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“Retired” abusive administrator reappears

August 11, 2014 am31 9:28 am

It’s usually enough for a bad administrator to leave the system – we are rid of them and their behavior – though for the sheer numbers of abusive and/or incompetent principals and assistant principals in New York City today, one at a time seems hardly enough.

And if they reappear, but elsewhere, as the disgraced former principal of Bronx Science recently has, we might like to point it out, but it does not become our immediate problem.

However, we know that issues of abuse, incompetence, and less than forthcoming statements often accompany each other. And when we can document statements that seem in hindsight to veer from the facts…

Last year, a scandal over hazing of younger athletes by older athletes broke at Bronx Science. There were allegations that administrators, up to the top, were aware. And in the midst of the investigation, the principal announced her retirement.

Now, it wasn’t as if that was the first controversy she’d encountered. Under her stewardship, the atmosphere for teachers at the elite school at deteriorated. Faculty turnover was far higher than at any other specialized high school in NYC. Teachers, bristling under her arbitrary and authoritarian leadership, and noticing that she used an honorary degree to start adding “Doctor” to the front of her name, ran a quack campaign – with ducks, that was then repeated in several versions as student pranks. A special complaint of harassment was brought against the principal and one of her assistants – and an arbitrator found for the teachers. She weathered those storms, though it seemed that she continued to stay out of spite for her subordinates.

In any event, you have a chance to compare what she says today, as she takes a new job, with her reasons for leaving, which she claimed had nothing to do with controversy or an investigation:


“This July I was appointed as principal of Maria Regina High School. I am honored to accept … after spending thirty-five years at the Bronx High School of Science where I was the principal for twelve years, an assistant principal of science for three years and a science teacher for twenty years … As an educator, my goal has always been to excite students about learning and support them as they work to attain their educational goals. As an administrator, I know that I cannot and do not work toward this end alone. I, as principal, am a member of a community. It is only with the work of gifted teachers, involved parents and motivated students that success can be achieved … What I have learned through my years as an administrator is that leadership is a humbling experience…

Then (Bx Sci alumni bulletin) (NY Times) (same article):

The principal, Valerie J. Reidy, who took over in 2001 after 23 years of teaching and managing at the school, said she was under no pressure from city education officials and was “not under investigation” in connection with the arrests of three track team members, all juniors, in March.

“Was I happy about the track debacle? No,” Ms. Reidy said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “But is there ever going to be a perfect time?”

Ms. Reidy cited her age — she will turn 65 on Nov. 28 — and financial and family concerns for her decision. Her husband, James, retired two years ago from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and one of her sons is set to wed in September. She wants to sell her house in Westchester County and travel more….

When the tests are powerful and wrong

August 4, 2014 am31 8:42 am

A great math teacher deals with dicey math, because it is on the test

“I’m providing Test Prep for students who have to confront this type of language regardless of its mathematical validity!”

One of the trickiest topics in K-12 mathematics is probability. It’s tricky for a number of reasons:

  • It’s not a traditional topic. There are not decades of practices to use, improve, or rail against.
  • Probability relies heavily on fractions, the gateway between arithmetic and algebra, the single aspect of grade school mathematics that we screw up (in this country) the most
  • The subset of probability we teach, simple combinatorial probability, is not a standard part of college probability courses – we don’t have the usual crowd of post-secondary math people poking around and complaining about mistakes.
  •  Most people teaching probability learned their probability k-12, or from math ed classes that were based in k-12 curriculum. In other words, what we do poorly, we pass down not only to students, but to the next generation of teachers.

So this twitter exchange is with a great math teacher, retired. As department chair he took some of the most advanced classes (everyone does that) and some of the least advanced classes, full of kids who struggle (no one does that). Currently he is doing SAT prep. He prepares SAT-type questions, and I think he solicits the occasional comment.

Great Teacher:  A pt is chosen randomly inside larger of 2 concentric circles. If the prob the pt is outside smaller circle is 84%, larger rad:smaller rad=?
JD: Is “random” smooshy here? If I randomly choose an 0 < angle < 360 and a radius 0 < radius < BIG Radius, is that not random?
3rd Party: Good point – ‘random’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘uniformly random’
GT: Excellent pt re random. The language I used is common on stand’zed tests where “uniform” is implied. Pls reword it in <=140 char!
JD: Why use “random”? Why make it a probability q? 2 conc circ, Large and small. 84% of area of L is not in s. Radius(L) / Radius(s) ?
GT: Agreed but I’m providing Test Prep for students who have to confront this type of language regardless of its mathematical validity!




Sabbatical – a Real First Logic Course

July 30, 2014 pm31 12:57 pm

I took a sabbatical 2013-14, to study. I mean I did other stuff too, but studying came first. And the first class I walked into was Mathematical Logic.

