch Wiener's death was the first in the United States, east of the Mississippi River. Swine flu deaths appear to be limited internationally to the North American Continent: Canada, United States, Mexico, Panama.

From the Gothamist
Mitchell Wiener, A.P. and flu victim, will be buried Wednesday
by Elizabeth Green

The city principals’ union just passed along these details for the funeral of Mitchell Wiener, the late assistant principal at I.S. 238, who died yesterday from complications of the H1N1 or swine flu.

Wednesday, May 20th at 2 p.m.

Sinai Chapels
162-05 Horace Harding Expressway
Fresh Meadows, NY 11365
Phone: 1-800-446-0406 • 718-445-0300
Fax: 718-321-0896

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mitch Wiener a casualty of Bloomberg's policies?

Mitch Wiener, the assistant principal from IS 238 that was hospitalized for swine flu, passed away from the disease. The AP, from the Hollis, Queens school

Has the mayor been too cautious? The disease has developed rapidly, ironically, more so, following mayor Michael Bloomberg's earlier statements on swine flu and the possibility of closing schools as a precaution. (alas, I cannot quickly find the original statements or statement dates.)

On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control appears to have been too cautious; perhaps it should be held responsible for the recent growth of cases. First it recommended closing schools; then it took a conservative tack:
From Bloomberg News, May 5:
Swine flu shouldn’t close schools unless so many students or teachers get sick that the institutions can’t function, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, reversing earlier advice.

The agency today changed its recommendation that schools consider closing if they suspect swine flu. That advice led to the closure today of at least 726 schools in 24 states and the District of Columbia, keeping about 468,000 students out of class, according to the U.S. Education Department.

The Atlanta-based CDC now says sick students should stay home and shuttered schools should reopen. The original recommendation was made before the virus had spread widely in the U.S. with symptoms usually no more severe than seasonal flu, said Richard Besser, acting head of the CDC. Because the illness is so widespread, some containment efforts cost more than they’re worth, he said.


The city shut down three more schools because of swine flu Friday as the wife of a deathly ill assistant principal ripped officials for keeping his school open too long.

"I'm outraged, I'm outraged," Bonnie Wiener told the Daily News outside the hospital where her husband, Mitchell Wiener, is unconscious and on a ventilator.

"They can close a school because of snow but not because of swine flu, which is deadly and can kill you?"

"You can make up a day of school but you can't make up a life," she added.

Intermediate School 238 in Queens, where both Wieners work, opened Monday despite tests last weekend that confirmed the virus in a number of kids.

Two days later, the delirious administrator - his fever spiking - was admitted to Flushing Hospital.

Read more:


From the Epoch Times, evening, May 17, 2009:

NEW YORK—A school administrator at Queens school I.S. 238 died of the swine flu (H1N1) virus on Sunday evening. Flushing Hospital Medical Center spokesman Andrew Rubin confirmed that assistant principal Mitchell Wiener passed away at 6:17 p.m. on Sunday, and that he had swine flu. Wiener was admitted to the hospital on Thursday.

Mayor Bloomberg and outgoing Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden announced on Friday that three schools located in Queens, P.S. 16Q, I.S. 238Q (where Mitchell Wiener worked), and I.S. 5Q were closed on Friday and would remain closed for at least five school days in response to unusually high incidence of influenza-like symptoms. The list of closures has since grown to a total of nine schools in Queens and one in Brooklyn.

The I.S. 238Q (the Susan B. Anthony School) in Jamaica had reported on Friday that four students and one critically ill employee, Wiener, were diagnosed with the swine flu (H1N1) virus, and over 50 students were sent home due to flu-like symptoms since May 6. Twenty-nine students were also reported to have flu-like symptoms by the school nurse at the P.S. 16Q in Corona and 241 students were absent from the I.S. 5Q (the Walter Crowley Intermediate School) in Elmhurst on Thursday.

"We have been carefully monitoring the H1N1 virus, and we're taking this action today because there are unusually high levels of flu-like illnesses at three public schools," stated Mayor Bloomberg. "As we have said from the outset of the appearance of H1N1 in our City last month, we will share with New Yorkers what we know and not speculate on what we don't know," he continued.

Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced on Sunday that the City Health Department had recommended closing the additional three school buildings in Queens for up to five school days after documenting unusually high and increasing levels of influenza-like illnesses. The three school buildings will be closed beginning Monday, May 18th.

“We are now seeing a rising tide of flu in many parts of New York City,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden. “With the virus spreading widely, closing these and other individual schools will make little difference in transmission throughout New York City, but we hope will help slow transmission within the individual school communities. Given the large number of cases, it is entirely possible that in the coming days there will be people with severe illness from flu, particularly among people who have underlying health problems.”

