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Staying on Message

September 20, 2021 pm30 11:53 pm

“We’ve got this” “we will figure out/ we figured out remote” “we will lead the way back to in person” “schools/teachers/NYC/NY State will lead the way” “We are reopening NYC”

The “we”? New York City public school teachers. Me. Probably you. Other public school workers.

The authors? The United Federation of Teachers “communication shop.” Reporters. Media people.

And they have done an excellent job staying on message. Versions of the message came out even as schools were closing March 2020. They kept running through the spring and summer, and into last school year.

“We got this” “We are reopening NYC” represents a UFT officer’s marketing campaign that does not speak to teachers, and is frankly, alienating.

Here’s the thing. Some teachers don’t love this message. It wasn’t, I don’t think, designed for us. It is a media play, a press strategy, a public relations campaign.

Since Wednesday I have opened almost every conversation with a teacher the same way. “I love being in the classroom. Zoom? Never. I won’t go back. But being in school, in the hallway, around so many people, with so many safety questions – I am stressed and exhausted like never before” And the responses – teachers are relieved that I get it, that I am articulating it, that someone understands what they are experiencing. They open up. They appreciate the empathy.

Which is what is missing from the UFT statements.

Today’s e-mail

Today de Blasio increased testing from 10%, only of unvaxxed, and only if they agree, from once every other week, to once a week. A little better. But still inadequate. There needs to be a lot more, and more frequent.

de Blasio also dropped quarantining requirements further. Most students who may have been exposed to COVID in school will remain in school.

A small win and a big loss. What did teachers talk about? The loss of quarantining. What did UFT Communications do? They put out an email “Mayor agrees to weekly COVID testing in schools”

They stayed on message. They are talking to the public (or whoever they think the public is). They are not addressing teachers.

The New York Teacher

In the latest “The New York Teacher” there is an article entitled “Bridging the post-pandemic learning gap“. It is not clear to me where the problems with this article originate. It is a Teacher Center piece, and Teacher Center values often align more closely with DoE values than teacher values. Or was this Mulgrew’s media folks? In either case “learning loss” is fictional stick that anti-public (school reform) advocates use to push their agenda and club teachers over the head with. And “Post-pandemic?” Is that where my union thinks we are? With masking and testing and quarantining. Well, maybe quarantining.

Can you imagine your reaction if someone walked up to you tomorrow and asked how you liked teaching post-pandemic?

Thanks to James Eterno for finding and publicizing that one.

Balloons and Confetti and Smiles

I just got another email today, that was addressed to me, but not really addressed to me. It was from Meisha Ross Porter. She was celebrating “Homecoming” and even mentioned a pom pom rally. These things happened and are happening – that is true. But a little flash doesn’t cover up the anxiety and stress we are feeling; the nervousness about safety, concerns about teaching through a mask; general angst about this very iffy year. Arthur calls this “toxic positivity” as he points his finger at the DoE’s deaf ear.

But read his blog a few days earlier, and what do you read? UFT Exec Board, and UFT Officers expressing a similar positivity. Keep to the message? Or speak directly to teacher needs, hopes, fears? Which was it? They kept to the message.

On Message, Not Talking to Us, a Year and a Half

After 18 months of this, people are getting used to it. And it really is 18 months. Here’s the first piece I wrote about an insulting Mulgrew email. Check the date – April 1, 2020. Schools had been out for less than three weeks.

And they continued, and continued. DoE, de Blasio, Cuomo directives were all shared with the members, mostly with fanfare, over Mulgrew’s signature. Many were followed by clarifying emails that walked back the tone, if not the content.

There’s a price to all this – maybe not a price to Mulgrew – but a price to you and me. The level of cynicism about the union (and most members see the leadership as the union. That’s not right, we, in the schools, are the union, or at least we should be. But that’s often the perception) – the level of cynicism about the union has never been this high. I hear distrust coming from people who’d never paid attention in the past. When something goes wrong, a significant number of our members now blame the UFT as their first assumption. I am very worried about the damage that’s being done.


Each one of these deserves in depth examination.

How did we end up with the “We got this.” “We are leading the way to reopen as quickly as possible” message? It was never put up for a vote, in any body AFAIK.

How much is the failure to empathize with teachers a problem of Unity Caucus? And how much does it belong to this current Communications Team, and their boss?

And how is this team different from previous teams?

To change the message entirely, or to drop it, that would probably require a change in leadership – and even if you think that the leadership should be changed – you probably know that that cannot happen until the end of the year, and that is unlikely to happen even then.

But what about modifying the message? Can the leadership elevate the concerns of members over the media/marketing messaging? Today’s email – how hard would have been to give it an appropriate title, and to put the issue that MEMBERS are worried about before the issue that the OFFICERS have focused on?

Am I wrong about this? Was there another time when the UFT’s President (and they were all Unity Caucus) failed to connect with members to this extent?

The End – For Now

So that’s it.

This last bit is for people who won’t read this, but I need to say it anyhow.

Tone down, or eliminate the marketing strategy. It is alienating members. Write the emails TO members, not for public consumption. Your primary audience should be US, teachers and other school workers.

Teachers are nervous and even scared. We never were trained for remote work, and survived a year with very little support, and we know it – and now we may have to do remote again. We are worried about safety. We are worried about lack of quarantines. We know that social distancing is not at the 3-foot level, and that worries us. Crowded hallways stress us. We do not trust the DoE to tell us when we are at risk.

Learn this for yourselves, if you don’t know it, and begin each conversation by acknowledging it. Show us some empathy.

A very long four day week ends with good news

September 18, 2021 pm30 11:46 pm

Saturday morning, 8AM, the email I don’t use for regular stuff dinged. I followed the link, and followed the result. Undetected. COVID test was negative. I am relieved, but without the energy to celebrate.

The three biggest crowds I have been in since March 13 2020 were this week, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, in school.

Friday, 3 PM, I slowly walked north, away from school. I had no energy left, but the stress! How could I not get tested and find out. The wait wasn’t too bad. The tests are easier than before – I remember my first nasopharyngeal swab with that huge stick at the drive-through in the Fordham University parking lot in July 2020. Yesterday was quick, and kind of tickled. And then I slowly wandered home, just stopping to pick up some take-out. No energy to cook.

Friday itself was a strange day. After only a three day week, with a one-day break (for those of us not observing yontif), you’d expect the day to feel light. And I do, in fact, have a lighter teaching load on Friday (comp time, programmer, unbalanced schedules with heavy and light days). But the exhaustion from earlier in the week had not dissipated. My conversations were slow; I avoided some. Union talk was a drag.

Thursday, a day off without obligation, should have been the perfect recovery. But one free day, when I hadn’t had time to plan anything, when mind and body were a mess, was like a drop of water on a fire.

Fire? Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. These were tough, tough teaching days.

It was good to be back in the classroom. Fantastic. No more Zoom. Never more Zoom. Please. Teaching, even with a mask, was teaching. What a pleasure. What a joy. But I was shot, one afternoon worse than the next. It was a blur. Every “normal” year the first days are tough on the body, it takes getting used to getting back in the swing.

But nothing as exhausting as the first three days of this year. Never. Last year, Zoom year, was brutal. Soul-crushingly brutal. But it sapped our energy and our souls, a bit at a time. September 13 – 15 were a tidal wave.

I read this on a NYC teachers’ group, where 600 agreed, and 500 left their own comments:

This type of exhausted is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I’ve NEVER felt like this at the start of a school year. I constantly feel dehydrated and short of breath.. Anyone else feeling like this?

For some of them it was physical, the body. For many, the voice. In case you don’t know, tons of teachers lose their voices for a couple of days each fall. All that talking. But in the first three days? I think they were yelling to be heard through their masks and over the fake DoE purifiers. (Air cleaning – semi-fake. Noise – very real.)

But I think for most of us, it was the stress. Space is tight, and social distancing is an aspiration, not a fact. In some schools it is hopeless. In others it is possible to maintain, just not all the time. My school’s on the border in the classrooms. Maybe we are just ok at the 3′ – but I think we usually come close but fall short. But the hallways? Wow. And I’ve seen pictures from elsewhere – worse.

Stress. In 18 months I have never been around, not for 15 minutes, the number of people I am around at any class change in the school, or at dismissal, or before the first class. I feel the tension when I step into the building. It’s palpable. It drove me to a COVID test on Friday. It sucked out all the energy, every day.

I will learn to bear it. In my mind, I have to. And then I won’t be so tired.

How Long Did Hilbert Speak?

September 16, 2021 pm30 1:06 pm

What’s a good source with more details about the 23 Problems? Were the delegates amazed? Or did the talk become famous later on?

Was it a hot day? Who was in the hall? Did someone disagree?

He only included half the problems in the talk, and the rest were published in the proceedings, right?

I have “The Honors Class” (with a note inserted, by one of the partial-solvers, Yay!) but it doesn’t say much about the speech itself.

I am talking to bright high school students about set theory and logic, and I want to dig in for a little general background, and besides “there was this famous talk” I am falling short.

Can anyone offer some assistance?

New Year Starting Today – Kafka High School

September 9, 2021 am30 7:55 am

Across New York City – we are back.

It’s our first regular September since 2019.

See what I did there? I called it a “regular September.” And that is what is happening across the City.

Yeah, there’s masks, not clear what the rules are. But most schools are going back. Same rooms. Same class sizes. Same first day meetings. Remind me why we sit together for faculty conferences that can be done via zoom from multiple rooms? I know. We are back, and this is a regular September.

Last September (and late August) were different. We – and now I’m mostly talking about teachers – were up in arms. Safety. Planning. How would this work? Why had the DoE and UFT pushed hybrid on us? Why weren’t we remote? There was strike talk (wisely withdrawn, I believe, by the union leadership). There were meetings and seminars. There were petitions and campaigns. COVID had ravaged us in March and April, and was preparing to take a second swipe.

Today? Not much. People are worried, upset, angry. But the fight, at least for now, is not there. We have been exhausted, fatigued. We are walking into our buildings. Regular September.

The New York Times wants us back. They wanted us back last year. There is science, quickly shifting, but the Times, the DoE, Biden, the UFT leadership, Trump, they all want the schools open. There is a vaccine now. We were safe last year. It has to be a regular September.

In today’s Morning Edition the Times argues that Delta is like the flu. Get over it. They are channeling Trump, dressed up with some science. Schools were safe last year – with most kids staying at home. There is a vaccine, but none of the little kids can get it, and not all of the big kids got it, and in some schools, not so many adults got it. “After navigating this pandemic,” someone wrote for Mulgrew this morning “we know we can handle anything.” The arguments are silly, but they make them, without shame, because they help describe a regular September.

