Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

The UFT and the DOE: Reflections On A Deal Gone Bust

January 17, 2013

When the email proclaiming no deal between the DOE and the UFT arrived at 2:00 in the afternoon or so I could scarcely believe my eyes.  I suspect that there were many teachers who felt the same  way.     For days I was expecting to arrive at tonight’s Delegate Assembly   to protest what many (myself included) had believed to be a long ago done deal, one inexplicably validating the pseudo science of Value Added Metrics, (VAM) and one rammed into reality without the consensus of the dues paying rank and file whose careers and lives would sure to be hugely affected by it.  My suspicions were made much greater after reading the repugnant post of one Peter Goodman, a retired teacher in no way affected by the evaluation plan, who nonetheless attempted to paint those who opposed the plan as nothing less than Tea Partiers whose small minds failed to realize that the UFT had to please not only the rank and file but Mike Bloomberg, the sleazebags of DFER, and even Michelle Rhee.

Goodman, it was said, was merely a mouthpiece for UFT leadership,

Good God, I thought, is this the true thinking of the UFT?  Needing to please the very forces that have made no secret of their desire to eradicate the very idea of union from human consciousness?  Can it really be this bad ?

With thoughts like this in mind the email at 2:00 came as a jolt —  a jolt that also came with a long over due and unfamiliar feeling of pride in the UFT.  Here they stood up to the venal little bastard in City Hall after all.   Yippie!  Michael Mulgrew even went so far as to publicly call Bloomberg a liar —  six times, he said.

About time, I thought.

When I arrived at UFT headquarters   I encountered something I never  imagined  possible:  a line to get in to the DA that snaked two blocks up Broadway.  Seemed like every chapter leader and delegate in the city had arrived  — but to do what?  There was a strange and almost giddy feel in the air when Mulgrew at last arrived (to great applause) to speak about what happened.

There was, apparently, a deal said Mulgrew,  but Bloomberg being Bloomberg imploded it at the 11th hour.   Mulgrew clearly lamented Bloomberg’s maneuver and spent a lot of time explaining what he felt was good about the plan.  The foolishness of the initial buying into Race To the Top and the presence  of the aforementioned error ridden Value Added Metrics (now apparently called “growth”) were never mentioned.

Little by little the air went out of the balloon.

I was happy to see the thing torpedoed but I have no illusions about the lousiness of the state of things as they are.  Wind up with a psycho principal (a reality I am all too familiar with even if I do not live with it now) and you can kiss your career goodbye and there is nothing the union can do about it.    Such is the reality after a decade of capitulations to those who live to destroy you.

I’m glad I was wrong about the UFT standing up to Bloomberg and his allies.  I’m glad to see it happen at the very moment the bus drivers have gone on strike and further expose this man Bloomberg for the union busting pathological monster that he is.  I was glad to see the smiles on the faces of my long-suffering colleagues.  But I have no illusions that what transpired in the past 24 hours is anything but a brief respite in a war of life or death.  I would like to think it could signal a new beginning but I can’t quite believe that.

I would love to be wrong about that as well.

The Common Core: Putting Corporations First. Always

November 17, 2012


There is an old saying that’s been running through my mind quite a bit these days:  “What is good for the goose is  good for the gander.”

Alas, alas…some seem to disagree.

For the past decade American teachers have been in the cross hairs of the most well financed, relentless, and hydra-headed public relations campaign against a legal profession in our history.  Nothing else even comes close. Indeed, I can think of no other formally respected   profession ever so targeted.  Anywhere. At  any time.  This campaign, which masquerades as a movement, was created by  and  is bankrolled  by the richest individuals in the nation and backed by  some of the most powerful political figures in the land under the rubric of education reform.  Most prominent in the former category are Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad and any number of hedge fund managers such as instant education expert   Whitney Tilson, founder of the egregious Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).  Prominent in the latter category are Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, Rahm Emmanuel and Barack Obama. Despite such powerful figures,  the campaign likes to present itself not merely as a movement  but as  a grass roots movement, spontaneously erupting like a long simmering volcano, it’s gases escaping from the magma chambers of the American educational earth.

Three Friends

The campaign is masterful at the creation and propagation of demands and the dissemination of lies, deceptions and false accusations.  Central to the campaign is the idea of teacher accountability. Indeed, the campaigners want to hold teachers accountable for their student “a performance”, a performance  measured in large part by highly unreliable high stakes tests.