Queens Council member Eric Gioia issued the following statement on Sunday evening, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mitch Wiener tonight. Mitch Wiener served the City’s children honorably for two decades and helped to educate a generation of New Yorkers. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.”

“I am gravely concerned that the City is failing to provide important information in a timely way. My phone lines have continued to ring all weekend from parents and teachers who are concerned about whether schools should be open or closed. The lack of definitive information is causing great stress on families and school communities. New Yorkers have a right to know information. If a school is safe then the City needs to not only say it is, but give parents the all the information they need to make a decision for their kids."

In order to maximize the amount of information that parents, teachers, and New Yorkers have about the spread of the flu, Gioia has called for the City to:

Publicly release the protocol for closing a school
Provide real time attendance figures for schools
Release test results for schools, both positive and negative

The symptoms of the H1N1 infection include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue, and resemble those of the seasonal flu. Some instances of diarrhea and vomiting have also been reported. Health experts advise patients experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, to seek immediate medical treatment.

The preventative measures recommended by the Health Department include frequent washing of hands, covering mouth when coughing and sneezing, avoiding close contact with people who are ill, and keeping shared spaces clean and well-ventilated.

The Health Department also recommends for people with fever, cough, or sore throat to stay home until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours in order to lower the risk of spreading the flu. Eating pork cannot spread the swine flu.

NYC Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden has been selected by President Obama to head the national Centers for Disease Control. Mayor Bloomberg is expected to announce his replacement Monday morning.

The New York City Health Department has recommended closing nine public schools in Queens and one in Brooklyn:

IS 238Q - reopening Friday, May 22
PS 16Q - reopening Friday, May 22
IS 5Q - reopening Friday, May 22
JHS 74Q - reopening Tuesday, May 26
PS 107Q - reopening Tuesday, May 26
MS 158Q - reopening Tuesday, May 26
IS 25Q - reopening Tuesday, May 26
World Journalism Preparatory (located at IS 25) - reopening Tuesday, May 26
PS 233 (located at IS 25Q) - reopening Tuesday, May 26
IS 318K - reopening Tuesday, May 26

In addition, one non-public school in Queens Village, Our Lady of Lourdes, is closed until Tuesday, May 26.

Is this death a result of overly cautious recommendations by the CDC and decisions by mayor Bloomberg?

Will widow Bonnie Wiener file a lawsuit?
I would argue that it is wrong to blame the victim, Mr. Wiener, by way of citing his prior conditions. There are hundreds of teachers and administrators and thousands of students with prior conditions; the city should be mindful of the variety of immune system strengths or limitations when making city and school policy.

Probably we will look with greater respect toward vice president Joe Biden's urging of vigilant protection, in the context of the debate with the mayor over proper reaction to the swine flu crisis.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

No weekend trains? The saga of service on some NJ transit rail lines

Considering living in, or visiting Montclair?
Fine, just don't plan on traveling on any passenger train passing through towns such as Montclair, Bloomfield, and other towns on the Mountain/Boonton line.
If one is interested in traveling by public transit to the attractions in Montclair, such as the town's quality cinema (Clearview Clairidge Cinemas) or its jazz club, Trumpets Jazz Club-Restaurant, one's transit options are restricted.

The state of New Jersey, and NJ Transit, more particularly,
wish to lure people from cars, and make less of a carbon imprint?

Then, why are some lines, that travel through towns totaling scores of thousands of residents, shut down on weekends.

Transit should be available for weekend leisure, not simply for weekday commuting.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

UFT paper blockbuster w/ DoE inside sources: Iris Blige, unscrupulous HS dictator // TAG on rubber rooms

The United Federation of Teacher's (UFT) “New York Teacher” has confirmed what has been common knowledge among New York City teachers for a few years: Chancellor Joel Klein and Tweed Hall (the Department of Education) have given a green light to principals to be wield unscrupulous power. Specifically, there has been a pattern of principals' sending teachers to rubber rooms, not for unprofessional conduct towards children, but because the principals wants to send a message that principals should not be crossed. See Jim Callaghan, “Bronx principal alleged to have teacher 'hit list' still on job.” April 23, 2009, page 5.

The UFT got three Department of Education staff members to reveal that one principal, Iris Blige, head of Fordham High School of the Arts, used her power to send teachers to the teacher reassignment centers, or “rubber rooms,” as a method of intimidating teachers and scaring anyone that potentially challenges her absolute power.