And we know – there are far more cases today than a year ago. It’s worse in other parts of the country – but in vaccinated New York – much higher numbers in September 2021 than there were in September 2020.

There is resistance. Parents, politicians, advocates. There needs to be a remote option. There needs to be a real testing program. Ventilation needs review. Class sizes need to be reduced. Social distancing should not be optional. There are op-eds and petitions and City Council resolutions. None of them are saying that remote is better than learning inside actual schools. But they know – this is not a regular September.

And, as we walk into our first regular September faculty meetings, we know they are right.




Did We Just Agree to Rules for Remote in NYC?

September 1, 2021 pm30 7:04 pm

I am not sure:

  • This document is dated, I believe, incorrectly
  • There are no signatures
  • This could be a draft
  • It could be one of the sides’ negotiating positions

Or it could be the actual deal. Take a look.

Notice a few things about set up.

  • Digital platform set up in advance (by October 1)
  • One Day of Emergency Remote Lessons to be uploaded in advance (by October 1)
  • We get paid an extra $225 for doing this work. (Is it pensionable? Probably not)
  • Nothing else has to be uploaded in advance

Some more things about using the platforms

  • Use them for parent teacher conferences
  • Use them on snow days (synchronous)
  • Use them if the classroom or school is shut (synchronous)
  • Use them to create asynchronous lessons for quarantined students
  • use them for synchronous instruction if the teacher is quarantined but able to work remotely
  • There is also an office hours requirement for quarantined students

If I’m reading this correctly, no simulcasting.

Have at it. Tell me what you find.

And remember, I have no idea if this is the agreement, a rejected agreement, a draft… but it sounds like the sort of things they might come up with.

NYC Public School 2021-22: Subs and Preps

August 21, 2021 am31 12:03 am

Listen folks, September 2021 will not be a rerun of September 2020. The problems will be bad, but new.


  • Percent vaccinated was 0%. Now it is higher.
  • COVID was scary, but seemed to be fading. Now we have gone through several variants, and Delta is rising in NY (while surging elsewhere)
  • One quarter of the kids (25%) were going to come to school in person (de Blasio said 3/4, but we all said he was wrong, and we were right). Now everyone is coming to school (with people leaving New York, and others just holding their kids home, call it 85%)
  • Many teachers were going to work from home. Does anyone know how many had remote accommodations? 20%? 30%? Now, there are just about no remote accommodations.

The Federal Government wanted all schools open. Well, some things have not changed.

These differences have some direct consequences. I’m thinking of substitute teachers and mass preps.

Will teachers be out? Yup.

  • Every time a teacher gets COVID, even if it is a mild case, that teacher will be out of school. Anyone know how many days?
  • When a teacher is exposed, I believe they will be quarantined (anyone know the details? Or are they changing?)
  • And when morale is low, and exhaustion is real – and both of those conditions exist at higher levels, by a lot, than usual – when morale is low and exhaustion is real teachers who do not feel good are more likely to play it safe and stay home – even when it is not-COVID or COVID-related.
  • And a perhaps surprising fact: New York State guidance says that students who are exposed by wearing a mask do not need to quarantine. But the teacher, if unvaccinated, will need to.

Let me throw in one more question: teachers left in June – were they all replaced? Are staffing levels low?

In any case, there will be teachers out. There will be classes uncovered. Do schools have enough subs?

One option that is no longer an option: in elementary, splitting the teacher’s class and sending it into other classes in the same grade. Social Distancing would go out the window.

Another unavailable option: sending groups of classes into the auditorium. “Mass preps” I think they used to call it.

Remember, last year schools were over half empty. This year they will almost be full. What to do when teachers are out – especially since COVID can lead to long absences, is a real issue. Is your school ready with subs?

This post was motivated by a comment from yesterday:

You are missing a BIG point. The NYS back to school regulations state that students who are exposed to a confirmed covid case while social distancing and wearing a mask do not need to quarantine. However, if their teacher is unvaccinated, he or she will have to quarantine. Thus, you will have quite a few teachers quarantining at home while the rest of their classes will still be in the school building. Who is going to supervise that class while the teacher is in quarantine?


How Will NYC Kids Do School While on Quarantine?

August 19, 2021 pm31 10:29 pm

NYC Public Schools are opening in person in three weeks. Like it or not. It’s been in the works since June. There’s no surge that is huge enough to derail these plans.

NYC Public Schools will not have a remote option in three weeks. Unless the mayor caves. But he has such a strong backbone… Well, what do you think? He might cave. He might not. As of today, no remote option. I’m guessing that there won’t be a remote option when school starts.

NYC Public Schools will have schools, classrooms, and individuals – mostly individuals – quarantined, within days of the opening. Like it or not. New cases are doubling every 10 – 15 days. The layers of protection in NYC Public Schools are uneven school to school, and weak in many. And this Delta variant is forcing anti-quarantine states to quarantine school children and teachers. Today’s headlines include 5% of Mississippi school children are already under quarantine, after just one week of school. (the video is interesting – over 3 minutes, but worth watching

There are questions about what will trigger a quarantine. Interesting, but outside my scope, today. Although there is policy to be analyzed. There is a large contingent that, as part of their “keep schools open no matter the risks” agenda, are arguing against quarantining in most circumstances where one would expect them to be required. There will be a big push from City Hall and keep-schools-open advocates such as the GOP and the NY Times to ignore or downplay cases in schools, and avoid quarantines and closures.

But closures and quarantines will happen. If they can’t avoid them in Mississippi, they won’t be able to avoid them in New York City. Four syllables, four syllables. Hmmph.

To put us on the same page, a quarantine is not what you do when you are sick. It’s what you do when you may have been exposed to someone who is sick. It allows you time to monitor to make sure you are not sick, or to develop symptoms and get help. Either way, when you quarantine you feel ok (except for the anxiety) but you stay out of public life, or in this case, public school.

So frame the question: a group of children who feel ok may have been exposed so we are keeping them out of school for a week or so while we determine that they are in fact fine, or we determine that some are sick, and get them treatment. But they feel ok now, but are not in school.


Do nothing. This is de Blasio’s current plan.

  • Advantages: It is cheap. In fact, it costs zero. Nothing. It is easy. It requires no planning. de Blasio is fully capable of no planning.
  • Disadvantages:  Bored kids, climbing the walls. Being out of school, after 2020-21 may not feel like vacation.
  • Hidden motive: de Blasio is worried that having a quarantine plan is a slippery slope to having remote schooling. I know, dumb, but you know, de Blasio.
  • What it looks like: Nothing. Until a bunch of quarantines hit an anti-mask neighborhood, and we get insane protests, or until a bunch of quarantines hit gentrifier neighborhoods, and we get insane writing miscategorized as news and printed by the New York Times.

Set up a centrally run “Quarantine Academy

  • Advantages: Enough central staff have teaching licenses that this can be staffed pretty easily. Engages kids who are stuck on quarantine.
  • Disadvantages: In many cases the centrally run Quarantine Academy will not be on the same page (literally) as the student’s school. There will be a math lesson, but it may be a topic the child already engaged with this year, or one her class has not yet reached.
  • Hidden disincentive: although this seems relatively simple to set up, DoE Central’s capacity for planning is so limited that they are probably terrified by the prospect.
  • What’s it look like: “Teachers” can probably grab materials that the Virtual Content Specialists created last year. They can work from their existing DoE offices (maybe some shuffling to get quiet spaces). The DoE would need to supply zoom links to kids as they get assigned quarantine, and then the kids sign on.  Would there be attendance?  And for the kids? You are stuck home, but you get assigned grade-appropriate remote work, meet a bunch of new people virtually, and don’t get graded?  I can think of worse things to do for a week.

Tell Principals to Make Arrangements. Wink, wink. Or just drop hints.

I am terrified that this is what is in the works. Here’s my bad version: de Blasio says “We have no remote. Quarantine is short. Kids will be fine. They will be back soon. But schools can make their own arrangements.” Principals will take that to mean that they must make arrangements.  And in many schools principals will order teachers to keep two classrooms – one live, one virtual.  The UFT will say “principals should not order teachers to keep two classrooms” – but there will be no enforcement mechanism. And then, when kids are sick, we will be ordered to teach both remote and in-person, simultaneously. I hope I am wrong.

I taught remote all last year. I hated it. The kind of interaction I need as a math teacher wasn’t there. I could not read body language. I had trouble generating questions. I could not always see students’ faces (which is so much more important than asking “any questions?” which is a question that is designed to get silence as the answer – especially when I can read faces and know that there are or are not questions). I could not see student work in real time. I could not interrupt my lesson, walk over to the far board and take up an interesting tangential question that popped into some kid’s head. I could not give credit for board work. I barely could do group work. I hated it. It was not the teaching I love.

But this summer I taught five lessons in my school’s Discovery Program with a mixed remote/in-person class. If I were asked to do that again, I would turn in my retirement papers the same day. It was a far worse experience than remote teaching. Much of my work was doubled. But that’s not what I minded. Although it is true that I had to do about 50% more preparation. I hated things turned in remotely last year. Turns out I hate a mix of turning in the paper and turning in remotely even more. But in class – I move around – but the camera is fixed. If I spoke with remote kids, live kids didn’t hear me. When I was speaking with live kids, remote kids had problems. Parts of the board were invisible. Groups – we were in person so we could form socially distanced groups – operated totally differently. Conversations are best live, but I can run them remote – but I could not engage across modes. It stressed me out. It was frustrating. It was ineffective. I was one small part of our Discovery Program, which strives each year for 100% success. And the in-person part was close to 100. The remote was around 50.

Now, there are teachers who teach in the front of the room, and they talk, take a few questions, and write on the board. I have heard from some History teachers who are certain they could simulcast. But I cannot. I cannot imagine elementary. I couldn’t imagine most of my colleagues, or most high school teachers.

Could I post my homework assignments, and any readings? Sure. And if the demand stopped there, I think most of us would be ok. I just don’t think it would stop there, absent a strong UFT response.

  • Advantage (for de Blasio and Porter): They don’t actually tell principals to violate the contract or teachers’ rights or reasonable workload or decency. They just suggestively hint at it. And they don’t take on any responsibility at all. That’s the sort of responsibility he is willing to take.
  • Disadvantage (for teachers and students): the remote aspect would interfere with the live lesson. Or if the camera was on but the teacher did not modify the live lesson, the student would miss huge chunks – and missing mid-lesson is frustrating. And for teachers, the additional workload and stress would be significant.
  • What would this look like? For me? The beach. Because if it happens I’m retiring on the spot. For most of us? We are geared to bounce back from the last 17 months – instead getting this laid on us? pretty high burn out rates. Lousy atmosphere for students and teachers.
  • Wildcard: the UFT. The union has the right to stop this before it starts. And I hope that’s exactly what would happen. But the last year and a half do not inspire confidence.