I teach “Logic” – but it’s a high school course, based on the first logic course that might show up at the 100 or 200 level in a philosophy department. Hurley is my text. My content barely touches the beginnings of what we were about to study.

I was at Queens College, and this was a 600 level course – it was designed as a first real course – and it was. In college I’d only done a philosophy department logic, similar to what I teach. This was new.

I want to describe the course and the people and what I did and didn’t do, briefly. The text was Enderton “A Mathematical Introduction to Logic.” Professor showed an earnestness, an excitement about the subject. Looked vaguely like a cross between Dr. James Wilson and Lt. Reginald Barkley. There were a few complaints that he was unclear, or explained poorly – but they were off-base. The subject was very hard – the professor spoke clearly, used vocabulary carefully, introduced ideas well, offered great board notes, provided illustrative examples – but the subject was just that hard.

There was one auditor for the first two or three weeks who seemed to be a retiree – but he got bored and disappeared, leaving me probably the oldest in the room. We lost about a quarter of the class before the mid-term. Maybe more. And we were down to about half by the end.

The text for this class was divided into four chapters. We covered the first two, and part of the third.

I made it through “Sentential Logic” relatively unscathed, running an A, and while I felt shaken a bit by the level of difficulty, more or less stayed on top of everything. Professor was really good with office hours, available, and wanting to help. We used induction, but differently than I had encountered it before. It took real getting used to. The concepts were fairly familiar, or I picked them up. Or struggled through them. I had to study, which is something I did precious little of when I was younger.

The second unit, First-Order Logic tripped me up. I lost my way with “substitutability” and never fully recovered.  What’s a language? What’s a Theory? What’s a model? What does it mean to “satisfy”?  What does it mean to be “definable”?  I have answers for all of these, but I’m not 100% sure when I answer. And sometimes I know what to say, and I’m not sure what my words mean.

We touched incompleteness and undecidability at the end. I certainly did not follow all of what we were doing there.

My final exam was weaker, and I ended up with a B+. Which doesn’t sound great. In fact, I think there were only 3 or so A’s in the class; my grade’s no embarrassment. And I learned enough that I would love to do this class again (or read something, but I doubt I could do it without a smart, clear professor, like this guy). It’s a situation where I know something between half and three-quarters, and where I am well-positioned to to boost that to 90+%.

It may have untangled some vocabulary issues for my teaching, but hardly. It was good to struggle against hard material. And it was fun to study with much younger students (I worked with a teacher, two grad students, and an advanced undergrad), some of whom ran academic rings around me.

Side-note. While I was taking this class, this blog got linked by a guy who shares my initials and probably teaches the exact same class at a different campus in the same university.


Today’s MLB standings (with math): the extreme AL West

July 29, 2014 pm31 12:04 pm

I don’t follow baseball as closely as I once did. I go to Yankees games, and have to ask the names of some of the players – back in the day that’d never happen.

But I still enjoy the game, and do get to games, and every once in a while check box scores or standings.

That, by the way, is a remarkable admission from someone who used to buy one or two daily newspapers during my 20s, and would turn to the box scores first. I gained much facility with arithmetic, back before I was ten, as I saved the Sunday paper, and updated the leaders during the week, adding in ABs and Hs from the box scores, and dividing to get the new averages. I studied pitchers’ ERAs and tried to find the match-ups that would lead to the shortest games. And at a certain point, I would look at an average, and find possible AB and H combos that would have led to that average (rounded to the third decimal place), or would look at an ERA and a number of innings to calculate the number of earned runs, and recalculate the ERA with the new box score (websites give you all of this instantly today, but it used to take a week before new stats were published).

Anyway, I’m looking at the standings today, and it turns out that the two best records in baseball, and the two worst records in baseball, they are not extremely good or extremely bad, and all live in one division of one league: the American League West.

First, the lack of extremes is interesting. Over half the teams are between .450 and .550. But only two are over .600, and only one is over .400.

But the AL West looks different. The Oakland As are 25 games over 500, the California Anaheim Angels are 22 games over, the Houston Astros are 20 games under, and the Texas Rangers are 22 games under. See that California vs Texas thing? Cool.

Is anyone else close?  On the high end, no. In fact, they are the only two teams are above .560, the Tigers, Orioles and Dodgers are 12 games over, each. On the low end its closer. Rockies are 19 under, Cubs are 18 under, and the Diamondbacks and Phillies are both 14 below 500.