This is a blockbuster of a story. This is the first time that a print publication, with a reporter's by-line, has reported on a principal's ability to use such power. Moreover, the story carries the concession, by third parties, that a principals has sent staff to “rubber rooms” out of spite. The New York Times has address the power relationships that undergird the ability of administrators to wield unchecked power. The Times has not drawn the parallel between Mayor Michael Bloomberg's arrogance (witness his impatience at the wheel-chair-using reporter when the reporter's recorder accidentally played back recordings), the centralized structuring of power in the Department of Education (so as to elide any public input), and the virtually unlimited power granted to principals. It is rather sad in this time of the eroding centrality of newspapers in our public lives that newspapers are not taking up such crucial issues, and that we must rely on more obscure sources: union publications, local newspapers and blogs. This is not to dismiss these outlets, but the city's newspaper of record ought to take this responsibility. (Truth be told, I've had to rely on the racist New York Post and the Daily News for the above reference links.) It is fine that the minor outlets reveal this story, but they do not carry the powerful disseminating power that the New York Times does. In failing to seriously cover the Department of Education the New York Times is lessening its importance.

The minutia of the story are essential and are included. They show how bureaucratic maneuvers are used to silence and eliminate staff that speak for their rights. They also show how principals intimidate their assistant principal subordinates to carry out the dirty work for the principals:
One former AP at the school, Ahmed Edwards, said he wrote negative comments about one teacher, Fannie Davis, “under duress” because Blige said she wanted to “get” Davis so she could be sent to the rubber room, which is what happened.
Davis, who had an unblemished 35-year record, spent one year away from her students based on Blige’s accusation, which was lodged the day after Davis grieved the fact that she was excessed in violation of the contract. Davis also said that Blige accused her of threatening her.
The DOE never formally charged Davis.
Another former AP, Osvaldo Mancebo, told the New York Teacher that Blige had a list of teachers who she wanted to rate Unsatisfactory even before any observations took place.
Another DOE official, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from Blige, said charges against one chapter leader were invented by Blige because she wanted to show teachers in the school what could happen to them if they “crossed” her.
“She treated chapter leaders like garbage,” the official said. “She was paranoid. I heard her say many times that she would destroy the union.”
The chapter leader, too, was released with no charges filed after spending two years in the rubber room.
Teachers say that Blige uses the rubber rooms as a way to punish them when they defy her “my way or the highway” management style. She has sent seven teachers to the rubber rooms.
Virginia Barden is another chapter leader targeted by Blige. She has received an Unsatisfactory rating after 30 years of teaching. According to the DOE official, the U-rating was pre-ordained as a way to harass Barden and to weaken the union.
“This is the price I am paying to bring justice for my colleagues. This is the least I can do for others,” Barden said.

The UFT's "New York Teacher" story gives credence to the allegations and analysis in a wise and broad-ranging critique that the Teacher Advocacy Group has written, "The Rubber Room: DoE's Dirty Little Secret":
Certainly some teachers should not be in classrooms, but many charges against teachers are exaggerated or simply not true. For example, reporting unsafe conditions is insubordination; failing to immediately admit a late student to class is corporal punishment.

Principals frequently use false charges to retaliate against whistleblowers and to remove competent teachers who question the policies of the administration.
. . . .

The UFT is reluctant to protest the abuse of the disciplinary process. The UFT receives dues from over 2,000 ATRs and rubber room teachers, approximately $2.4 million annually. Positions for these teachers have been given to new hires and changing the system will cost the UFT money.

Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Joel Klein are looking for a union-free environment at the Board of Education. In the corporate world executives can wield unchallenged power. They are seeking to replicate the corporate world, where employees can be terminated at will. In such a work world employees never speak up for propriety for the students or the staff.

Bloomberg and Klein wanted to end tenure. They failed in this wish. But they have instead used the harsh intimidation of teachers to accomplish the goal of shortening the terms of teachers. Is it any wonder that the most common denominator of a rubber room teacher is someone with over fifteen years in the system and a relatively high salary?

On the other hand, perhaps tenure is a curse for the staff. For the health of the corporation, some executives and managers might have in mind the idea that low morale is bad for the company. Rule by terror could drive away quality staff. In the corporate world, a manager acting as Blige does, might be called into an office and told to “go easier” on the staff. Yet, in the Department of Education, principals have been given unchecked power. The ability of principals such as Blige or the recently departed Principal John Murphy of MS 8 of Jamaica, Queens, to harass both students and staff goes unchecked.
In the corporate world staff often leave corporations if the offices are too hostile. In the Department of Education tenure and the expected pension at the end of service keep teachers committed to enduring abusive relationships. Building seniority in terms of having preferable class assignments keeps teachers committed to individual schools.

