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Protection from Prose?

July 22, 2015 am31 12:08 am

In Unity there is Strength. It’s why we negotiate as a union, instead of, for example, as math teachers. Or as high school teachers. Or as special ed teachers. Or as art teachers. It’s also why we do not negotiate one school at a time.


Except in Prose schools.

Now, some Prose schools got a pass on Danielson. They like Prose, some have told me. Honestly, we should all get the pass on Danielson. We should not have to sacrifice our union principals to get a good concession for all the teachers of NYC.

NYC Educator is writing more about Prose. He includes a shameful quote from a former UFT leader:

“PROSE … empowers teachers to make positive change”

It seems that some of our leaders forget that negotiating TOGETHER is a victory. Negotiating as isolated units would be, and is, a loss. But I guess it takes a real commitment to the idea of “union” to understand that.

Or maybe, reading our contract. I quote the contract negotiated between the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers:

It is understood that all collective bargaining is to be conducted at Board headquarters level.  There shall be no negotiation with the Union chapter or with any other employee group or organization at the school level.  It is further understood that there shall not be established or continued in any school a Staff Relations Committee as described in the Staff Relations Plan issued by the Board on October 23, 1956.

No school by school negotiations. This is Article 1, seventh paragraph.

Photo Credit: Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives,Cornell University Library,Group Photo, Placards, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, Rally


Have school closings in NYC stopped for now?

July 21, 2015 am31 11:29 am

One expectation that we had for de Blasio / Fariña was that school closings would stop. Has this happened?

Sort of. And now much of those decisions are out of their hands. So much so that I left it off my Mayor/Chancellor expectations list.

Bloomberg/Klein/Black/Walcott willfully closed dozens of high schools. I do not know the count, but 50 in all? Is that about right? More? They targeted bigger schools. These schools, whether incidentally, or intentionally, had larger concentrations of veteran teachers. And veteran teachers these days also means more Black and Hispanic teachers. They were mostly places where institutional memory and habit respected much of the language and spirit of the contract.

They also targeted elementary schools and middle schools for replacement by charters. That’s scores more.

Each closure dumped teachers into the ATR pool – dozens and dozens of veteran teachers who face systematic, mandated discrimination.

So new regime in, the annual PEP circus with large numbers of closures at once is over. Though the old regime already shut the biggest targets. And…

1. We are still watching the tail end of phase outs.

2. This year, under NYS pressure two Renewal schools dumped over half their staff (Boys and Girls HS and Automotive HS) – though with a promise of annual (non-permanent) placement for the next few years.

3. Now New York State (Cuomo/Tisch) is now going over the City’s head. They have targeted seven schools (five in the Bronx) for takeover next year. They have targeted an additional 55 schools (27 in the Bronx) for takeover the year after that.

Think of it this way: the Bloomberg closures also came with new schools opening. While many were charter schools, most were NYCDoE schools – so at least the number of teachers entering the ATR pool was near the number of new openings. These Cuomo closings are directly removing the schools from the DoE – those positions will be entirely lost.

This is nothing less than an attempt to break the job security provision of our contract. It is “disruptive innovation” – intentionally creating educational chaos for our schools, teachers, students, communities.

So, did de Blasio / Fariña do ok on school closures? They haven’t aggressively closed schools. But we barely got a break, between lagging phase-outs, the “Renewal” process, and Cuomo’s ill-intentions for next year, and the years after that.

I guess we could ask the mayor and chancellor to more aggressively oppose Cuomo. But what we really need is a real fightback against Cuomo and Tisch, to overturn the horrible changes to State Law, including these state-forced closures, but going back to basing teacher evaluations on test scores. We need our union, the UFT and NYSUT, to mobilize our members, both through demonstrations, and at the ballot box. But this requires some serious change of policy and practice.

de Blasio / Fariña – not performing up to expectations

July 17, 2015 pm31 2:49 pm

I think those who are trashing them are wrong.

I think those who are defending them are wrong.

I’ll leave out the non-education stuff – that’s more complicated, and while de Blasio has chalked up some pretty big blunders, he’s miles better than the guy he replaced.

But on education, they’ve been in office for a year and a half. They only have two and a half left. I’m not so interested in what they’ve gotten right. Or in what they’ve gotten wrong. I am most concerned about how little they have actually done.

I wrote in December 2013:

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.