In February, it is true we got this:

“It is not humanly possible to engage kids in person and online at the same time with the attention that is needed,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Teachers are very, very, very frustrated by this.”

But what will we get in September?

And look, it’s not just me. From the same article:

In Minnesota, an October union survey found that educators teaching concurrently were reporting soaring stress levels and considering quitting. The following month, Gov. Tim Walz (D) issued an executive order saying schools should not require teachers to provide instruction simultaneously to students learning in person and remotely.

but it’s not just teachers. This is from last fall, from Florida, of all the places:

Students attending class in person should have the benefits of interactive lessons, and students learning online need more attention from teachers to stay engaged. The solution is to separate these unique classrooms. Having separate teachers focused solely on online instruction or teaching in classrooms would allow them to figure out the most effective methods to teach their students during this time of uncertainty. 

Some brief thoughts on Afghanistan

August 16, 2021 pm31 1:43 pm

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is horrible for the people there.

The US military presence in Afghanistan, for 20 years, has been a foreign military presence. Some of us may have forgotten that.

Without US troops, the Afghan government put up little resistance. In many cities the Taliban just walked in.

The Taliban entered Kabul a day earlier than they had announced – to prevent crime. Sounds like a made-up excuse, except there were on the ground reports from locals about armed men, not Taliban, stealing and looting.

The US left Bagram Airbase July 2. The Taliban swept through the provinces and took Kabul in the intervening six weeks. This is comparable to the time it took Germany to conquer Poland, for an area 6 times as large.

Twenty years of US presence in Afghanistan built up no popular support for the Afghan government. That’s clear.

Twenty years of US presence cost roughly $850,000,000,000. That’s 850 billion.

Could 850 billion have extended/improved unemployment benefits? Built new roads and schools? Rebuilt bridges and tunnels? Bailed out small businesses? With all those zeroes at the end, it can be hard to fathom. But know this: 850 billion could have paid for a lot of stuff we need.

Twenty years of US presence cost Afghanistan – who knows?  100,000 dead. But what sort of damage to the country? And it also cost almost 3000 Americans their lives.

The United States under Ronald Reagan armed Islamic guerrillas in Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight against the then Afghan government. That government was pro-Soviet. The United States constructed and supported the forces that would later develop into the Taliban.

The Taliban takeover is horrible for the people there. A solution needs to be found – but as the last 40 years have shown – the US is part of the problem – and keeping us out is part of the solution.

Map shows areas controlled by Taliban in orange. (AP)

What is Three Feet?

August 13, 2021 pm31 1:44 pm

One yard? Thirty-six inches? Something like that.

But in the language of the pandemic, three feet is the current social distance that we are trying to maintain in lots of places. I am writing this because those places include schools.

The New York City Department of Education says that schools should try to create social distancing at three feet. But Wednesday they added, if a school cannot create social distancing at three feet, add more kids to the room, but call it three foot social distancing anyhow.

Karin Goldmark signed the memo, which asks principals to play “Let’s Pretend” with public safety at stake.

If they cannot meet three feet, the DoE says, go ahead and exceed three foot social distancing by up to 25%, but continue to call it three foot social distancing.

Layers of Protection

There are many things we can do, as individuals, as institutions, as society, to protect against the spread of disease. Here we are focused on COVID-19. using multiple approaches has been called “layering” – the more layers, none of which on their own provide complete protection, the more protection. Vaccination is one very important layer. Masking, done correctly, is another. Better masks provide a better layer. So is washing hands – although we now know this thing is airborne. Limiting the number of contacts is another; in schools this is being called “cohorting” or “podding” – and it might work in lower grades, but is awkward at best in middle school, and only possible in some high schools. Social Distancing is another layer.

Medieval Authority

Let me say up front, the existence of 50 fiefdoms, with autonomous duchies and city-states beneath them, is medieval. We have a government whose political organization belongs to an era before epidemiology. Authority in our schools rests with the Department of Education, which is run by a Chancellor, appointed by a Mayor, weakly overseen by a CEC, regulated by New York State Education Department which is not empowered to actually make decisions. All of this is under a Governor, who had emergency powers, but now does not, and has a week and a half left anyhow. The federal government cannot dictate local school policy, but it can deny funding to states for not following federal demands, and it provides a lot of funding.


And the CDC can provide guidance. Once upon a time the CDC was an organization of doctors and scientists who did their jobs. Today the amount of political interference in the CDC is obvious. It played out, on live tv, as the CDC dueled and ducked and duked it out with Donald Trump, sometimes standing firm, often bending, and occasionally yielding completely. It plays out, for us today, in the political decision – schools should be open – driving medical and public safety recommendations.

But once the CDC sets guidelines, makes recommendations, they don’t become law. It is still up to the other layers of government to duel and joust over who makes decisions.

CDC’s current guidance

is to use lots of “layers” in school. They recommend three feet for social distancing (with caveats and details), but add, if that’s not possible, do your best, and make sure to have lots of other layers, like podding.

New York State’s guidance

The Health Department, under demonic Howard Zucker, who should be immediately removed by Kathy Hochul, told schools that they would provide reopening guidance – right up to the week before the guidance was due, when they claimed that they would not provide guidance because the governor’s emergency powers were gone. But those powers had expired a month before, and they were still promising guidance after. It’s not the first time Zucker has lied, and this lie did not cost lives as his lies in 2020 may have, but it is still annoying.

Stepping into that void the New York State Education Department issued a document. It is a guide, recommendations. And it follows the CDC guidance pretty closely, with some added stuff.

What the New York City Department of Education is doing

The City DoE told principals to meet 3 feet social distancing if they could. They left open the possibility that 3 feet might not be possible, and left it at that.

NYCDoE identified schools that could not meet 3 feet, and ignored them, except for the worst few. They are talking about 50 schools (out of 1800). The real number of schools with distancing problems is probably over 300.

Shifting the blame onto principals

The NYCDoE has set very loose guidelines. They are far from specific. And they give principals autonomy to run their schools.

Actually, that last part, about autonomy, is a lie. The DoE micromanages much of what principals do. But when there is something tricky, or immoral, or illegal, the DoE gives principals “discretion.” “Discretion” is in quotes because it is really blame-shifting onto principals, it is plausible deniability, it is ducking responsibility.

The DoE knows that beyond the 50 schools it is examining, there are at least a few hundred that will not meet three foot social distancing. But that, they say, is up to the principals to plan for.

The NYCDoE Planning and Development Spreadsheets

Late spring 2020 Planning and Development sent out spreadsheets giving principals the maximum number of students they should put in each room. I wrote about it here. They overcalculated how many kids would fit at 6 feet social distancing. And then they gave a range, where the already overcalculated number was now the minimum. In the classroom where I usually teach, that number as THEY calculated it was 11. But they told my principal 11 – 15.

What is a maximum?

When there is a bridge, and it says “Clearance 9′ 6″” that means a vehicle taller than that should not attempt to go through. Why don’t they say “Clearance 9′ 6″ – 10′ 2” “? The answer is obvious. A maximum is a maximum. An elevator may give maximum weight 1450 lbs. They don’t write 1450 – 1790, again, for obvious reasons.

When Planning and Development calculated 11 as the maximum, and then wrote 11 – 15, they asked principals to use the higher number, which exceeded the maximum. Their boss, who signed her name, was playing roulette with our safety, and hoping that she has adequately shifted responsibility/blame onto principals, in case something went wrong.

New spreadsheets

In March of this year Planning and Development sent out new spreadsheets, since social distance in lower grades was being dropped to three feet. Those spreadsheets contained only one number. That number was calculated by taking the area of the room in square feet (perhaps over-reported – that’s certainly in the case in my school and in any room with fixed furniture), multiplied by 0.04, rounded, and subtracted 2 for the adult.

I was surprised that the obvious dishonesty was not present.

Newest spreadsheets

In the face of a few hundred schools that cannot meet three foot social distancing, Planning and Development issued new spreadsheets. They reported the old maximum as the lower number in a range, and increased room capacity, on a spreadsheet, by pushing a button, by 25%.

What about layering?

I don’t see where the City actually discusses it, but maybe it is there. The CDC does mention it. And NYSED refers to that part of the CDC guidance. If social distancing cannot be maintained, claims the politicized CDC, then a layering approach will help. But some of the key layers are not available in New York City schools. Little kids cannot be vaccinated. Older kids cannot be mandated to be vaccinated. Kids in some D75 schools cannot wear masks. “Pods” don’t work in most high schools and many middle schools.

The Goldmark memo

was written to justify this approach. Goldmark tells principals to use three foot social distancing. And if they cannot, she continues, go ahead and exceed three foot social distancing by up to 25%, but continue to call it three foot social distancing.

I do not know why such a person, with no education experience, is allowed to be in a position to do this.

Here’s her memo:

Dear Principals,

As you know, physical distancing is one of many measures the NYC DOE is taking to ensure the health and safety of our school communities. Our multi-layered approach puts health and safety front and center and follows all the latest guidance from local, state, and federal bodies.

In response to requests, attached please find updated room-level capacity reports for your school. This includes an estimated physical distancing capacity range for each full-size and half-size room allocated to your school that maximizes the ability to program classrooms safely while still maintaining three feet of distance, in line with latest CDC guidance. We know that most of you have already programmed your instructional space and do not need to make adjustments. For the small number that may benefit from additional capacity, these reports should help guide the final touches of your planning.

These estimates apply to all elementary, middle, and high schools and reflect the total capacity of each room including students and staff.     

The low end of the capacity range aligns with the capacities you received in March, and includes buffer zones in each room, such as along the walls. The high end of the range still safely allows for three feet of distance between individuals. Please keep in mind that in order to maintain three feet of distancing using the high end of the range, the following may be necessary: 

·        Desks may need to be placed along walls 

·        Desks may need to be staggered 

·        If the unique configuration of a given classroom is such that the high end of the range cannot be accommodated with three feet of space between each seat, please plan accordingly and do not go up to that capacity   

Additionally, please note that contractual maximums must be honored, even inlarge rooms where the number of students that can be served may exceed them. In these cases, please adhere to the lower of the two numbers, which is the contractual maximum.

These reports are based on 2020-2021 room allocations.  If you believe your room allocations will change during the 2021-2022 school year, please reach out to for an updated room report.