Removing Blige is far from sufficient to address this issue. What is at greater stake is (a) correcting the Department of Education protocols that allow administrators to act in such a manner, and (b) the need to end mayoral control (again, dictatorial power), so as to (c) have open hearings on how principals are trained to use such power. As the Abu Ghraib and Guanatamo Bay debates are spurring us to ask, if there is such a pervasive pattern of abuse, was there ever training to engage in such abuse of power? Public education is a public service. Public institutions, the postal service, the police and the schools are operations of the state. The state in a democracy is an instrument of the public. Righteousness and democracy demand that mayoral control be replaced by a more collective structuring of power in New York City's schools.

The Rubber Room: DOE's Dirty Little Secret (TAG NYC's flyer)
What is the ‘rubber room’?

Approximately 800 Department of Education teachers are warehoused in Temporary Reassignment Centers, known as rubber rooms. The DOE considers these individuals too dangerous to be around children, yet most will return to schools after languishing for months or years in off-campus sites.

Teachers receive full pay while waiting for the resolution of their cases. The financial costs are estimated as high as $65 million dollars; the human costs are seldom considered.

Reassignment Centers are called rubber rooms because doing nothing is maddening. Outwardly, teachers play cards, watch DVDs, knit, read books, and sleep. Inwardly, teachers lament the loss of successful careers and worry about uncertain futures. Feelings of fear, doubt and shame never subside.

Why are teachers removed?

Allegations of sexual misconduct, corporal punishment and other misconduct are so disturbing that the DOE banishes teachers to rubber rooms on just the word of a principal, teacher or student.

Certainly some teachers should not be in classrooms, but many charges against teachers are exaggerated or simply not true. For example, reporting unsafe conditions is insubordination; failing to immediately admit a late student to class is corporal punishment.

Principals frequently use false charges to retaliate against whistleblowers and to remove competent teachers who question the policies of the administration.

Reassigned teachers may also be charged with incompetence or be accused of crimes by outside agencies.

Incompetent teachers should be terminated, but many principals and assistant principals are not qualified to judge competence. Principals and assistant principals are required to have only three years of teaching experience. Possession of an administrative license does not guarantee knowledge of pedagogy.

The decision to remove a teacher is often based on personalities; a teacher who caters to the whims of the administration is rarely reassigned and never accused of incompetence.


Why do disciplinary proceedings take so long?

Education Law states that disciplinary proceedings against charged teachers must be completed within five months. The DOE and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) modified the proceedings. These modifications do not provide teachers with increased protection; instead they infringe on the rights of teachers and lengthen the process. The DOE and the UFT agreed that teachers can be removed before charges are preferred. Teachers are supposed to be charged within 6 months of their removal, yet some teachers remain in the rubber room for years without charges.

The DOE and the UFT also denied teachers the right to choose arbitrators. A fixed number of arbitrators are assigned on a rotating basis, supposedly to accelerate the disciplinary proceedings. However, more arbitrators are needed, timeframes are ignored, and cases can last for years.

The accused teachers are not responsible for the delays and they can expedite cases only by admitting guilt and settling.

Teachers who are charged with crimes by an outside agency face similar obstacles. Prosecuting attorneys continually ask for postponements, claim they are ready to proceed, and then ask for additional postponements. The teachers are again powerless to hasten the process except by admitting guilt.

Is justice served?

Arbitrators are paid approximately $1,700 per day and must be approved by both the DOE and the UFT. Arbitrators have a huge incentive to please both sides.

The UFT is happy if teachers do not lose their jobs; the DOE is happy if the arbitrator renders any finding of guilt. Teachers are rarely terminated or exonerated. The decision of an arbitrator is very predictable: a finding against the teacher, a fine, and reassignment as an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).

Teachers who become ATRs are substitute teachers permanently assigned to schools. They do not have programs and have little hope of returning to the classroom in a meaningful capacity. There are approximately 1,400 ATRs in the DOE. Most ATRs are tenured teachers with excellent records who lost jobs after schools were closed

Why does the process continue?

Principals who abuse the disciplinary process are not punished and they achieve their desired results: a troublesome teacher is removed and the remaining teachers are intimidated.
The DOE hopes that public opinion inflamed by the newspapers will result in the termination of ATRs. Mostly tenured teachers will be dismissed, and teachers without tenure are cheaper and easier to control.

The UFT is reluctant to protest the abuse of the disciplinary process. The UFT receives dues from over 2,000 ATRs and rubber room teachers, approximately $2.4 million annually. Positions for these teachers have been given to new hires and changing the system will cost the UFT money.

Teachers and students are hurt by the system, but neither group has a voice.
Parents and the public are kept in the dark and trust that policymakers will make the right decisions. So far they have not.