And even with my low expectations, I’ve been disappointed. Here are a few issues that could have been addressed January 1, 2014, and what’s happened with them in the last year and a half.

  1. Remove Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott cronies. Most of this has happened at the highest levels, but it took a long time, too long. There would have been symbolism in cleaning house in the first weeks, or months. Instead they quietly left, Brodsky just this spring, and there are a few hanging on.
  2. Get rid of the lawyers. Useless cash drain. Shameful.
  3. Control “empowered” incompetent principals. Get rid of true problem principals. I see two high profile removals, a handful of sex removals, and minor stuff. I’m looking at this from a teacher’s point of view – these are abusive administrators. But what about from a child’s point of view? These are largely incompetents. And there are literally hundreds in the system – perhaps 200-300 out of 1800 principals. Most are poorly trained, left-overs from Klein. And as far as I can tell, no one has ever looked to see if they are competent to run our schools, to educate children. Where is the hard look at them? Where is the retraining? Where are the removals?
  4. Progress Reports. Get rid of the stupid letter grades (done immediately when they took office). End the fake preparation for dog and pony Quality Reviews. Not done. End the reviews by strangers. Not done.
  5. Funding. End the system of “charging” salary against school budgets. This system distorts the transfer process by rewarding principals for appointing less experienced teachers, and rewards them most for making a new hire (which adds a new cost of $60k or so to the system) instead of taking a transfer, which adds no new costs. It hurts schools, and students, depriving them of seasoned educators, and adding instability to many schools in poorer neighborhoods. This system has been kept in place, with no hint (yet) that they are even looking.
  6. Return to districts, with superintendents responsible for their schools and their principals. Disband the networks. These borough support centers or whatever they are called are a half step. And they retain some of the “networky” feel. As far as superintendencies, high schools got screwed. The high school superintendencies when I started, in the 90s, provided some real support (including in content areas), and had a real sense of cohesion. Under the new structures, none of this is recreated.

Coming in, de Blasio was more sympathetic than Bloomberg, and Fariña was a real educator, unlike Klein or Black or Walcott. But being a real educator and being a good educator are different things. Fariña’s tenure as a principal was not one that recommended her to us – she pushed good teachers out of her school and brought in more pliant teachers. I do not expect that she will carry out the work that teachers believe needs to be done. But I think it is reasonable for us to expect some progress, more than we’ve seen.

The poster children for lack of progress are the scores of incompetent, abusive principals. And we should press to have more reviewed, retrained, removed. But the reality of the moment informs two other priorities:

  1. We should be pressing the unit costing issue. The technical piece (this wastes money) and the affective piece (this makes principals bring in less experienced teachers for their kids, and plays out most harshly with the schools with the neediest kids), stand in sharp contrast to the argument for keeping the current system (there is none). A lot of bang for the buck is available – teachers and the DoE working together to save money and bring the best possible teachers to the kids who need them most.
  2. We should work on cleaning house – particularly the middle level, now that Klein’s tops are gone. I think the swarm of Klein-folk collectively keep his policies in place, sometimes informally, sometimes through foot-dragging, sometimes just through attitude. This is not as easy a sell as unit costing, and one removal hardly would make a difference, but the cumulative effect of replacing dozens, scores, hundreds would be real. And the sell “new chancellor needs to have her own people at the level where policy is implemented” is not a bad one. It would be helpful if some idiot TFAer got caught, publicly, acting under expired Klein/Walcott directives that contradict what Fariña has asked for.

In any case, the lack of progress is frustrating. But it should not move us into denouncing the chancellor. Rather, we should continue to push for progress on issues that matter.

Chalkbeat asks right question – writes wrong headline

July 16, 2015 pm31 1:23 pm

Chalkbeat writes an article about how common core algebra rigged-lower scores have concerned parents, teachers, and schools.

But they give it headlines that say something else

Concerns mount over tougher Algebra Regents test, and officials promise a review
Responses reflect ongoing uneasiness with the pace of New York’s adoption of the Common Core standards

– that we are concerned about implementation (nope – don’t like CC at all) and that says we are worried about tougher tests (nope, we are concerned that the scoring scale was rigged to make strong students score not so well).

This is advocacy-based journalism. When the facts don’t match the preferred story-line, use the headline to tell a story that differs from the facts.

There have been many people concerned, not just me.

