Skip to content


February 5, 2014 pm28 1:02 pm

Yesterday I turned 50. I would have thought it a bigger deal.

I got up. Had yogurt, coffee. Went to class. Professor was late. Got out. Found I got a ticket. (took photos, and felt “outraged” but not actually angry. I really wasn’t in the bus stop. And it did not spoil my good, mellow mood). Drove to my other college. Got a good spot, close. Couldn’t find my professor so taped an xkcd to his door (it’s a cryptography class, good comic just came out) went to the comfy chairs, sat down and read, and had an apple. Found professor, hung out in his office while he prepped for our class. Chatted. Went to class. It was mostly math that I knew. Left – got caught in some awful traffic near Sean’s (Chandradat’s) house, trying to avoid the awful traffic on the xBx. Munched pistachios. Rested. Jumped on the train to meet a friend with the same birthday (but only 45) for drinks in Carrol Gardens. Got some appetizers. A coworker was nearby, joined us. We took the train back north. I got home at 11, looked at the computer, and went to sleep.

So there were birthday calls and texts and facebook messages and e-mails. But otherwise, just a nice day.

NYSUT on Common Core

January 29, 2014 pm31 6:34 pm

The anti-public education reform movement is being driven back, everywhere. It’s high-water mark is in the past.

NYSUT’s opposition was to NYS implementation, not the Common Core as a whole. Progress, but less than we want.

Yet, they are still dangerous. They are still well-funded. They have access to media, to propaganda. They have influence from Arne Duncan through many state and local education departments. They have institutes and organizations and influential private donors. And they have already changed many of “the facts on the ground” – rewritten laws, broken contracts, attacked pensions, closed schools, opened doors for private charter school operators, test makers, etc etc.

We need to check them as they continue to aggressively assault public education. We must turn back new attacks.

We need to pursue the facts that they have changed, and changed them back. We need to undo their damage. (In NYC, the shorthand version is undoing Bloomberg’s failed legacy).

Our unions need help opposing, and strengthening their opposition, to anti-public education 

But importantly, we need to make certain our own allies are on board. Our national unions made awful compromises and concessions to the anti-public education reform movement. They can be brought back, but it will take pressure from below. And we need to take care that they don’t do as Nasser did in Moscow: signal left and turn right.

A month ago the AFT President tweeted opposition to Value Added (a way of judging teachers on test scores). Careful. My local, usually closely aligned to her, has opposed Value Added for quite some time . Instead they support a “Growth Model”. Honestly, the difference is miniscule. But a lawyer chooses words carefully. She didn’t oppose “Growth Models” – and that’s what we should have heard. We have a signal of progress, but no real progress, not yet. We need to keep up the pressure.

(Similarly, I oppose rating teachers on test scores. The AFT opposes rating teachers “primarily on test scores.”  You think there’s no real difference?)

This weekend the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) called for the removal of Commissioner of Education. (The NYSUT Board adopted the resolution,  still needs to be adopted by the Representative Assembly this Spring). That’s progress.

The proposed resolution also brings NYSUT in open opposition to the Common Core “as implemented and interpreted in New York State.” That is progress as well. But it is not opposition to the Common Core. Really.

  • Opposition to the Common Core would mean that NYSUT was looking to take New York State out of the Common Core.
  • Opposition to the Common Core as implemented and interpreted in New York State means NYSUT is looking for NYS to implement Common Core better.

There’s a difference. We would want the former. If they polled members in NY, they’d know we want to dump the Common Core. But they chose, for now, the latter, a half step.

In a similar vein, the UFT called earlier this year for a moratorium on consequences for high stakes exams. We should have called for a moratorium on the tests themselves. Progress, but a half-step.

Let’s recognize what we have: The steps in the wrong direction have stopped. We have half-steps in the right direction. And we have need for much more progress.

It is crucial to our struggle that we get our organizations fully on board. Pressure from below has moved them. Let us state, but not overstate, our progress, as we continue to move forward.