But the two best, and the two worst, in one division of only five teams. If this was independent, it would be weird. But here’s my question: how much is this due to the Angels pounding the Rangers and the Athletics pummeling the Astros? I could ask someone, or I could look it up:





5 – 2

7 – 5

+ 5


10 – 3

8 – 2




– 8

Interesting, without the two doormats, the Angels would be just 10 games over .500, and nothing special. Without losing to the top two teams in baseball, who the are forced to play frequently (currently about a fifth of their games), the Astros and Rangers would be ten and fourteen games under, or pretty much mediocre. In other words, the high quality of the competition in the division hurts the two from Texas, while the (weaker) divisional opponents boosts the Angels’ record.

But the As are 12 – 7, .632 against the Astros and Rangers, 53 – 33, .612 against everyone else. They are just really good.

It’s a book. Read it.

July 26, 2014 pm31 2:02 pm

José Vilson wrote a book. That you should read. And, maybe get others to read. He called it “This is Not a Test

I don’t do book reviews. But this is different. It’s José.

Vilson is a blogger, and a poet, and a teacher. The author part wouldn’t matter if he wasn’t a teacher. He wrote a book about teaching. Some about his teachers. And some more about him, the teacher. All here in New York City. Manhattan.

So look. I’m not doing a long write up of what I liked about the book. He tells a good story. Some of the anecdotes are like a slap in the face, others as sweet as a first kiss. He’s got his influences, his growing up on the Lower East Side. He’s got the time his answer was wrong, until it was repeated by a white kid. He’s got rejection, cockiness, becoming a teacher, screwing up, and getting stuff right.

I liked the first part, about him growing up. And the second part, about him being a teacher. But I didn’t really get the third, shorter part. Felt like an add-on.

I mean, other people, smarter, more important, have written glowing reviews. Diane Ravitch big enough for you? They describe his style and his voice and his getting-it-ness better than I can. Even better, Karen Lewis – that Karen Lewis – wrote the forward. With all those big shots, why should I bother? Because it’s Jose, I need to do this.

There are other books about teaching in NYC. They are probably fine books, written by people who really taught. And they may contain interesting stories and insights. But some taught briefly. Others were in awe of NYC, not having grown up here. Others – poor word choice, I know – can’t get past their first experience working with so many people who weren’t white. These books can be interesting, but they are not the same thing. And then there are the books about teaching by people who’ve never taught, and don’t know anything about how schools or teaching work. Those books are not interesting.

“This is Not a Test” is a real book, about a real NYC kid, both Haitian and Dominican, but not really either. He’s smart. He teaches math, but he uses words – blogger, poet, author. He can write. He became a teacher recently enough that he remembers how bad starting sucks, but he’s been doing it long enough, and well enough, that he gets a chunk of the big picture. And he has stories. And trust me. You should read this.

Look what I did with my extra copy:



I think I’m supposed to mention that the publisher is Haymarket Books, and that they are cool and you should check them out.

Why the fuss over retroactive pay?

July 24, 2014 pm31 1:37 pm

Teachers and paras are suing the UFT for retroactive pay? The principals’ union is calling the mayor “outrageous” for refusing to pay retro to principals? What gives?

The contract as written does not include retroactive payments. Instead, there are lump sums equivalent to what a member would have earned from 2009-11, payable only to retirees and in-service members. The principals are right to be pissed, but they do not have standing to complain. The members who left service have a right to be super-pissed – they were intentionally left out of this agreement.

But they are wrong on two counts – 1. despite the UFT frequently using the word “retroactive” in the campaign to get this contract passed, there is nothing in the contract that says “retroactive” and 2. suing the union is something that should make all of us uncomfortable.

Maximizing “the package”

So what happened? In short, the UFT leadership wanted members to vote yes. They wanted to claim “full retroactivity.” They wanted to show as big a raise as they could. So they worked with the DoE to maximize the payments members would get, by excluding some people from the payments. And they never really said they were doing this. They emphasized “full retro” and scrunched the raise per cents together to make them seem as large as possible. In fact, when one high-ranking UFTer read the negotiating committee the size of each year’s raise, when he came to the 0 year, he just skipped it, leaving people confused as to how many years the contract ran for.

Creating Winners – and losers

Who was left out? The biggest group – anyone who quit before today. That includes people who left on disability (one such para is a party to the lawsuit), people who were discontinued, including unfairly by incompetent or abusive principals, people who left vested, planning to retire a few years down the road….. The NY Daily News thinks there are 9000 people in these groups. I suspect the number is a bit higher. Now, that means no pay for a group of people who don’t vote, and more for everyone else. No, not fair. But I see the cynical logic.

And, apparently, anyone who moved to a non-UFT title. We just heard about teachers who moved to principals. There may be other such groups.

