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2 years in, 2 to go – it’s time, it’s past time, for de Blasio to clean house

December 31, 2015 pm31 2:39 pm

Top priority should be cleaning house, now.
Get the remaining Kleinies and incompetents out of Tweed.
Audit principals with high staff turnover.

As 2015, de Blasio’s second year as mayor, closes, there’s not a lot to look back on. And that’s good. It’s one of the few good things I can say about his impact on the schools.

  1. No destructive new policies. Nothing got worse. (In sharp contrast to EVERY year that Bloomberg was in office)
  2. We have a contract. The money came late, and not enough, but it was money, and far better getting it than continuing with our 2009 rate of pay. The mystery health savings are troubling, and may come back to hurt. The expedited process for firing one group of teachers is patently unfair, though it does not seem to have come into play, at least not yet. PROSE, allowing different contracts in different schools, should offend every unionist’s sense of union. But these are (at least for now) far smaller concessions than the ones I voted against in 2005.
  3. Universal pre-K. I don’t care how imperfectly this has turned out so far. Universal pre-K is a Good Thing.

But this is so much less than we expected! Bloomberg, Klein, and Walcott wreaked so much havoc, did so much damage! There is massive amount of repair to be done. And yet there is no repair going on. Even the UFT leadership sees this. For the first year, year and a half, they were talking about the better tone at Tweed and at City Hall, but even they now bemoan the fact that the better tone is not filtering down into the schools. Shortly after de Blasio took office, Mulgrew chided me at an Exec Board when I spoke about “undoing the damage” of the Bloomberg, Klein, Walcott years. Now he has adopted the language himself.

We cheered getting rid of the networks. But it’s not clear that the new structures are particularly good. And reëmpower the superintendents? It’s tough to comment on, when there are not boroughwide high school superintendencies. I’m leaving this as a neutral.

My instinct is to provide a laundry list of improvements. And there are many things that could be easily done to make our schools better. But let’s focus on one change, long overdue, that will make other changes possible – it’s time to clean house.

At Tweed there are far too many Bloomberg holdovers, with Bloomberg policies, and Bloomberg attitudes. At the top the scum has been skimmed off, but the organization is due a thorough cleaning.

  • Administrators who have been transferred due to incompetence need to be retrained, or let go. Under Klein, if you were incompetent, but mean, they found a place for you. That has to stop. They could be at Tweed, or in some field office, or foisted on some school.
  • In the schools, many principals were appointed through diploma mills (including the Leadership Academy) and lack management and pedagogical skills. As long as they can make their stats look ok, no one seems to care whether or not they can actually run a school. With 1800 schools, and with most administrators able, and with the issue not being statistics, where should the DoE start?
    Audit the schools with high staff turnover two years in a row. That indicates a problem, which could be an abusive administrator, but is often an incompetent one. (Two years ago Unity refused to make such a list available to our members who need to transfer. We will suggest it again.) And maybe look at schools with large programming changes after October 1. The system does not need principals who do not know how to hire staff, or principals who cannot organize classes for a new school year.

There are only two years left to undo Bloomberg’s damage. Mean, incompetent principals and APs, and Bloomberg-loyal middle level managers should not be allowed to impede progress.



8 Comments leave one →
  1. Atlas O'Rourke permalink
    December 31, 2015 pm31 3:20 pm 3:20 pm

    Many of the leadership principals have the mindset of a fast food manager. There needs to be a paradigm shift back to viewing schools as social institutions and not businesses. I think deBlasio understands this – I’m not convinced that Farina does. The budgets are frozen, veteran teachers are ATRs, and she recently gave a Marie Antoinette reply to a parent who complained about foreign language cuts- let them Rosetta Stone. I believe he needs to develop his own goals.

  2. chaz permalink
    December 31, 2015 pm31 3:32 pm 3:32 pm


    You forgot the “poison pill” of fair student funding that discriminates against veteran teachers and contributes to high teacher turnover.

    • December 31, 2015 pm31 4:04 pm 4:04 pm


      I wrote as if I had only one thing I could ask for. I went with cleaning house at Tweed and in the schools. The funding formula would have been my number 2. In fact, we are still trying to press this through the union leadership, who agree in principle, but only like pushing one agenda at a time, and right now they are doing something else (not sure what)

  3. Arthur Goldstein permalink
    December 31, 2015 pm31 3:43 pm 3:43 pm

    I tend to agree with you except when you state, “The money came late.” In fact, the overwhelming majority of it has not come yet at all. Call me cynical, but what with contracts being abrogated upstate, and financial emergencies that are invariably resolved after contracts are signed, I’m reluctant to count chickens before they come home to roost, or whatever it is chickens do.