Chancellor Fariña: Progress Reports and Quality Reviews

January 9, 2014 pm31 2:24 pm

Things under de Blasio/Fariña will get better for the schools, students, and teachers of NYC. They might get a whole lot better. They certainly won’t get worse.

One area we should watch is “Accountability.” De Blasio’s campaign already promised

“in his first year in office, Bill de Blasio will eliminate letter grades of schools. Overall progress reports will remain available for parents, and educators, experts and parents will be convened to determine if the progress reports are the most effective long-term way to evaluate schools.”

Dropping the letter grades is a welcome change. It provides some immediate relief. But we should expect more relief than just that from “accountability”

The word, in today’s anti-public-education-reform parlance, does not mean what it sounds like. Their version of “accountability” creates scores for schools. (They also will be producing scores for teachers as part of the new teacher evaluation). The NYC Accountability systems involve two parts.

The first is a “Quality Review” where reviewers who may or may not be familiar with your school, and certainly do not work to support your school, conduct an on-site review in less than a week. The result is “Well Developed” “Proficient” “Developing” or “Underdeveloped”. There’s also “Proficient with Well Developed features” and that sort of thing. You know what else has well developed features? Anyway,

The second is a “Progress Report” where the results of the Quality Review are hocus pocus blended with a bunch of statistics, much based on standardized test scores, compared against other schools in a hard to comprehend formula, (and those schools may or may not look anything like your school), a little bit of standard deviations and averaging – and voilà! a number. And then the number is translated to A, B, C, D or F. By the way, the Progress Report formula changes each year. Also by the way, the borderline between A and B and B and C etc changes each year. Also, by the way, none of the versions of the formula ever made sense. Also, by the way, the DoE claimed to be making school closing decisions based on the letters (not true, but scared the hell out of school communities in targeted schools. The DoE had its own secret agenda in selecting schools to close)

So, you should also know, there is Federal and NY State accountability. This stuff, Progress Reports and Quality Reviews, that’s just extra that Bloomberg’s DoE glommed on to harass or terrify schools. But NYC DoE has something like 200 central staff, many of them pricy young lawyers with no knowledge of education, assigned to doing accountability to the schools.

1. Any review or evaluation of a school should be done by the administrators responsible for supporting the school. The evaluator must be responsible to the school (as the principal should be responsible to the staff, students, and parents, as the teacher must be responsible to students and parents, as the chapter leader must be responsible to the members, as the district rep must be responsible to the chapter leaders, etc)

The panic caused by Quality Reviews is quadrupled because it is being done by strangers. They don’t know the school, or the people. They look for oddball things that no one in the school knew they cared about (and often that no one in the school should care about). They have no interest in seeing the schools succeed.

2. All “scoring” of schools should be stopped. Boiling a school down to a number is wrong. (As is boiling down a student to a number). Release reports on graduation rates? Sure. But no cooking up a phony statistic or metric that pretends to rate a school. In other words, the Progress Reports should be ended.

3. The actual educators working in “Accountability” should be given productive work, supporting schools, in other DoE offices. The non-educators working in “Accountability” should be given the opportunity to find more appropriate work outside of education. And the Office of Accountability should be staffed by a couple of people to make sure the reports to the State and Feds are being filed.

So what do we look for?

1. The letter grades on progress reports, de Blasio’s campaign said they would go in his first year. We should make sure they are actually being dumped. This alone will make schools calmer (especially combined with a likely end to arbitrary school closings – which those in targeted schools were led to believe were linked to progress reports. Untrue, but made people crazy.)

2. The campaign promised “educators, experts and parents will be convened to determine if the progress reports are the most effective long-term way to evaluate school.” We care

2a. when this committee is convened. Best case, in a month or two, so its findings can be out before the 2014-15 quality review/progress report cycle. Later in the spring, or in the summer would mean that recommendations could be made for 2015-16. This would be disappointing, but perhaps more realistic. On the other hand, if September/October roll around with no committee, we may be in trouble. I do not suppose this is likely.