A cross-functional team has been working all summer with the small number of schools that may face challenges due to physical distancing guidelines. We will continue to provide intensive support and to mobilize resources for each of these schools in the lead up to September 13th.  

Executive Superintendents, Superintendents, and Directors of Operations will continue to work closely with you to ensure that workable plans are in place and that you have the support you need to ensure a safe, smooth opening this September.  As always, if you have questions or need assistance in addressing a space challenge, please contact your BCO Director of Operations and/or Superintendent for support. If you are the principal of a District 75 school and have questions, please reach out to Patricia Klebanov at for support.

You are also welcome to join one of the weekly support meetings organized jointly by the Office of Space Management, the Division of Operations, and the Division of School Planning and Development.  More information is forthcoming. We appreciate your continued dedication to your school communities and our continued partnership in this work. We look forward to a safe, joyful, and enriching return to school buildings in September.


Karin Goldmark

Deputy Chancellor, School Planning and Development

Aftermath? US Life Expectancy Falls Sharply

July 21, 2021 pm31 11:03 pm

Is this over, or almost over, or almost over here? Maybe it is to soon to say “aftermath”.

But not good.

The National Center for Health Statistics (I think they are part of the CDC) updated its life expectancy numbers for the United States. They are down.

Average life expectancy for all Americans declined by 1.5 years. For men it declined 1.8 years, for women 1.2 years. For the Hispanic population the decline was 3.0 years, for Blacks 2.9 years, and for non-Hispanic whites 1.2 years.

The overall number of 77.3 years is the lowest since 2003. Depending on subgroups, the numbers match those from 2000, or 2003, or 2005.

This report is based on preliminary numbers, which may be adjusted. But no adjustments could possibly make these numbers look good.

Feeling Congested? Pricing’s Not the Answer

July 20, 2021 pm31 11:22 pm

If all the major politicians in New York agree on something, it’s either a very good idea or a very bad one. Congestion Pricing is a very bad idea.

It has been played up in The New York Times. Cuomo has signed on. De Blasio is a proponent. Adams wants to hurry it up. All the defeated democratic candidates for Mayor supported it. There is pretty broad consensus among politicians.

New Jersey has an issue. And Sliwa doesn’t like it. Melinda Katz once opposed it – but I’m not sure if she still does. Residents of NYC had a pretty negative view until recently, but I think it’s closer to 50/50.

The idea is to charge drivers for entering Manhattan below 60th Street, with the amount of the charge varying depending on how crowded the Zone is. Result – fewer cars, less pollution, and a shitload of money to be used, at least in part, on mass transit. Let’s take the two big ideas – Reduce Congestion and Raise Revenue separately.

A Familiar Problem

Reduce Congestion

I once worked, perhaps a few of you know, in transportation planning. I got curious when I saw Sam Schwartz speak at Brooklyn Polytech. Average Vehicle Speeds on Manhattan Avenues and Streets. I was immediately hooked. And while my actual work eventually involved mostly private bus lines that no longer exist, I never lost my fascination with traffic. I’ve read a bit more than a normal person should. Actually, more than a bit more than that.

Short version: You can cut down the number of cars entering the Zone. But you cannot cut down how bad the traffic is.

Longer version: People tolerate only so much delay. Make the delay worse, and some people will stop taking their vehicle in, until the delay is restored at the level the community tolerates. Reduce the delay, and more cars will flow in until the delay reaches the level the community tolerates.

Example for those of you annoyed by how counterintuitive this is: Recall when a road was straightened, or had a lane added. Recall how traffic moved better for a bit. And recall how other traffic found your spot, and filled it up. And how the delays returned to what they had always been.

Another example: Lane saturation was studied in England, and was the subject of an intelligence report from The Economist, drawing the same conclusion – add lanes? traffic will find them and congest them to the level that congestion existed before. Here’s a brief paper from Canada about this “rebound effect”.

Corollary: Remove lanes, and traffic will drop until congestion reaches the previous level. Great study from the EU – click here to look it over (other links here are brief – but this one is 50 pages)

Conclusion: To reduce Manhattan traffic, remove lanes. Make more streets pedestrian only. Add consistent bike lanes. Add restaurant/commercial space (created from street space). The cars will still be delayed, but there will be many fewer of them.

Who will be affected? Well, everyone in the Zone will face less direct pollution from cars. Quality of life will be up. More walking. More outside seating, dining, etc, etc. Drivers? Those who most need access to Manhattan will deal with the worse delays. But those whose need is more marginal will opt for public transit, or not to take the trip. If the trip takes a long time, drivers will decide if it is worth their time.

Wrong conclusion: Congestion Pricing. Fewer cars will enter the Zone, it is true. But instead of those who really need access coming in, we will see those who can afford it. In fact, we will see an overall drop, but as part of that, wealthy drivers will replace middle class and working class drivers. Very Bloombergian. Zone residents might see nicer looking cars, but that is not a reasonable public policy goal. Plus, Congestion Pricing requires hardware and monitoring devices. Congestion Pricing draws an arbitrary line in Manhattan, and places an arbitrary boundary between one part of the City and others.

And a simpler and more effective method is available to reduce the number of cars traveling in Midtown and Lower Manhattan. Just close some streets, and remove some lanes. Nice story here about traffic “evaporating” when a popular link was removed from the London street system.

One Sort of Solution

Side note, since I mentioned lanes. American lanes are wide. Wider than most other places in the world. Do you know what that means? It makes it easier to stay in your lane. Sounds good, right? Wrong. When lanes are narrower, drivers are forced to focus more on their position. They go SLOWER. Fat American lanes produce FAST American traffic speeds. And that contributes to this country’s horrible vehicle accident record, including a bad pedestrian vs car fatality rate. One of the most significant road safety reforms we could enact would be to narrow lanes. Google this if you want to learn more, or click this link that popped up when I searched.

Increase Revenue

Revenue? That’s money the government takes from some of us, and uses. If we are lucky, that money gets used for something that benefits society, maybe benefits us personally.

Taxes. We are talking about taxes. And who they come out of, and who they go to, those are very important questions.

it makes sense that taxes from car use go to fixing roads that cars use. Or does it? Maybe taxes from car use should go to making alternate forms of transportation better or more viable. Or maybe, just maybe, our taxes get jumbled together and repurposed as society needs them.

That last one, taxes don’t get used based on how or where they were collected, is the right answer. Taxes on parents do not pay for schools. We do not tax disaster victims to pay for fire service. We do not tax anyone based on how much trash they generate.

And in fact, this discussion (well, my discussion) is not about what taxes get used for. It’s about how they are assessed. And here we have choices.

Wealth taxes and luxury taxes – good. They are coming right from those who can afford them most.

Income taxes, graduated, with higher rates for higher income, and with a bottom below which no tax is assessed – very good. Progressive taxes. Done right, those at the bottom do not pay, those in the middle pay little, and those at the top pay a lot.

Sales taxes – regressive. We all buy “things” and so get taxed pretty equally, even while some people make much more than others.

Use taxes – even more regressive. This Congestion Pricing business might fall into this category.

Sin taxes – also very regressive. The paternalistic idea that cigarette taxes are to benefit people’s health is bs. Those least able to pay are also the least likely to feel the sort of daily control over their lives that would allow them to quit. These are regressive taxes, and bad taxes. Perhaps because of pollution some NY Times readers would categorize Congestion Pricing as a sort of sin tax.

Lottery – jeez – just rob the people least likely to be able to afford, thank you Andrew Cuomo. And some of those payoffs should be illegal.


Want to reduce the number of cars? Take away roads, take away lanes.

Want to increase revenue? Raise wealth taxes, luxury taxes, and marginal income tax rates on top earners.

Want to avoid bad policy? Stop this Congestion Pricing nonsense before it starts. Opt for solutions that work, and for fairness, instead.

With a Straight Face

July 19, 2021 pm31 1:28 pm

It happens every year, in every class, lots of times. I’ll get a question. It might be silly, or off topic. Maybe it is irrelevant. And instead of saying “that is off topic” “silly” “irrelevant” I tease. I give a fabulous answer. And outrageous answer. A ridiculous answer. How old am I? As if it mattered. 89. With a straight face. Wait, no? That’s not true! And I keep a straight face. Well, almost straight, as a smirk elbows its way into the corners of my mouth. And they make a fuss and laugh, and so do I, and we move on.

I taught last Tuesday. In a room. With kids. Rising 9th graders. Our Discovery Program.

It was great teaching in a room. I got to respond to questions. I tailored discussion to things kids said. No cameras were on. No cameras were off. The kids were just THERE. I could see their reactions. Sort of. I could see who understood well, who wasn’t following, who was distracted. I could generate excitement. I could play kids’ answers off of each other. It was teaching. I had missed it.

It was mildly not-so-comfortable teaching in a mask. But it was ok. And it interfered, somewhat, with reading kids’ faces. That’s a real issue. But still much better than little boxes on the zoom screen.

When I signed up for Discovery I missed some things. A few kids are remote. It does mean I have to have a screen on. I wasn’t so happy about that. But it was minor, and only happens in one of the two sections. And I don’t know all the stories, but one is a local kid who has to babysit for her family – and she’ll be a good student. I understand the necessity. Also, teachers are assigning work on Google Classroom. I completely stressed out when I heard that. I went along with it… but I’ve shifted to collecting work, on paper, in person, as much as possible. I really want to get as far away from March ’20 – June ’21 as I can, as soon as I can.

Anyhow, it was fun being in class, and at the board (even though this room has white boards instead of chalk). And I got to listen to the answers, and to encourage good thinking, even when it wasn’t completely correct, and gently correct quick thinking that was way off course.

And then I got a silly question, and I gave an outrageous answer. These kids never had me before, so they weren’t expecting me to make stuff up. And my straight face, and then my almost straight face, were hidden by my mask. My shtick flopped.

Much better than Zoom. But still, one of my favorite parts is still missing.

Best / Worst Breakfast

July 18, 2021 pm31 11:23 pm

Today I had the most delicious breakfast – but it came with the worst service I’d experienced in a long time.

After breakfast I went for a long ride, which gave me a lot of time to think. I thought about how lousy the service was (this isn’t just a teaser – I’ll tell you further down what got me so bothered) – but I it got me mostly thinking about the nature of serving, and of service work.

This was a diner, far from any big city. The cooks are regular, maybe one is the owner. White men. One server, mid-20s? I think has been there. The other two servers seemed younger. All women.

Is serving by its nature a temporary job? Were these high school kids, who needed some summer money? If that’s the set-up, are we devaluing both service work AND our young people, by treating this work like it is worth a few bucks, and that’s it? Do we send the message that this work doesn’t matter much? And neither does the worker?