But here’s what I wrote. Here’s what Patrick Honner wrote. You decide.


Road trip! Ideas?

July 12, 2015 pm31 10:12 pm

I’ve never taken a real road trip before. August will be my first.

Denver to Salt Lake City. Via all or most of: Wounded Knee, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Glacier National Park, the Salmon River, Lava Hot Springs, ID.

Cool, huh?

So what should we miss? What shouldn’t we miss? Towns? Museums? Parks?

What’s worth spending extra time in? What should be a quick stop?

Any recommendations on specific places to stay? to eat?

On types of places to stay, to eat?

This should be fun!

No Surprise Except the Timing: AFT Endorses Hillary Clinton for President

July 11, 2015 pm31 5:51 pm

It’s no surprise that the AFT endorsed Hillary Clinton. The close alliance between AFT President Randi Weingarten and Clinton is well-known.

It’s a bit of surprise that it happened today, six months before the first primary, sixteen months before the general election. The AFT Press Release claims that members were engaged in the decision process. That comes as news to me. Unions are organized in locals and chapters… certainly I did not see engagement at that level. But the AFT (and UFT’s) political action wings treat us not as a membership organization, but as a PAC. So I do not doubt that they did an in house poll and some sort of unscientific website survey.

In any case, the question is not about the eventual result – this union’s leadership is clearly pro-Hillary – and not even about the lack of process (though it would be nice to at least make a gesture towards asking members).

No, the question is about the timing. So early??? The answer probably has a lot to do with Bernie Sanders’ recent surge in the polls, especially in early Iowa and New Hampshire.

As pundits have pointed out, even if Sanders somehow slips ahead in those two states, they are outliers, he has only the slightest chance at the nomination. But cautious Clinton is taking no chances, especially after 2008.

From this seat, it was nice that Bernie was pushing the race to the left, raising issues of banking and foreign policy and economic policy. It would have been nice to let the campaign develop before an AFT endorsement. Anyone for an AFTers for Bernie?

CC Algebra – conclusion – Why fewer strong scores?

July 10, 2015 pm31 12:50 pm

I wasn’t teaching last year. Sabbatical. And that was the year that Common Core Algebra arrived. I was spared figuring out the exam from scratch. I consulted with teachers from across the City and New York State, debriefed. I looked at the exam. I looked at the State-supplied modules.

This year I had a number of students sit for Common Core, a number for the old Integrated Algebra regents, and a number for both. But I chose to teach as if they would all sit for Common Core. I made very few adjustments to what I usually do in algebra (mostly 1. changing a couple of “function” lessons into a full, rich, challenging unit – starting the discussions with graphs, then moving to applications, 2. tacking on a new stats unit at the end, and 3. leaving an extra few days for regents review.)

I have been doing this high school math teaching thing for a while. I have a pretty good idea of what my students know, and what they don’t. I can tell the difference between short-term memorization, and understanding. I see how they perform on a written test versus during classwork or question and answer sessions. And I had a fairly good idea of the content they would be looking at. And something weird happened. Two things, actually.

Kids who looked like high 80s kids, they got high 70s on the Common Core. I had heard similar reports from around the State, about high performers.

And kids who sat for both exams got virtually identical raw scores (points), but vastly different reported scores. And I heard anecdotally that something similar happened across all of New York City.

Anti-public education reformers (Cuomo, Gates, TFA, Rhee, Pearson, Coleman) claim that common core standards are higher, or that the content is more rigorous. But they are ignorant, lying, or both. Raw scores stayed the same, but reported scores showed large differences. The problem was in the conversion chart. Take a look.

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 6.19.01 AM

It looks like someone has intentionally depressed scores between 70 and 90, most dramatically between 80 and 85!  And it looks that way, because that is exactly what they did. That 5 to 10 point drop? Here it is. Not in the exam. Not in harder content. Not in higher standards. That drop can be found in a new conversion chart.

The exact mechanism is fairly uninteresting, but assuming that you have just read through four pages of this stuff, it would not be right to omit it.

All of New York State uses four performance levels. That’s the way scores on the Elementary School and Middle School tests are reported – 1, 2, 3, or 4. And for high school?  We paid no attention to the levels, because we had actual scores, but Level 1 was failing, Level 2 was 55, Level 3 was 65 (passing) and Level 4 was 85 (mastery).