2b. who is on the committee. Educators, experts, and parents. I could stack that committee with great people, or with horrible people. Who gets named makes all the difference. Watch out that all the educators are actually experienced educators. If there are DoE people who never taught, or were briefly teachers, and not very good, that’s a problem. If “educators” excludes teachers, or only has a token teacher, that’s a problem. On the other hand, if the committee mixes teachers, principals, and superintendents… For experts, anyone from the testing companies would be a real issue, but I expect de Blasio and Fariña to shut them out. Real public education advocates would be great. Does Diane Ravitch have the level of detailed knowledge necessary? I’m expecting some balance here, but we should watch carefully.

2c. Finally, we should expect the blended single score (statistical nonsense) of the Progress Reports to be abolished. That would be best. Perhaps replacing the reports with unfiltered, unaggregated numbers would represent a middle ground.

3. Fariña will be making staff changes, bringing new people in, and getting rid of some of the old. The “getting rid of the old” should have as one of its foci the non-educators working in the Office of Accountability. This has three positive results – cost savings and a shift away from punitive data and increasing the weight of real educators in the DoE. This will be hard to watch, as we don’t usually notice mid-level lawyers slithering out the door. Perhaps we can keep an eye on the headcount. The best outcome here would be to disband the office. We would certainly notice that.

Boston Teacher Ratings discriminate

January 5, 2014 pm31 9:08 pm

I missed this article in the Boston Globe – The Boston Teachers Union is grieving the evaluation process – claims pattern of discrimination against Black teachers, against men, and against older teachers.

They are asking for adverse consequences to be rescinded. Notice that this includes both dismissals, and teacher improvement plans. I believe in NYC we have not preserved the right to challenge a D rating that would lead to improvement plan type consequences for the following year.

Also note, the BTU is not waiting for statistical proof. They are moving on the first indications that there is discrimination. Also note, every anti-public school reform of the last dozen years, anywhere in the country, has hit Black kids and Black teachers the hardest. And many have hit older teachers disproportionately.

Boston Teachers Union contests ratings

By James Vaznis  GLOBE STAFF     DECEMBER 11, 2013

The Boston Teachers Union has filed a grievance with the School Department over its teacher evaluation system, asking school officials to rescind the “offending evaluations and improvement plans” and to stop discriminating against employees on the basis of race, gender, or age.

The union announced the grievance Tuesday morning in its weekly newsletter. The School Department fired back in the afternoon, issuing a press release and posting tweets that called the grievance an attempt to “block reform.”

The clash came months after the union first raised concerns that teachers who were African-American, Latino, male, or older were more likely to be rated “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory.” Those ratings are the lowest of four possible marks under the evaluation system, which was implemented during the last school year.

The union was swayed in the last few weeks to take formal action after the School Department released an analysis of teacher evaluations that revealed patterns of potential bias based on race, gender, or age.

“The Boston Teachers Union expects and wants great teachers in each classroom,” Richard Stutman, the teachers union president, said. The union “also expects that the School Department will not punish teachers on the basis of race, sex, or age.”

“We are not arguing against good performance evaluation; in fact, we welcome healthy and constructive feedback,” Stutman added. “But the evaluation process must be done in a way that does not discriminate.”

In all, 272 teachers regardless of race, gender, or age received a “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” rating last school year, representing 7 percent of teachers. About 30 are no longer in the classroom.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough said it was too soon to determine whether bias or discrimination exists, given that there is only one year of data. He said the School Department, in response to the concerns raised, is devoting more attention to bias prevention.

But McDonough said the union has taken the issue too far, demanding jobs back for poorly performing teachers.

“That is totally unacceptable,” he said. “Under no circumstance are we going to rehire poor-performing teachers.”

Under the grievance, which is dated Dec. 2, the union in its request to rescind the offending evaluations and improvement plans demanded that “affected teachers be made whole.”

Stutman said in an interview that the union has not decided which members would be covered under the “class-action” grievance. But he emphasized that the union is not seeking return of poorly performing teachers, but trying to ensure fair treatment for all.