If we think that serving is important – and I do – don’t we need to send a different message?

It’s true – astronaut, ballerina, cowboy, doctor, server – which one do kids NEVER say they want to be when they grow up?

Clearly one thing we can do is pay servers more, pay all service workers more. The drive to raise the minimum wage to $15 completely necessary, and, frankly, completely inadequate. (Think about $2400 a month, and then tax taken out, and then pay for housing, food, transportation – include all fares, car payments, gas. Is there anything left?)

And remember, this is serving. There is a LOWER minimum wage for servers. This whole “tip” business is unfair – servers should be paid correctly, and not have to rely on the sometimes unpredictable or arbitrary whims that go into tip calculations (or non-calculations). Here’s something interesting on the subject. I am not an expert, but I am convinced. And, by the way, yes, I considered not tipping this morning. Probably the first time ever I seriously considered that. But I did tip. Just shy of 20%.

But back to the minimum wage – raising it seems like the right way to go. Abolishing the lower minimum for servers? Clearly. But things may be more complicated.

This was a small business, in an area where there’s not a lot of money. People walk in and out of service jobs (not sure if that is true of this place – hadn’t been there since before COVID). But between various sources of assistance, including stimulus unemployment – there are ways to get some money. And these jobs are around – there is seasonal tourist industry, so there’s cycles of employment.

Now, after COVID (I hope “after” is true), there are fewer businesses around. Bigger companies got the stimulus money, and lots of little guys got shut out. Chains got treated as separate businesses, and each got a check. But my diner and the businesses like it in these poorer communities that are dependent on tourists? Didn’t do so well. And those businesses that made it through are, many of them, hurting.

So the point: minimum wage. What good does it do to raise it if these small businesses can’t afford to pay it?

Don’t forget, bigger businesses can afford to pay it, and should.

But we need some sort of cushion for small businesses. They should not be forced out of business in our attempt to help poor workers, service workers.

Some sort of guaranteed income might help. And some sort of payroll assistance to small businesses?

Ok, this morning. Place was about 1/3 full. “Take any table” and I did. Server shows up, asks for beverage, I ask for coffee with whole milk (this is half and half territory). Tell her I’m ready. “Classic Breakfast” (their #1): “2 eggs scrambled well, home fries, sausage, dry rye toast.” “Rye?” – “Rye, no butter”

Back with the coffee, I ask again for whole milk. I wait, fidget with phone. A few minutes (not moments) later, look up, see her chatting with other server. I try to get her attention – she doesn’t see the room (which is small). I try more. Nope. Finally get her – I say “whole milk” and exaggerate the words so she can lip read as well. A minute later she shows up – with coffee. I ask again for milk, she returns. I pour, and realize that my coffee is now luke warm.

Server appears a few minutes later with my plate. This place makes tasty stuff, but the portions are a bit small. I look, portion looks nice. But the bread, on the plate with the eggs/meat/potatoes – is buttered. I send it back, and ask for more coffee (and water). And then I eat. And the coffee comes. And I ask again for water, and it comes, and actually the food is tasty. And I am thinking about how minor these annoyances have been, as I enjoy the flavor.

And she takes everything away, and I wait a little too long for the check (again I see the server schmoozing, not watching the room, and not making eye contact with me), and when the bill finally comes it is for almost double what I expected.

“You got three eggs” – I didn’t ask for three eggs “Yes you did” – She brings over the senior server. “What did you ask for?” “2 eggs scrambled well, home fries, sausage, dry rye toast” “Did you eat what came?” “Yes. But wait a second, even if I had 3 eggs, not two, the upcharge for an extra egg is $2, not $6” “Let me check with the manager”

The senior server returns. “You ordered three extra eggs”

So, ladies and gentlemen, no. And wtf?

Here’s the story, what probably happened. I said “classic breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled well…” and the server, paying little attention, took that as a classic breakfast PLUS 2 eggs scrambled, and then somehow thought 3 instead of 2 because, well, who knows? Maybe an earlier order. Maybe this was her third shift.

And then it came out, and the eggs didn’t look short, like they’ve seemed before in this place, and maybe they looked a little more than a regular 2… could have been 3. But 5? no way. And anyway, I was focused on the buttered toast when I’d said not buttered and she’d repeated it, and I’d repeated it.

Back to my little friend. Someone gets a breakfast with eggs, and then orders extra eggs, and you don’t say “so you want 5 eggs altogether?” (or four, if you were listening only half as badly).

Manager/cook came out – asked what happened. I explained. He said they’d been busy (maybe yesterday. Not while I was there) and said they’d take it off my bill.

I don’t need this tension, and I’m glad it’s over, and wait for the new bill. And wait. And wait. Over five minutes, pushing ten. The servers are chatting amongst themselves. The place is just about empty. I finally get the senior server’s attention, ask if I should come up or if they’re bringing the ticket to me. She runs back, they huddle and decide to make me a new check, and she brings me it. And then she brings my credit card back, fast. And I think, and I tip. Still have to tip, no matter how bad the service. And this was bad. Out of extreme indifference.

Good food. But an hour fifteen (too long!) of pretty awful service.

So no excuses for my server. She didn’t give a fuck, and not in the cool way. Inattentive, indifferent, that’s not right.

But look at the set-up. She’s got a temporary gig – this is not her life, her career. The pay is lousy. And the message all over the place is that serving is a no-skill job that doesn’t matter, and neither do servers.

We need to change that – the entire set up.

But in the meantime, if you are headed way upstate, Essex County, message me, and I’ll tell you the diner and the server you have to avoid.

UFT Endorsement Mess

June 26, 2021 pm30 3:01 pm

The UFT has had bad political evenings before – but June 22, 2021 may go down as their worst ever.

(Now that the school year has ended, it is time to breathe. Part of that, for me: I will try to return to semi-regular writing. I’m going for a variety of topics: education, math, teaching math, fun math problems, science and the pandemic, other science, politics, New York State politics, New York City politics, the United Federation of Teachers and its politics, the New York City Department of Education., and other stuff that surprises or amuses me).


UFT endorsed: Stringer

Winner: not Stringer (probably Adams, outside chance for Garcia or Wiley)

The UFT leadership tried a new process, and chose Stringer. They ran a “final” round with Adams, Stranger, Wiley, and Yang – but failed to anticipate Kathryn Garcia and her pro-charter campaign would take off. They poured four million dollars into Stringer’s campaign, and once that tanked, that sat pat.

Their strategy for ranked choice voting was Yes on Stringer, No on Adams and Yang, and to acknowledge that RCV exists. At two Delegate Assemblies in a row Mulgrew quickly mumbled about the ranked choice being hard to figure out, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens. They must have tested the line and realized that it sucked, but had nothing else to say. Only choosing one IS a real strategy. If, for example, it was clear a progressive would win, ranking one and leaving the others off might be an effective strategy. But not here.

With Stringer non-viable, and no recommendations on the rest of the ballot, any UFT impact was lost. UFT votes were likely widely divided. The lack of any word on Garcia probably led to many UFT Stringer/Garcia or Garcia/Wiley ballots.

And the last word, for now, on how ineffective Mulgrew was?  Weingarten ranked Stringer first, Adams second.

“You had a lot of billionaire money — $16, $17, $18 million. That money coming from the labor movement was very eclipsed from money coming from the billionaires,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who said she ranked Adams second, after city Comptroller Stringer


UFT endorsed: Corey Johnson

Probable winner: Brad Lander

The UFT’s Unity caucus fought hard for the Johnson endorsement, losing the first vote because of Mulgrew’s smug antics at the DAs, and winning the second despite being challenged. But no one discussed Lander, a popular City Council member, clear progressive voice, and strong advocate for public education.

Bronx Borough President

UFT endorsed: Vanessa Gibson

In the lead: Vanessa Gibson

She has a five point lead on homophobic scumbag and Bronx non-resident Fernando Cabrera. A lot will depend on how ranked choice plays out. Did voters just choose their number one, and stop? That would help Gibson. Did they choose their number one, and put familiar names on the ranked list? That would hurt her. Did some voters vote their self-identification/race/ethnicity?  The other three candidates have Hispanic surnames. That would definitely hurt her. Or did voters research policies? In that case, from left to right, Fernandez, Sepulveda, Ravelo… that’s also the order of their vote totals (14, 10 and 2%), would seem to favor Gibson.

Brooklyn Borough President

UFT endorsed: Joanne Simon

Probable winner: Antonio Reynoso

Again, Unity endorsed against the progressive, and lost. Simon is in third place.

Manhattan Borough President

UFT endorsed: Brad Hoylman

In the lead: Mark Levine

With just a 3% gap, (28.7% to 25.7%) this could change with later choices being added. I don’t know a thing about the candidates.

Queens Borough President

UFT endorsed: Donovan Richards

In the lead: Donovan Richards

This one is even closer, 41.5% to 40.2% over Elizabeth Crowley, but as they are closer to the magic 50% mark, any lead is meaningful

Manhattan District Attorney

UFT endorsed: Alvin Bragg

In the lead: Alvin Bragg

Another 3% gap. Bragg has 33.9% and Tala Farhadian Weinstein has 30.5%

Next time I’ll talk a little about City Council. They picked more winners in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, and did really badly in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

And someone needs to talk about Unity and political action. Even for them, this was horrible.  They consistently endorsed centrists over progressives, without strong results. They either completely failed to grasp ranked choice (isn’t that what paid political staff is paid to do, figure things out?), or strategized that going with one candidate per race would produce better results (isn’t paid political staff supposed to have better ideas than that?)

And there was paid staff. They brought in an outsider, Cassie Prugh, to run political action. We always had teachers as directors of political action. If going professional means losing more, maybe they’ll go back to the amateurs.

Mayor, failure. Public Advocate, sat out. Comptroller, embarrassing mess. Brooklyn Beep – embarrassing. Other three Beeps, lead in two, trail in the last, but all too close to call. And most of the calls made not on principal, but on who cuts deals without rocking the boat. Bad job guys. Really bad job.


Casualties, Central States, and Stabilization

June 17, 2021 am30 11:16 am

When I was a kid I heard the news. It seemed like it was always on. I understood lots of words, but not all of them, not close to all of them.

Part I

I think I was 5 or 6 when my mom showed me Viet Nam on the globe. Cool. And why when it was day there it was night here. I remember where we sat, and I remember that sun beam…

Expressways of Vietnam - Wikipedia

I’m not sure if that was a separate conversation, or if she was deflecting. Because I knew from the news that Viet Nam was a place. And I knew it had really cool low-numbered highways. Highway 1. Highway 9. Highway 13. Not the awkward Eye-91 and Eye-95 that we had. And I knew that there were lots of things along those highways. The news said. But I did not know what these things – “casualties” – were. I must have asked. And I may have gotten a distracting lesson on the rotation of our planet instead.