With the Common Core exams, the State amended these levels to cause a drop in scores. They added a Level 5. They set it at 85. And they took the old Level 4, and let the cubic regression set it. It seems to be sitting around a 73. This means a child who was ready to score an 85 on the old test, but who was well-taught for the new test instead, will score a 73. This is not this year’s child knowing less or being able to do less than  last year’s child. This is instead New York State directly lowering scores.

Here is how they define the new performance levels:

  • NYS Level 5 Students performing at this level exceed Common Core expectations.
  • NYS Level 4 Students performing at this level meet Common Core expectations.
  • NYS Level 3 Students performing at this level partially meet Common Core expectations (required for current Regents Diploma purposes).
  • NYS Level 2 (Safety Net) Students performing at this level partially meet Common Core expectations (required for Local Diploma purposes).
  • NYS Level 1 Students performing at this level do not demonstrate the knowledge and skills required for NYS Level 2.

By the way, performance levels are absolutely arbitrary.

I asked about this on the AMTNYS listserve, and received the following response from a professor who was involved in the process:

YES, the state has changed how it sets the scale.  I can speak to this as I was a (small) part of the process.
Level 4 now means “Proficient in CC”, and this was set by the Commissioner after a recommendation by a group of educators who argued loud and long about what a proficient student should and should not be able to do.
Level 5 now means “Exceeding CC expectations”, and this was set in a similar way.
The old Level 4 is gone, and it is replaced with these two new levels.  The cubic is also gone, and I don’t know everything about the function that fits the rest of the scores.  I do know, however, that educators took a hard look at the CC standards and at actual test items to determine which ones should be answered well by proficient students.
The new exams are harder and the new standards are higher.  We know that the State is closely monitoring the Algebra results because the Class of 2022 is coming soon, and they will need to pass at Level 4.
Teachers should be looking at the number of points necessary to hit those cut scores and not at what percent corresponded to what score.  The only four scores that really matter are the ones that set Level 2,3,4,5.  The fact that a student got an 88 doesn’t mean he knew 88 percent of the material; it means he exceeded CC expectations.  The fact that a student got a 62 means nothing except that he is eligible for the safety net.
Best wishes to you as the school year winds down.
I had, of course, a snarky response:
Looking at performance levels instead of looking at scores is foreign to us.  Just telling teachers to do so isn’t fair, not without looking more deeply.
We distrust the state. Sounds like I’m being tough on the State, but it was the State, not the teachers, who changed the state exams, and renamed the state exams, and tweeked the state exams, and changed the state standards again and again and again over the last 15 years. It was the State that has produced at least one bad question out of every three exams published for a decade. The State has earned our distrust.
Teachers face kids and parents, regular folks, who know 88, but who don’t know that 4 is the highest, (unless 5 is highest). 
Teachers also face parents and kids in some districts who score highly and want Regents Diplomas with Honors.
A district can “award a student a Regents diploma with honors or a Regents diploma with advanced designation with honors to a student who achieves an average of 90 percent in all Regents examinations required for the diploma.”
Notice that, it’s not an average performance level of 4.5, it’s an average score of 90. And that just got tougher.
You can read the entire exchange, here.

And that, patient readers, is that. The State wanted to make Common Core look tough, so they took the old scores between 85 and 100, and stretched them so they are now between 73 and 100. Top kids have lower scores, by design.

Who’s responsible? Andrew Cuomo? Merryl Tisch? Candace Shyer? Steve Katz?  Idk.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——– —– — — – –

In Part I we saw how, when Common Core Algebra replaced Integrated Algebra, teachers tried to figure out how to adjust to the change. But even with adjustments, scores for top kids fell. I adjusted, as I had for exams in the past, but kids who seemed prepared for scores in the mid-80s saw scores in the mid- to high 70s instead. Similar reports came from across New York State.

In Part II we saw how kids no longer earn their scores directly. In the 1990s and before, score 85 points, and your score is 85. Since 1999 though, points and scores were untethered. The number of points was reduced to a number between 80 and 90. And for each exam administration a new “conversion chart” is created, that seemingly magically translates points into a score. Importantly, the conversion chart changes every time the exam is given. The number of points needed to passvaries each time the exam is given. The number of points needed to get an 85 varies each time the exam is given.

In Part III we looked at how the Conversion Charts are created.


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