In addition, everyone here today will start getting their payments on schedule (1/8 Oct 1 ’15, 1/8 Oct 1 ’17, 1/4 Oct 1 ’18, 1/4 Oct 1 ’19, 1/4 Oct 1 ’20). However, anyone who should quit, resign, get discontinued – or perhaps even die – they will not get future payments. And it seems that any teacher taking a principal job in the next 6 years will suffer a pretty sharp financial hit as a consequence. Figure the DoE and UFT had actuaries and accountants actually calculate how much money would get freed up in that way.

Retroactive in Print, and Not

The New York City Department of Education – United Federation of Teachers contracts that were just ratified, cover 2009 – 2018.  Other City unions had previously settled for 2009- 2011, getting 4% and 4%. There was an expectation that UFT members would get those same raises, retroactively. That’s almost, but not quite, what happened.

The UFT Leadership boasted that they had gotten us “full retro pay.” Everyone who heard Mulgrew speak would have sworn that he said we were all getting full retroactive money. But in print, they were lawyerly. What follows are from e-mails to the membership, signed by Michael Mulgrew.

May 1:  Over the life of this nine-year pact, which runs through October 2018, UFT members will receive an 18 percent raise, full retroactivity as well as a $1,000 signing bonus upon ratification.

May 4: We were able to negotiate the wage increases in this package — including the two 4 percent increases that the previous administration had insisted that the city could never afford — through stretching out how the retroactive raises are being paid. Be assured that all members will receive every penny that they have earned since Nov. 1, 2009 as long as they are in-service, have retired since that date or are planning to retire in the future.

May 5: The phase-in of the retroactive raises has no bearing on the final amount of retro payments you’ll receive. All in-service and retired members will receive 100 percent of the money they are entitled to, compounded back to Nov. 1, 2009, by 2020.

May 9: The vast majority of questions we are receiving are about the salary increases and the retro package. If this contract is ratified, all in-service and retired members will receive 100 percent of the money they are entitled to, back to Nov. 1, 2009, by 2020.

Notice how “full retroactivity” on May 1 got a caveat added on May 4: “as long as they are in-service, have retired since that date or are planning to retire in the future”. By May 9 the raises have become a “package.”

On May 1 there was no qualification of who was getting the back pay. On May 4 it was limited to in-service, retired, and those planning to retire.

And then the Memorandum of Agreement came out, and the word “retroactive” did not appear at all. Read it for yourself (3. Wages, sections B and E)



Sabbatical – one rule

July 22, 2014 am31 11:14 am

But one decision, one rule, I kept. Almost. I decided not to go into my school.

When my sabbatical was approved, May of 2013, I had to make some decisions about the school year that just passed.

I chose an institution to take courses, and then I changed, and then I partially changed again. And I changed classes along the way. They were still, mostly, graduate level math classes. Just not the ones I had originally planned on, nor at the institution I had thought was perfect.

I decided to travel every other weekend. And while I did travel, and a lot, it wasn’t close to every other weekend.

I decided to visit schools and watch math classes. I figured I would get to 2 or 3 dozen. The visits were harder to arrange than I thought, and I ended up visiting fewer than 20 schools.

But one decision, one rule, I kept. Almost. I decided not to go into my school. Not to drop by. Not to say hi. Not to speak to a chapter meeting. Not to discuss administrative items with my principal. Never.

I cleaned out my personal items on June 26, 2013, so I wouldn’t have an excuse to “just drop by” for something.

There was excitement (not in the positive sense of the word) over the new evaluation system. Teachers wanted my input. They got it via e-mail. Or in person in bars or restaurants. I wasn’t going in.

The principal occasionally wrote to me, apologetically asking a question. He knew I was really disconnecting. He did not ask me to come in.

This winter a student was making a documentary film for class about specialized high school admissions (my school is a specialized high school.) Several of the teachers in my school worked on a UFT committee (organized by VP Janella Hinds) examining ways to improve specialized high school admissions – and I co-chaired the committee. And he wanted to interview me, and I wanted to grant the interview. But I arranged it in a college library, close to our school. I wasn’t going in.

My principal received papers, important to my sabbatical (eventually) and offered them to me if I dropped by. I asked him to hold on to them. I wasn’t going in.

I was really, really good.

And then the new contract proposal hit in May. And one of the co-acting-chapter leaders asked me to come in. I declined. And then another chapter member. And then another. And when I had my fifth request, from a chapter of just 25, I broke down. May 23, I came in and ran two Chapter meetings. And then I met with my designee and the principal about possible schedule options, assuming the contract went through. June 2 I came back, ran an after school chapter meeting to discuss schedule options. And while I’ve been in touch, at a distance, I did stop by twice after school ended – once to follow up on some questions, and once to collect copies of sabbatical-related material (I’m turning in my sabbatical papers today).

I guess this rule, not going in, this one rule was a really good one, as long as I kept it. Once I broke it once, it kind of broke down.



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