Part II

I recall hearing about teamsters. I didn’t know what a teacher was. I didn’t know what a pension fund was, but I knew that ‘fund’ meant there was money. Central States! That was cool. I knew every state on the map. Some states came in groups. My state was part of New England, though that was just a name, and didn’t really mean we were connected to England. I had heard of the Midwest, though I’m not sure I knew what states were in it. Iowa? Pennsylvania? Ohio? I’d have to wait to be an adult to be truly confused about that one. But “Central States” – that was new to me. Again, the cool short name. Central. Which were in the center?

Even when I was a bit older, and learned about Jimmy Hoffa, I didn’t really understand. Turns out that the employers contributed to a big pension fund, but did not administer it, and that gangsters used influence in the IBT (International Brotherhood of Teamsters – “teamster” is someone who drives a team of horses – like a horse drawn wagon, and later since it’s the same job really, who drives a truck) – gangsters used influence in the IBT to “gain control” over the Central States Pension Fund. I still don’t know exactly what the mechanism was, or how much control. The Times has us afraid of mobsters. It’s the accountants who will kill us.

Part III

Today I hear a lot about a “Stabilization Fund.” Stable is a cool word. I don’t like when things that affect us are in crazy flux. Stable is good, right?

Retirees get some reimbursements from this fund, so it makes them more stable? Is that where the name comes from? (answer – no)

The City (I think it is just the City, New York City) contributes money into a Stabilization Fund. I do not know who administers the Fund. Do the municipal unions, including the UFT, administer this fund? Money from the Fund is used to reimburse retirees for some of the costs not covered by Medicare. Do I have that right?

When Mulgrew and de Blasio talk about “health care cost savings” I know they are not talking about savings for you – or for me. “Health Care Savings” is when I pay more, or a procedure is not covered, or a doctor is no longer in network.

When we lose health care, or doctors or procedures, that’s “Health Care Loss” for members but Mulgrew / deBlas call it “Health Care Savings.”

Who is saving that money that we, members, are losing? Is it the “Stabilization Fund”?

Who works in the Stabilization Fund? Is it a source of patronage jobs?

I want some answers. About Stabilization, not celestial mechanics.

Today’s UFT Delegate Assembly – What to Look For

June 16, 2021 pm30 5:01 pm

Mulgrew will talk for a long, long time. Few delegates will get a chance to speak. Every vote will go as Unity Caucus wants it to.

That’s all given. But what specifically will happen?

1. Will Unity really win every single vote? They lost their endorsements in April?

1. They lost their endorsements in April because Mulgrew was being a dick, and not allowing people to object to candidates they didn’t like. A little less dickish in May, and they all passed easily.

2. Will there be any real discussion of the NYC Mayor’s race?

2. Wow. So much here.

  • Why did Unity refuse to consider Ranked Choice Voting? Will they consider it today?
  • Stringer looks dead in the water. We spent one million dollars on him (with the AFT throwing in another three mil). How much money do we have to toss around?
  • Will we endorse, or co-endorse, or rank Maya WIley?
  • The UFT consistently says No Adams, No Yang. But Mulgrew has been silent on Garcia, less noxious, but more corporate and dangerous than the other two. Will he say No Garcia, or is this a stealth endorsement.

3. Will there be any real discussion of the Unity Plan to Privatize retirees’ health care?

3. Delegates are trying to get this discussed. Will Unity allow discussion? They might let it come up, and just vote it down. But they might also use Mulgrew-style procedural objections to stop anyone from even asking “can we talk about this?” This is a huge deal.

Privatizing Medicare is bad for future retirees (Unity is making sure that current retirees keep the same level of benefit)

Privatizing Medicare opens the door to what Mulgrew says he wants to do next – renegotiate health care for in service members. I don’t trust Unity with the future of my health care.

Maintaining benefits for current retirees might require taking money from current teachers (additional savings – but those savings are for the City and Unity Caucus. Where doe the money come from? You and me). At a retiree meeting a perceptive retiree suggested that more savings could come from keeping new teachers in HIP, no choice, for 5 or 10 years (it is currently 1 year). Mulgrew said “that’s interesting, we will take a look”

Unity’s approach to healthcare is working AGAINST the New York Health Act (kind of medicare for all / MFA for New York State). At this point there is much support for the New York Health Act. The opposition? The Trump people, joined by Weingarten, Pallotta, and Mulgrew. On health care, Unity are honorary Trumpies.

The NY Health Act, by the way, carves out protections for us. When Mulgrew says that the act will hurt us, he is not being honest.

4. How tightly will Unity control the discussion?

4. In May, every resolution had Unity Speaker for, Unity Speaker for, one independent delegate against, Unity Speaker then vote. Someone orchestrated every word. Unity has always controlled discussion, but after losing that vote in April they were full-throttle paranoid. Was that a one-time, and they will relax? Or has Unity assigned a DA Choreographer as a new category of patronage job?

5. How will next year’s DA function?

5. Mulgrew will be proposing hybrid Delegate Assemblies – remote and in person. Motions and fun stuff? Only in person. Voting? Everyone, remote and in-person.

There are delegates who are saying that remote delegates will be disenfranchised, and that is undemocratic. Others will say that if you want to make a motion, come in person.

Unity will get it’s vote to pass. There will be people speaking against. There is a question what percent votes no. 5% vote no on everything. 50% + 1 would defeat it. What’ll happen? Not sure what delegates will think – but I’m guessing about 20% vote no. It’ll pass.

But here’s the bottom line. My first reaction is to distrust this proposal. Not because I necessarily buy James’ argument 100% (I have to think about it). No, I distrust the proposal because Unity has been manipulating process badly, baldly, blatantly during this pandemic.

Unity got caught cheating last month – 10 resolutions were submitted, but Unity did not place them on the agenda in the order they were submitted, they put the ones they didn’t want to talk about at the bottom. Someone found the receipts. Proof. I would distrust any proposal Unity made about procedure.

Sorry for not ending on an optimistic note. After a year of fighting against hybrid, and blended, and instructional lunch, and “flexibility” in the contract(s?), which all seem to emanate from Unity, I’m not feeling generous.

Stringin’ ’em along – Mulgrew’s Mayoral Mess

June 5, 2021 pm30 3:24 pm

When it comes to mayoral endorsements, the UFT leadership tried to claim that it got it right this time – without admitting how they had botched it in the past. Old timers remembers the Hevesi/Ferrer/Green fiasco (one race, three endorsements, three losses). And everyone should remember how the UFT leadership sat out Bloomberg’s 3rd election, letting him win when we could have beaten him, and spared NYC schools Bloomberg’s four most savage years.

The UFT Leadership Finally Got an Endorsement Process Right?

This time, according to Mulgrew, the UFT leadership (Mulgrew and his caucus, Unity) got it right. Members could freely participate. They read how members reacted. There was a vote at the DA. And the process chose Scott Stringer… who did not (at the time) seem like a crazy choice.

But we still have a mess. Unity cannot escape its history of mayoral endorsement miscues.

The UFT (and AFT – why are they getting directly involved in a local race – the AFT president did work in NYC, but she had worse political instincts than Mulgrew – and it’s a national federation. Anyhow…) The UFT and AFT have contributed four million dollars to Stringer. That’s going all in. Could be smart if he were going to win – but $4M is a LOT of money. And he’s probably not going to win. That’s money pissed up a rope. That’s stringing us along.

Stringer Stumbles

Stringer had an allegation of sexual harassment. End of April. There might be something fishy about it. There was definite weirdness to what the accuser said, and she has a connection to Yang. I don’t want to dismiss it, nor endorse it. But Stringer’s response was weak and a bit slow, and he lost a lot of endorsements – mostly local politicians. And he had a bunch of those – and he lost most of them. One major endorsement he kept? The UFT.

Stringer Fondles

And yesterday, over a month later, a second allegation. Back in the day he ran a bar, he grabbed a waitress’ butt, he tried to make out with her – when she said no, he stopped. That was a different time, back in the 90s. Right? Well, yes, but… I wouldn’t have grabbed someone’s behind. An employee? That’s a problem. And grabbing someone and starting to make out – touching her thigh, kissing – not like that, no. Even if it were a different time, and even if some men behaved that way – I did not – most of us did not – and it was not okay.

And, when he doesn’t recall if it happened with the second accuser, makes it sound like it happened with Stringer in general – he just doesn’t remember with who.

We’ll get back to what the UFT will do. Should do. Could do. But let’s go back for a moment.

Who Were the UFT Finalists?

One of the key decisions in the UFT’s endorsement process was inviting candidates to the final round. The UFT invited Adams, Stringer, Wiley, and Yang. Why those four? Because they were top polling at that moment. And that was not a great reason. Adams and Yang are hostile to us. They are big charter supporters. Yang is an unknown, unsuccessful businessman, who sounds smart, as long as he doesn’t talk too long, or about something the listener actually knows something about. Adams, ex-cop, ex- and future Republican, doesn’t share our values. And at the time a significant minority of UFTers were backing Dianne Morales (whose campaign floundered, and then ran up on the rocks. I think she’s through). But inviting hostile Yang, but not Morales – that wasn’t a UFT member-driven choice. As inclusive as Mulgrew/Unity make the process seem, this key choice was made behind closed doors.

In the end, the final round, Mulgrew questioning Adams, Stringer, Wiley, Yang – it was good television. Both Adams and Yang said things that made clear that teachers should not support them – I’ll grant that – they are useful soundbites. And I’m not sure how “we” chose Stringer over Wiley, but I’m not complaining loudly.

Questions of Competence

But I didn’t understand why the UFT didn’t do a ranked choice selection. When asked, they gave a lame answer. Mistake.

And I wonder why there were not more thorough take-downs of other hostile candidates.

Part of the answer, the UFT’s political shop is weak. They were unable to think, to look, beyond the latest polls. During a run up to an election, dark horses emerge. Front-runners stumble. But the UFT leadership saw the polls as if it were election day. Yang. Adams. Stringer. The top three – why bother with anyone else?

This is not me criticizing the UFT leadership for not being progressive. (They are not, when it comes to elections, and I do criticize them for it.) This is me criticizing them for being amateurs.


I did not anticipate Kathryn Garcia rising so high. But with the Times and the Daily News endorsements, with Yang stumbling here and there (his handlers should time limit mikes in his face – he’s good for 10, maybe 15 seconds) – Garcia’s numbers moved up, and she actually topped the last poll.