The disparity in ratings among teachers of different backgrounds was quite wide in many cases. For instance, 9.7 percent of all black teachers received a needs-improvement rating, compared with 4.1 percent of white teachers; male teachers were almost twice as likely to receive that rating as female teachers; and 11.3 percent of teachers 60 and over were deemed needs improvement, compared with 5.6 percent of those in their 20s.

Tension over teacher evaluation is one of two simmering issues between the School Department and the union. The two sides also have been clashing over a School Department proposal to give principals more autonomy in hiring teachers, prompting the union to file a separate grievance.

James Vaznis can be reached at

Chancellor Fariña

December 30, 2013 pm31 1:44 pm

Fariña’s selection alone sets a better tone.  We can expect a different kind of conversation with, for the first time in ages, educators leading both the school system and the teachers union. And tone helps. But Bloomberg did a lot of damage. Where will Fariña start?

Since before de Blasio’s election there has been speculation about who he might choose to lead the NYC school system. Names, ridiculous, serious, evil, laughable, all floated together. And now, two days away from inauguration, Bill de Blasio is naming Carmen Fariña Chancellor. There will be lots of excitement and speculation and what does she stand for and what does she stand against, etc. etc.

But for us teachers, the Chancellor is someone who makes decisions, who we sometimes agree with, and sometimes disagree with. Part of our work will be discussing with our new Chancellor, and part will be arguing against the Chancellor. And that would have been true whomever was chosen. The Chancellor is the schools’ Chancellor, the Mayor’s Chancellor, not the union’s or the teachers’ or the parents’. We want someone we can work through disagreements with…

In the current national context there will be outside pressure on NYC about testing and evaluation, and about curriculum. We are not an island (well… you know). And so, a month ago, I made a list of experiences and characteristics we would hope to see in a Chancellor (but not a list of political/pedagogical positions). I reasoned that we would work best with and argue most effectively with a Chancellor who spoke our language and shared at least some of our experiences.

There are a handful of people who would have checked all the boxes. Didn’t mean we would love them. We wouldn’t. Be we would be able to work with them. And Fariña checked all the boxes:

  • My list:  10 years teacher. (Would be nice if the person had some time with extra responsibility before becoming a principal). 10 years principal. Public school. NYC. Not TfA. Not an anti-public-school-reformer. No one who has done grave harm to our schools.
  • Fariña: 22 years teacher, (five years district curriculum coordinator), 10 years principal. Superintendent. Deputy Chancellor. All in NYC Public Schools. Not TfA. Not a testing/reformer. And while I would consider parts of her record mixed, there’s a lot of positive in it, and she certainly did not do grave harm to the system, even while she worked directly under Joel Klein.

Last week I wrote:

I expect that teachers will not fall in love with the next Chancellor. I expect she will do a lot of things we don’t like. But I also expect she won’t be hated, and that she won’t pursue massively harmful reform strategies. And I hope that she will undo all of the Bloomberg destructive policies. And I expect that she will undo at least a few of them.

Fariña’s selection alone sets a better tone.  We can expect a different kind of conversation with, for the first time in ages, educators leading both the school system and the teachers union. And tone helps. But Bloomberg did a lot of damage. Where will Fariña start?

Look at structure of the system. Look at curriculum. Look for some de-emphasis of testing. Look at hiring and how excessed teachers are treated. Look for school closings to stop. And look for new colocations to stop. Look for Progress Reports and Quality reviews to be ended or modified and reduced. Look for scores of lawyers and non-educators to be given the opportunity to find gainful employment somewhere else. Look for a housecleaning of high-ranking TfAers and other anti-public-school-reformers. Look for high school admissions, and kindergarten admissions to be remade. Look, over time, for some undoing of noxious changes to chancellors regs. Really, look for everything.

Watch carefully: which Bloomberg damage is undone in the first month?  Which Bloomberg damage is fixed by next September?

We should look for progress, and we will find it. We should push for undoing all of Bloomberg’s damage. There will be conversations.