What follows are a few of their most insidious and blatantly false claims:

Poverty is an excuse and is no obstacle to student achievement.

Tenure guarantees a teacher a job for life.

Standardized tests are true indicators of a quality education and quality teachers.

The real problem with schools is that selfish teachers and their thuggish unions   are forever putting their interests over the children they are charged to serve.


Of all the lies hurled at teachers ad infinitum, none is more repugnant and underhanded than the last and none gets more mileage by the messianic corporate reformers. It  carries within it, albeit in embryonic form, the zero sum ideology of   corporate education reform: it is somehow impossible to reach an accord in which    both teacher and student are treated fairly and with dignity.  For these folks, one side must dominate the other. That’s simply how life is, you see.

(The fact that the charge of teacher selfishness emanates from billionaires and hedge-fund managers is completely congruent with the surreal nature of the entire corporate education campaign in which the least knowledgeable and experienced are somehow, mystically, the most qualified, the most insightful as well as the most concerned.  )

This particular lie has been perhaps most effectively (because unconsciously) propagated in the very   names of any number of reform organizations: names that in many ways serve as accusations in and of themselves.  What conclusion can one draw from an organization that calls itself Children First Network ?  Or  Students First. Org ? Or Stand For Children ?   What conclusion other than someone  ( psssssssss… hint: teachers )  or something ( psssssssss…  hint:  teacher’s  unions ) out there is putting these poor kids last ?

Then there is the masterful motto of the New York City Department of   Education:  “ Children First. Always.”

Except, it seems, when tending to the needs of corporations like Pearson and their  (equally misleadingly named ) Common Core State Standards, currently  being presented to the nation as the panacea to all that ails American education.

Not to mention the millions of dollars to be made in the production and sale of Common Core based tests, Common Core Text books, Common Core guides, and Common Core learning aids and accessories of every conceivable (and inconceivable) kind.

But there is a problem in paradise.

Somehow in the frenzied production of all these Common Core based paraphernalia, both city and state failed to insure the production of the element most essential to the possibility of the Common Core having any kind of real educational success.      Somehow both city and state failed to produce a curriculum.  It is difficult to overestimate how grand a failure this is.

Imagine, for example, someone trying to sell you a car with a speedometer but no engine.

In the place of a curriculum, New York City and  New York State   have offered teachers and administrators  the Common Core Standards and sample “bundles”,   implying that said standards,  said “bundles,” and curriculum are more or less the same thing, an error that no one even vaguely knowledgeable in or concerned with education would ever make, not to  mention those determined to “put kids first.”

This is, of course,  one of the many problems with allowing people with little no educational experience  — think Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Dennis Walcott — to completely remake  an education system.

But, in typical fashion,  it has become the problem, not of those who created it but those who must deal with it.  That is to say, teachers.   For New York City and New York State, the solution to their failure to provide curriculum for their teachers is to have teachers write curriculum.   No matter that it is not the responsibility of teachers to write curriculum. (Teachers are meant to write lesson plans from curriculum not lesson plans and curriculum. )  No matter that most teachers most have no idea of how to write curriculum. No matter that teachers are not contractually obliged to write curriculum. (The issue is now in arbitration at the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB.)   No matter that teachers have never even seen the test that they are to somehow, magically, write curriculum to prepare their student for. So what if 17,00 New York City schools produce 17,00 different curricula, hodge-podged together by people who have no business doing anything but teaching.   So what if the third to eighth grade tests administered in March will be up to two grade levels more difficult than anything the students or their teachers have ever seen before.

So what that the New York State Department of Education knowingly decided that millions of  children will be forced to take Common Core based high stakes tests of which many haven’t a prayer of passing. So what if this unconscionable incompetence leads directly to demoralizing millions of kids.  So what if the same test scores are used to evaluate teachers, principals, and schools and may be used to terminate the former and close the latter.

The imperative, it seems clear, is to ram the unproven, untested, unknown entity called   Common Core State Standards into the very center of the educational lives of these   kids and their teachers as fast as possible, ready or not. Now.  Before it’s too late. There’s not a moment to spare.

Let the chips fall where they may.

After all, hasn’t Arne Duncan spent the last four years criss-crossing the country  enlightening all to the notion that  “education is the civil rights issue of our time?” Didn’t Condoleezza Rice declare at the Republican National Convention that education is now a matter of national security?