Garcia is more pro-charter school than Yang or Adams. She is friendly with the big real estate industry and hostile to tenants rights. She opposes the wealth taxes that Alessandra Biaggi and the State Senate enacted, and those they are still trying to enact. She is politically in Bloomberg’s mold.

It’s time for the UFT to release the lousy things Garcia said. Members need to know that Adams and Yang want to redistribute unused charters, but that Garcia actually wants to raise the cap.

But we’ve got silence on Garcia. Or worse. Look at what I got a week ago:

Notice the message about ranked choice: Just that it exists, and that we can use it. Nothing about who to rank.

The Delegate Assembly approved only one candidate – a first choice. This message may be a violation of UFT policy, by implying the UFT is recommending making other, unspecified, choices.

Notice the message about who to vote for. Stringer. Notice who not to vote for. Adams and Yang. And Garcia? Surging in the polls. Endorsed by the Times. The UFT’s silence looks like a tacit okay to rank her number two. Which would be a horrible mistake.

No Garcia!

Does the UFT have a deal with Garcia? I doubt it. I just think our political shop is amateurish. Unfortunately, with consequences.

Let’s get that message out today, ok? Don’t rank Adams, Yang OR Garcia.

And Still Getting Strung Along?

We are four million dollars in the hole for a likely loser. Let’s not compound things. Please cut off the flow of money. No matter how much he had a chance before, it’s faded. And the money already spent is gone. Don’t make things worse.

As the UFT leadership pulls money from Stringer and stops supporting his events, should they also drop the endorsement? Yup. But unlikely. Flip-flopping doesn’t bother them. The perception of flip-flopping does. They will almost certainly unofficially drop him. Don’t look for them to make it official.

Rank Someone Else?

Will they back a second candidate? Instead of Stringer? Unlikely. As well as, or as a second choice for ranked choice voting? Some UFT leaders were backing Maya Wiley early on. it would seem like the smart thing to do.

Ranked Choice Poll Mess/NYC Mayoral Race

June 3, 2021 am30 9:24 am

We are thinking about “lanes” – blame modern polling pundits for that – but voters apparently aren’t. It’s the easy way to break down politics, especially if you are a numbers guy, nNuAmTbTeSrIsI LgVuEyR… and don’t know much about politics.

Ranked Choice Polling (asking what voters will do in a ranked choice elections) gives away the mistake.

Here’s the last ranked choice poll that I can find on wikipedia:

Notice what happens when Morales is eliminated? Adams and Yang don’t gain votes. Stringer and Garcia gain 1% each. And Wiley gains 5%. That’s like 70% of Morales’ vote going to Wiley. That’s a lane, isn’t it?

But watch what happens when Stringer goes out. His 13% goes to Adams (3%), Garcia (4%), Wiley (5%), and Yang (3%). Pretty evenly split. No lane.

And previous polls? A May 17 poll has Morales’ vote going 1% to Adams, 2% to Garcia, 1% to McGuire (!), 3% to Wiley. No lane. And Stringer’s going 3% Adams, 4% Garcia, 3% Wiley, 3% Yang. No lane at all. More of his votes go to Garcia than to Wiley?

Where do Stringer’s votes shift?

May 243%4%5%3%
May 173%4%3%3%
*May 1517%14%
*May 126%5%6%
*May 1212%10%
*April 2113%13%
**April 15
*Mar 1813%13%

*Wiley and Morales were already eliminated

**Runner-up, votes did not shift

Where do Wiley’s votes shift?

***May 246%9%4%
***May 1716%14%
May 151%0%2%1%1%0%1%
May 123%3%3%3%
May 127%5%6%
April 214%6%7%
April 154%5%7%
Mar 184%4%7%

***Stringer and Morales were already eliminated

Where do Morales’ votes shift?

May 240%1%1%5%0%
May 171%2%1%0%3%0%
May 151%0%2%1%1%0%1%
May 120%0%2%0%1%2%1%
May 121%0%0%0%1%3%2%
April 211%1%2%3%2%
April 152%1%1%3%2%
Mar 181%0%1%0%0%1%0%

No Early Retirement Incentive This Year

June 1, 2021 am30 9:36 am

The City did not want it to happen, and gummed up negotiations. That’s my read. Here’s how I think they were thinking:

  • An ERI would have saved money today, with a greater cost in the long run. Kicking the can down the road. But the Biden money undercut the need for cost savings today. And the NY State budget did some of the same.
  • Retirements will be up this year. Schools in New York City will be challenged to fill vacancies. An Early Retirement Incentive would have likely aggravated the crisis.

The UFT leadership supported an ERI – those members who would have benefited would have been very grateful. But the leadership knows, and I know, and you know, the vast majority of the membership would not have been affected.

There were people commenting on previous posts (An Early Retirement Incentive Exists. But What Does it Say? – with almost 1000 comments, and Probably No Early Retirement Incentive This Year)who desperately wanted this to happen. Let me pause here and say that I understand. Let me also pause and point out that some of them may not have actually benefited. It is possible (for some people?) to retire before age 55 but with a substantial penalty – I do not believe that penalty was going away.

Let me also pause to point out that I am over 55, and have enough years. I would have benefitted, with no penalty. Just gravy.

But I was a bit surprised the bill kept moving forward after the federal money was announced. “Good for me” I would tell people “but bad policy. Let’s see what happens.” And then we saw, the City mucked up negotiations.

Look at it this way: For those of us at all invested in an ERI, we wanted it to go forward. And both seats at the table were occupied by players who knew that (UFT leadership and DoE). The UFT leadership could honestly negotiate – as long as there was no cost, it was fine with them, and a good deal for a few members. The City side pretended to negotiate – no reason to piss off a bunch of people – but they did not want this to happen, so they negotiated in a way that guaranteed no deal would happen. I’m referring specifically to the demand that some teaching licenses be included, others excluded, which everyone knows would be unacceptable.

So what next? Nothing, not now.

People still will retire. The numbers will likely be quite high. And we will see some real scrambling to fill positions – much more than in a regular year.

What a mighty fall

May 30, 2021 pm31 1:33 pm

COVID rates, by state, mapped, mid-month and end of the month, from Thanksgiving to today.

Numbers are from CDC, as presented here, on the heat map, by NPR. Maps, including mistakes, are mine.

Colors: The reds are very bad, tans and yellows less bad. At some point I introduced light greens for rates that were above containment levels, but not necessarily indicative of community spread. That’s where most of the country is today.

Are we done? No. Needs to get below that. But this summer will be a great opportunity, as long as we don’t create hotspots and start spreading it rapidly again.

That’s a separate post, probably more. The opponents of public health – concentrations of Trump voters and NY Times readers – are anxious to put us back at risk. Another discussion.

Rectangle Puzzle: Area = Perimeter

May 29, 2021 pm31 11:26 pm

Every square has a perimeter, and an area. If the perimeter is 12, the area is 9 (check that).

But one special square has its area equal to its perimeter. (Answer is in a few lines).

You could just guess at it, and get it. You could do some algebra:

(side)^2 = 4(side) Call the side s, and s^2 = 4s and s^2 - 4s = 0 and s(s-4) = 0 and now we have 4 or 0, but 0 makes no sense.

And yeah, the area of a square with side 4 is 16, and so is the perimeter.

Rectangles (here’s the puzzle)

Now, rectangles come in more varieties than squares. That can make them more interesting, or more complicated.

Can a rectangle have its area equal its perimeter? Yes, 4×4 works (remember, a square is a special rectangle). But there is at least one more.

Can you find another rectangle with its area equal its perimeter?

Can you find all of them?

How do you know when you have them all?

A Little Cryptography

May 28, 2021 pm31 11:51 pm

I’m teaching a Number Theory elective this Spring, and trying to have some fun.

I chose a text, and I knew we would finish it in April, which we did.

And I gave students some choices of what to explore next. While they were choosing, I started a unit on old encryption systems, biding time, figuring they would pick a new direction.

But the direction most picked was to learn a bit of math that underpins modern cryptosystems, so learning a bit more about old systems made sense. Plus, they were having some fun. It’s one thing for me to claim that a code is easy to break, it’s another for me to post gibberish, and for my students figure out what it says.

They don’t own Captain Midnight Decoder Rings, but if they did, the rings would have been perfect for the first few lessons.

I told them to dial the rings to G and to decode the text I gave them. Wow! they all got it. Then I told them to encode a text (sounds bad, but just 250 characters). Not a problem.

Then they looked at encrypted stuff without knowing the key, but the one-letter words gave the key away.

Then we took away the spaces. Who needs them? And they make it too easy to break the code. But letter frequency gives it away. English has lots of As and Es and Ns and Ts, and not so many Qs or Zs.

Once students learned to break codes by letter frequency, even with the spaces gone, we decided it was a good thing we didn’t invest in Decoder Rings.

Next we looked at Napoleonic systems, that involved FOUR (4) or MORE (more) Captain Midnight Decoder Rings. That takes us historically up to the US Civil War (the slaveholders used this outdated cipher, some surprise), and in today’s time, up to today. I can show students how to break this system, and why it is eminently breakable, but breaking it is still hard, and only a few will even attempt it on their own. That’s ok. This has been fun. And next i’ll show them some of the mechanics of Enigma, and some of the basics behind modern stuff (Enigma shouldn’t count as modern).

But that’s all background.


Any part of that I got right, I owe to Dr. Kent Boklan of Queens College who taught a massively enjoyable class on Cryptography when I was on sabbatical. My group (we did group work) got some cipher text encrypted with Enigma, and we broke it. (Yay!).

And any part of the above I got wrong, I owe to not paying close enough attention in class.

That’s also background.

Choice of Text

I have to choose things to encrypt. And then ask a question. I could ask “first three sentences” “blah blah” “name of author” etc etc. Or I could ask things like, “Who wrote this, and why is he so angry?” Which I did ask (George Wallace on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964)

I have picked some righteous words. Frederick Douglas, on Caribbean emancipation. Mohammad Ali, on why he would not fight in Viet Nam, Leonard Peltier: “America, when will you live up to your own principles?”

There was a boring abstract from the World Health Organization. It was so loaded down with Cs and Vs (Covid vaccines and variants) that it made the frequencies challenging.

There are classics. Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells (letter frequencies go off in poetry), the prologue to the Canterbury Tales (some English looks funny, and has skewed frequencies).

Songs. Mail Myself to You (really cute, if you’ve never listened, you should). The Guns of Brixton. This Land is Your Land (lots of As, not so many Es in that one). My Rambling Boy was yesterday.

There was an unfair one (I think I got the key, but it doesn’t look like English). They were correct, it was the first few of the 95 theses. I don’t think anyone broke that one.