Walcott’s goodbye

December 20, 2013 pm31 3:11 pm

Today every teacher in NYC received a goodbye message from Dennis Walcott (at the bottom of this post). That this is his last school day as Chancellor is something most of us would instinctively celebrate.

But was Walcott a bad chancellor? That question should be asked in context, and in comparison. Was he as bad as Joel Klein?  How will he compare to whoever comes next?

There is no question that Joel Klein was reviled by parents and teachers across New York City. If the question was “who was more hated?” then Klein wins walking away. Walcott was not personally offensive the way Klein had been. He wasn’t provocative, mocking. He wasn’t hated. But that’s not the question here. Was Walcott a bad chancellor?

Klein really was bad. His disruptive reorganizations took a mediocre system and made it a disaster. He vilified teachers. He engineered the ATR crisis (through budgeting legerdemain, combined with hoodwinking the UFT’s leadership). He screwed up special education. He closed and reopened schools, improving nothing, but damaging communities. He appointed anti-public education reformers to high posts, including many who had barely taught. He helped make teaching a far less attractive job.

As Joel Klein’s damage peaked, he was replaced, first by Cathy Black (tell me again why the UFT did not oppose the waiver for this non-educator to become Chancellor), then by Dennis Walcott. Walcott walked in to the system in the worst shape it had ever been. And every day that passed, it stayed that way.  And every day it stayed that way, the damage was deepened. The Board of Education and its schools are a worse place after Dennis Walcott then they were after Joel Klein. Walcott has been the worst Chancellor I have known.

- – — — —– ——– ————- ——– —– — — – -

I expect that teachers will not fall in love with the next Chancellor. I expect she will do a lot of things we don’t like. But I also expect she won’t be hated, and that she won’t pursue massively harmful reform strategies. And I hope that she will undo all of the Bloomberg destructive policies. And I expect that she will undo at least a few of them.

Dear Colleagues,

As you know, December 31 will be my last day as Chancellor. I am writing today to thank you for your unwavering commitment to our students and families. Over the past 12 years, first as Deputy Mayor and then as Chancellor, I have witnessed your outstanding efforts to prepare our students to lead this City and our nation. It has been a privilege to work with you.

You are engaged in an undertaking that is both noble and challenging, and not a single day has gone by without my reflecting on the magnitude of our shared pursuit. The phenomenal gains we have achieved are a testament to your expertise, creativity, passion, and dedication. You are the reason we are handing over a system of schools that is far better than when we started. What an accomplishment!

Under the next Chancellor, I am confident that you will remain focused on the critical work you are leading. While challenges clearly remain, I have no doubt that you can take our schools to even greater heights.

Thank you again for helping our students work toward graduating high school with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and careers.

I wish you and your families a healthy, happy holiday and a wonderful new year.


Dennis M. Walcott

Bad repairmen and US educational policy

December 10, 2013 pm31 12:38 pm

- both continually change things without fixing them. – both continually change things without figuring out what the effects of the previous changes were. – and both might make things better one day, might make them worse another day, but are bad for everyone in the long run.

I know math best. In my 17 years in the system, we have had four sets of high school math state tests – Course I, Course II, Course III, then Math A, Math B, then Integrated Algebra, Integrated Geometry, Integrated Algebra II/Trigonometry, and now Common Core exams.

These changes were primarily political. Even the one that was almost pedagogical (I/II/III —> A/B) was primarily political.

We lurch from one to the next, never stopping to ask: “what should children learn?” “how much should children learn?” “what have children been learning?”  We don’t examine the previous curriculum for strengths and weaknesses. (Isn’t Common Core an exception?  Not for 9-12 math it’s not. It’s the worst kind of grab bag you could imagine, every topic + the kitchen sink thrown together without rhyme or reason)

We (meaning the people who set educational policy, not really me, and I hope not you) are bad repairmen, raking in $$$ as we perform repair after repair, sometimes we fix things, sometimes we break things, and we need to be stopped.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 538 other followers