    • December 31, 2015 pm31 4:02 pm 4:02 pm

      I agree – I should have written “the money is coming late (not all of it is here yet).” From a personal standpoint I am looking at the raises rather than the ‘not really retro’ – but those lump sums do matter to all of us. Thanks for pointing out my error.

      • Arthur Goldstein permalink
        December 31, 2015 pm31 4:35 pm 4:35 pm

        I just keep thinking about the car I bought last year, and how my retro would have more than paid for it. The salesman was not at all amused when I’d ask whether he’d mind waiting until 2020 for payment.

  4. January 4, 2016 am31 10:19 am 10:19 am

    One thing that is even worse is the new evaluation system that Cuomo helped ram through, but which has components that seem to have high approval from Farina. She has a very limited view of what a teacher or a classroom should be and is a great believer in getting rid of teachers that are not to a Principal’s liking. The new evaluation system facilitates this.

    While many of us rightfully resent being evaluated in part on how our students do on state examinations (which does take into account, to a degree, differences in student populations, but does not take into account many other factors, including basic resources such as textbooks, number of periods per week, number of classrooms taught in, etc.), it seems to me that the teacher-observation piece is even more unfair.

    The system of frequent unannounced 15-minute observations in which teachers are judged on various categories on a 4-point “rubric”, using a narrow viewpoint on teacher effectiveness, all based on the “Danielson framework”, is claimed to be more objective than what we had before (which was also not the best).

    But this system is highly flawed, and teachers of knowledge, experience, caring and diligence, with a long, proven record of effectiveness, including in how their students fare in state examinations, are being given frequent 2’s (in the 4-point rubric) and ending up with a “developing” rating. This can happen even when their students are passing state examinations (flawed as that measure is) at as high a rate or better than other teachers who are more compliant and “play the game” as their supervisors want them to.

    This “playing the game” is geared to whatever the DOE dictates, so that the school will “look good” when higher-ups visit. So a teacher might be given a “2” for not using the smartboard during the 15 minute observation — or (as I was) not using it to “show a video with sound effects” instead of using it for vector diagrams (utilizing the software tools that comes with the board, such as virtual rulers and protractors) during a physics class on vector addition.

    I could give more nonsensical examples. But with the right to grieve observations basically gone, and with the union reps advising us that “it could be worse”, what remedy is there to this nonsense? Supervisors who left us alone to do our work have been turned into robots who mechanically follow whatever they are told is the current emphasis–be it “higher order questioning” (even of ELL students who are struggling to understand simple English, or of students just beginning to learn a topic and needing to learn the basics and gain confidence) or “engagement”, or whatever be the current mantra.

    Many of the assistant principals are no longer teaching classes other than the most perfunctory ones. In this, they are following most of the principals, who walked that route long before them.

    The term “principal/head teacher”, which used to be the full form for that position, is clearly no longer applicable. The P’s and A.P.’s are, even more than before, a supervisory layer whose function is purely to oversee and rate the workers, rather than to mentor them, from experience. This is best done, as in all professions, by personal example and by helping people, especially new-hires, with the many problems they invariably encounter. Supervision is best done with a light, attentive touch that takes note of the effort put in by a worker and seeks to encourage that effort rather than discourage it.

    In my school, the classrooms are losing the desk for the teacher, even in classrooms in which science is being taught (without a bench with water and gas, as in quite a few of the several rooms I regularly taught in). I believe this is so that a higher-up who visits the school sees the teacher invariably standing, as is seen to be a good thing. The penalty that this “educosmetics” measure imposes, not just physically on a teacher, but also on his/her effectiveness, should be apparent to anyone who has ever taught. But this is shrugged off. They simply don’t care. Again, one could give many examples of this lack of caring and of fixation on what “looks good” on the surface.

    A teacher who left told me, “Education is the lowest of priorities in the DOE. I don’t want to spend the rest of my working life teaching students how to pass the Regents.” Sadly, he was right. I should add that I also do not want to spend the rest of my working life dancing to Danielson (who I heard is suing the DOE and other institutions for misuse of her framework, narrowly construed as that was).

    I predict that statistics will show a rash of retirements of senior teachers that will exceed whatever occurred in the Bloomberg-Klein years, horrible as they were. The budgetary constraints on the school imposed when money-bags Bloomberg began to squeeze them remain in place, so senior teachers who finally are earning what they deserve become financial undesirables, and so are targeted and forced out unless they are chums of the admins. This also makes senior ATR’s without such pals unhirable.

    The old Faustian compromise (or sellout) that the union did long ago, focusing on the topmost pay scales, reachable only after decades of service, and plum retirements for such folk, while not paying attention to teacher autonomy in the schools and on reaching the topmost pay scales earlier (no matter if the top pay was adjusted to be lower than those largely unreachable heights) has led us to this.

    One can rant against the charters, with reason. But what have we got to offer here in the remnant public schools for our students and our teachers?

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