Another time they couldn’t get the key. But there were only 12 letters, which was a clue. And a few of them checked, and that sounded like something Polynesian. One guessed, correctly, Hawaiian. And then decrypted the Lords Prayer. Pretty impressive.

Choice of Text

I have also assigned students to encrypt texts of their choice. That’s fun, too.

I get popular songs.

I got “I Have a Dream”

I got a Sponge Bob song.

I got an excerpt from the Hobbit.

I have gotten philosophers. And poets.

An excerpt from the Communist Manifesto.

And a bicycle repair manual.

Last week I got a guide to answering questions on the AP English Language exam.

And a reading from an economics class.

More Fun Than Teaching Logarithms

It’s true.

Probably No Early Retirement Incentive This Year

May 27, 2021 pm31 11:44 pm

Today’s email from Mulgrew held out the smallest glimmer of hope, “We will continue to fight until the final hour.” But the final hour is just about here.

When the NY State legislature included in the state budget a provision that would allow the City to negotiate with unions for an early retirement incentive, some teachers got excited.

But the negotiations bogged down. The City made ridiculous proposals (for some teacher licenses, but not others) that they knew the UFT would never agree to. It does not look like the City is serious. They will probably just run out the clock.

What happened? Here’s my guess.

An incentive would save the City money today, but increase overall pension liability. And, with the COVID economy and scary budget this fall, the City was thinking about the incentive more seriously than in any recent year (An incentive gets raised every single year, but usually dies a quiet death. One assemblyman gets to score points at home for introducing it).

Bureaucracy moves slowly, and the City’s interest in the fall turned into serious legislative moves over the winter, and the adoption of the incentive with the State budget last month.

Bureaucracy moves slowly, but the world doesn’t.

While an incentive was working its way through votes and negotiations and back-room deals, the feds sent money – a huge infusion. But at least some of it is only one-year money. So now the City’s immediate situation was much brighter, but with questions about the future.

The City might have gone for the incentive if they were short money today, but were good a couple years down the line. Now they saw their situation as the opposite: today’s money is good, but after that?

The City lost its incentive to pursue the incentive.

But there was already a bill. The City had already committed to negotiate with unions.

The City got what it asked for in November, but no longer wants it in May

So that’s where we are now. The City got what it asked for in November, but no longer wants it in May. Thus the fake negotiating. The demands they know are impossible. The City has every reason to run out the clock. Which, I believe, they are doing.

A year and a day

May 26, 2021 pm31 9:44 pm

Yesterday people wrote meaningful remembrances.

Today I am asking: What’s changed?

One conviction. Almost a thousand more people killed by cops. Police still lying about deaths in custody.

After a few months of outrage and protest – what’s changed?

Why are armed, uniformed police still in charge of traffic stops?

Why are armed, uniformed police still in charge of dealing with the mentally ill?

Why has there been no discernible change in policing?

There is certainly more awareness today, among white people, that police treat Black people differently.

But after that horrible video (and how many other videos?), after those massive protests, after those demands for real change – shouldn’t we have done more than raise awareness?

Oh, that change is still needed, desperately.

I’m glad to see Trump gone from the White House, but that’s not the change I’m talking about. And that change, having a new president, is that going to change policing? Of course, of course, I know lots of people who say “of course” but let’s see that change before we are so sure it’s coming.

Where is that change?

Why do police have military weaponry? Why are traffic stops done by men with guns and tasers? Why do those men go to domestic disputes? Get called to deal with disturbed individuals?

Why haven’t we thought about other ways to keep ourselves safe?

“Modern” police forces have only been around 150 years or so. How else could we keep communities safe? Without killing young men. Black young men.

Armed. Uniformed. Military command structure. Not from the communities they serve/occupy (which one depends on the community, right?)

Magnets for racists. Sadists. Brutes.

There’s got to be better than “modern” police forces. What is it? Why aren’t the papers and commentators talking about it?

Where is the rich discussion? The debate? Where is the progress?

This is urgent, but a year has passed.

Something has to change.

And “soon” is a tired answer.

UFT Makes Endorsements in May that it Rejected in April

May 16, 2021 pm31 1:19 pm

In April the United Federation of Teachers Delegate Assembly rejected a package of endorsements, including Comptroller, Brooklyn Borough President, and some City Council Members, 55% – 45%. It was a highly unusual occurrence – the DA, while occasionally noisy, is a fairly reliable rubber stamp for the leadership. Since I’ve been attending (2000), I do not recall a leadership resolution being rejected.

In May the United Federation of Teachers Delegate Assembly ratified the same endorsements, this time presented singly or in small groups. The votes ranged from 82% – 18% to 88% – 12%. All passed, all had a bit of opposition, but really not much. (at this DA 6% voted no on everything – so 94% would have been as close to unanimous as we would have gotten).

In April there were two speakers against the endorsement package:

  • Dave Pecoraro, a retired teacher and former chapter leader, objected to Corey Johnson for Comptroller and preferred Dave Weprin. He urged a No vote on the package, because it was not possible to separate out one race for separate consideration

Johnson, current City Council Speaker, is, in the context of NYC, a mainstream liberal. He is ambitious. He is willing to make deals. He has no special background or knowledge that makes him stand out as a Comptroller candidate. The UFT leadership is very comfortable with him.

Weprin is the son of a New York State politician, and has been a politician (city council, NY State Assembly) for a long time. Pecoraro talked about Weprin’s financial background. I think the demographic (white ethnic, outer borough, not conservative) better explains whatever appeal he has. I believe some of our delegates, especially older white delegates from Queens, are familiar and comfortable with Weprin’s name (they are probably more likely to remember his father, Saul, or have passing acquaintance with his brother, Mark).

(no one mentioned Brad Lander, the clear progressive in the race).

  • Tom McDonough, current chapter leader, mentioned his objections to Johnson, and to the Brooklyn Borough President endorsement not going to Antonio Reynoso (running as a progressive). But then Tom turned on the process. It is not right that the leadership does not present the candidates individually. Delegates should be able to discuss each race.

Tom’s argument probably swung the vote.

Outside of the pandemic, the UFT leadership brings a package of endorsements to the Delegate Assembly, but allows delegates to separate out controversial endorsements. Those are then debated separately, before a vote is taken.

During the pandemic the UFT leadership instituted different rules, including limitations on motions, amendments, and points of order. They are enjoying much higher Delegate Assembly attendance, which they want, and less discussion and debate, which they are happy to avoid.

Gjonaj Endorsed Without Debate

The first batch of endorsements that came up in January, Mulgrew asked for debate. I got in line – I was going to speak against Mark Gjonaj, a real estate lobby shill in the east Bronx who the UFT has shamefully supported in the past. But I did not get in line to make a motion, or to make an amendment. I was going to talk about who Gjonaj is, and why we shouldn’t endorse him. But Mulgrew asked if I wanted to separate him out. Sure. And then LeRoy Barr suggested that under the current rules this wasn’t allowed without a vote to suspend the rules. My mike was cut off without me having said a word about why I had asked to speak. Mulgrew made a motion to suspend the rules, which failed, 41% – 59%.

Mulgrew and Barr must have been slapping each other on the back, having so deftly avoided discussion. Of course, the proper sequence of events would have been Mulgrew asking “Jonathan, do you want to make a motion to suspend the rules?” to which I would have replied, “No, I will speak against the entire package” – but my mike was cut off, I had no way to object to the abuse.

Made You Look

But they should have paid attention. Their abuse of debate was flagrant, and someone, more than just some ONE, noticed. 41% voted to suspend the rules. That’s a lot of people. How many delegates know who Mark Gjonaj is? Maybe 5%? Maybe 10? In any case, rather than being so pleased with themselves, Mulgrew and Barr should have been concerned about so many delegates voting yes on such a small procedural resolution. At subsequent DA’s versions and variations of the same thing happened. One motion to suspend the rules actually passed.

Two fourth graders playing “Made you look” can play for hours and think they are amazingly clever, and not notice that no one around them is entertained.

This year active participation at DAs is way down. Conversation has become non-existent. Processes are less democratic. But attendance is up, way up. We dial in, instead of taking the train to Wall Street. And, sadly, we have time. Maybe attendance has more than doubled? Lots of regular teachers are tuning in on the phone conference, listening to reports, voting, listening to questions, and listening to debate, as minimal as it may be, for the first time. And regular delegates are hearing Michael Mulgrew, as clever as he thinks he is, playing “made you look.”

I don’t think 55% wanted David Weprin. I don’t think 55% wanted an all-progressive slate. I think most of that 55% agreed that the candidates should be presented and discussed individually, and further, that Mulgrew’s juvenile procedural shenanigans should stop.

Theory Confirmed – May DA

In May Pecoraro tried to get a Weprin endorsement on the agenda. It failed, 25% – 75%. Then Unity put up their Johnson endorsement. It passed 82% – 18%. Also, there were at least 6% voting no on every single vote. Look at 25 minus 6 is 19 and 18 minus 6 is 12. The support for Weprin was somewhere between 12% and 19%. Call it 15%.

In April, 55% voted down the Unity leadership’s endorsements. Around 5% vote no on everything. 15% or so wanted to support Weprin. That puts around 35% voting no because they objected to Mulgrew’s procedure. This “don’t be a jerk” vote is a breath of fresh air.

I have heard speculation that some Unity delegates must have voted no. I’m not so sure about that. I certainly have not heard from any. But I did notice Pecoraro openly breaking discipline. That’s unusual. But he won’t be a Unity delegate any more. As LeRoy once explained to me, their delegates need to vote in “lock step.”


I did hear grumbling about how long it took to get through all the endorsements. Starting with Mulgrew himself, several times during the process. And I heard more after the DA. The Assembly went until – I think 6:25 – we are usually done at 6.

But the extra time was not the delegates’ fault. Mulgrew’s over-long report can be shorter. What did he take, almost a full hour? And how much rambling and talking in circles was there? Better-prepared and better-disciplined he could have gotten us the same information in considerably less time.

But put the report aside. Assume the delegates like his style (I don’t know about that, but for the sake of this comment, let’s accept it). There was no need to make four or five separate endorsement resolutions (each with a too-long motivation, followed by 1. a Unity speaker using a prepared text, 2. another Unity speaker with a prepared text, Mulgrew asking for a speaker against, and getting 3. one speaker against, followed by 4. a final Unity speaker with a prepared text/summation.)

Instead, change the standing pandemic rules to allow any delegate to separate out any individual candidate – just like we did pre-pandemic. One resolution. A couple candidates would have been separated out for debate. Probably the same result.