Seen in those glaring lights,  the absence of a curriculem seems almost petty.

On the other hand, on what planet can this kind of educational malfeasance be considered   “putting children first?” And what about that tricky issue of accountability? Who is responsible for this ?  How is it possible that a screw –up of this magnitude is allowed to go by not merely without heads rolling, but   without barely   a peep in the press?   Where are the hedge funders weeping copious tears for the poor children now?  Where are the apostles of accountability with this travesty?

The larger question, of course, is what is the priority here?  It is kids or corporations?  Is it to help make kids “college or career ready” so as to compete in the ever more savage global economy?  Or is it to shovel millions of taxpayer dollars to Pearson and associates   on Common Core accessories before most people even know what Common Core is?

“ We’ve been working really hard around Common Core, said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, whose educational experience consists of one year teaching kindergarten.     “We’ve been really light years ahead of the rest of the state in terms of the implementation of Common Core but at the same time, we’re ready for the new curriculum to be put in place as well.”   Asked when that might be, Walcott replied, “I don’t know.  I’ll let you know.”   That was last month.

He taught kindergarten for a year or so a couple of decades back.

So much for putting children first.  So much for  accountability.

By way of excusing the inevitable results of this  farce, Walcott added:  “We’ve said that we expect scores to go down.  We just don’t know to what level.  I mean, this is going to be a tough, tough test.”

I’ll say. And it’s hard cheese, old chap!

State Education Commissioner John King (whose educational experience consists of teaching for three years) at least provided an answer if a completely unacceptable one.  The curriculum will be ready “by Fall, winter 2013, said King.

John King who taught for three years.

Why is the media not all over this?  Where are all those concerned faces found on Education Nation? Why is this not considered a major scandal by all of those pundits forever gasbagging  about  selfish unions and the holy efficiency  of the business world ?

The absence of criticism is understandable but not excusable.  It is understandable because both the people running the school system and those commenting on those running the school system have no idea   what they are talking about and could easily believe a standard is a curriculum.  Why wouldn’t they?  Many seem to believe that closing down schools and mass firings of teachers are somehow great accomplishments.

My fear, bordering on absolute certainty, is that no matter what the real pedagogical value of the Common Core actually is, it will be declared a success. Indeed, it has already been declared so. Unique among federal impositions, contrary to common sense or common decency,  there has been no attempt to field-test the Common Core.  It is   assumed ready to go on arrival.  Even, apparently,  without a curriculum.

What we are witnessing here is the slow motion creation of a system that is built to be too big to fail.  It is built to be too big to fail because there is simply too much money to be made in its implementation.  Millions and millions on tests alone.  It will generate more tests than have ever been seen before on planet earth.  That is not hyperbole.  Because of Common Core, writes Diane Ravitch, “Our children shall eat, live and breathe tests, from birth to the end of their education.”

If nothing else the Common Core  is a virtual industry on a scale hitherto unknown in American education. We have seen this before, of course in other fields.   We have seen it with Goldman Sachs or Fannie Mae or any number  of colossi, too big to fail operations that failed anyway and almost brought the entire world  down with them.  We have just never seen this kind of thing   in education before.  But then, ours is a time in which there are many, many things we have never seen in education before.

As I write the Common Core is being used to  lead  children to slaughter.  Right behind them are the reputations of teachers and principals and entire schools. If you wish to see the abject contempt in which corporate reformers and their employees in elected office hold our children and our families look no further.   If you wish to see children being put very far behind immense corporate profits, look here.  If you want to see the opposite of accountability, you’ve come to the right place.

It is a place where what is good for the goose is very, very good indeed for this goose is a very, very golden goose.

And never you mind the gander.

A City in Darkness

November 1, 2012

As I write downtown Manhattan, from 40th Street to the Battery, is in a state of almost total darkness. What illumination there is at all is comes from the passing   headlights of cars and trucks and by flashlights held by held by pedestrians rushing home from work and your occasional  dog walker.

As the sun went down I did something I will not do again: I cycled to midtown where there is a friend with electricity on a mission to recharge my daughter’s DVD player, so disappointed she was by the de facto cancellation of Halloween.  Allowing  her to watch a movie  — some semblance of normalcy amidst this primal existence — was   my way of trying to make things a little better for her.  Nearing Bellevue Hospital I begin to see the huge antennae of the media vans – ABC. NBC, CNN and a host of others.  Ambulances are doubled parked by the dozens in front of the hospital. Others are speeding off uptown somewhere. I stop and ask one of the media people why they are there.  Bellevue is being evacuated, she says.  Something about generators failing that I don’t quite catch, the wailing of the sirens deafening all.

It is an eerie sight and a chilling sound as ambulance after ambulance speeds past wailing into the distance, off to God knows where as NYU hospital was evacuated the day before.

I charge my girl’s DVD player and head by home.  It is only 7:00 pm but feels like midnight.  Time has become very, very bendy and the landscape of the city is nothing short of   surreal and spooky.  That much the more if you are trying to navigate your way home 40 odd blocks on a bicycle in a lightless world without traffic lights.  The traffic moves slowly, in fits and starts, with a great and welcome sense of hesitation.  At one point I pulled over to the sidewalk and took it in, this bizarre scene like something out of a horror movie of a city fleeing itself, a river of red taillights as far as the eye could see within the silhouette of towering buildings in a sea of blackness.

I have never seen anything like it.

Somehow, at least as far as I can see, it seems to work.  No one is plowing into each other and the infamous New York rage is held in check. But sirens wail constantly and fire trucks and cops cars are everywhere.  Vowing to not pull this stunt again, all I want to do is make it back to my family on the Lower East Side in one piece.

This I do but not before stopping off at the Catholic Worker to see if I might be able to peach some of their famous hearty soups ( and hearty it is ! ) as we are unable to cook and our bones are cold for lack of heat.

With more soup than any three people can possibly eat we enjoy a very welcome hot meal in our candle lit 19th century tenement abode, my daughter thrilled by the simple joy of being able to watch Scooby Doo.

I set out to walk our friend’s dog, a routine I normally enjoy, but in the complete darkness of the Lower East Side Streets, it is one fraught with unease and even fear. Even carrying a flashlight, the   darkness is, to say the least, un-nerving.  Here and there human forms move swiftly on the sidewalks, appearing seemingly out of nowhere.   I find myself walking in the middle of the road.  Everyone is keeping their distance and attempting, I suspect, not to appear afraid.  It is both fascinating and scary.  It occurs to me that this shadowy night world was the nocturnal reality for civilizations for all but the last hundred years or so.  It is a world of mystery and a world of mystery is a world of imagination.  Imagination and fear.

But we are habituated by electricity and are not accustomed to darkness  and are not about to be so anytime soon.  Something has changed down here in the last 24 hours.   The night before we three set out to take a walk and take in what Sandy had wrought and found hundreds of people doing the same.  There was almost a spirit of holiday in the air.  Not so tonight.  Unlike last night when one saw crowds of people out for a stroll taking in the novelty of a New York Unplugged, tonight one sees only shadows and dog walkers.   The novelty, it seems, has worn off and a definite spookiness that has nothing to do with Halloween seems to fill the air.

It is unlike anything I have ever experienced and one I am bound to re-experience for the next few days at least. Nothing to do but take it in.



Addendum:  Today as I passed Bellevue on my way to the Mid-Manhattan Library, the army of ambulances was still doubled parked out front.  The evacuation continues.

New York Awaits Hurricane Sandy: Scenes from an Anxious City

October 28, 2012

  Empty streets.  Closed parks.  Silent Subways.  Packed bars.

Occupy Wall Street Is Alive and Well at Zucotti Park

November 20, 2011

I arrived at Zuccoti Park this evening just as the bells of the majestic Trinity Church were ringing seven times.  It was immediately evident and extremely heartening to see, once again, that Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s grotesque and brutal attempt to break the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement has failed as utterly as have his equally grotesque and brutal attempt to  “reform” the public school system.

There were groups there I’d never seen present before, particularly the 9/11 Truth people.

There was the beginning of a new library to replace the ample one that Bloomberg had ordered  to be trashed.

There were the members of the unions that Bloomberg has tried to undermine or destroy.  There was the announcement that the United Federation of Teachers  were  hosting an intergenerational dialogue about defending the  social contract this Monday morning  at UFT headquarters.   There were the old and the young, the black and the white, the every religion and non religion under the moon, all united to say again and again and again until it  is finally heard and made manifest: we are sick to death of  the brutal, degrading  rule by the Bloomberg’s of this world: America must change: America must live up to its promise:  America must, at last,  save itself  from the reign of  the insane.

The park was filled with the beaten but unbroken and it was beautiful to behold.