Monday, July 24, 2017

STUDY SAYS NYC THIRD WORST RUN CITY IN USA

A new study by Wallet Hub finds New York City ranks 148 out of 150 U.S. cities in terms of how well the city is run. Are we really the third worst run city in the country? I'm not sure I buy their methodology but it is worth a look.

On education, Wallet Hub ranks NYC 107. That is not that good.

From SI Live's article on the study:

"New York ranked as the third worst-run city in America. It has the third highest budget per capita, at almost $14 million, but it's not necessarily spent efficiently, especially when it comes to financial stability and education," said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst.

She noted the city is also saddled with debt, and has a high drop out rate.

"New York has the fourth highest long-term debt per capita at $17,308, and the sixth lowest high school graduation rate at 69.6 percent," said Gonzalez. 


We have the sixth lowest high school graduation rate of cities in the country? That is hard to believe.

Does every city just push the kids through high school by grade inflating?

In terms of the economy, Wallet Hub makes a big deal out of long term debt which might not be that huge a problem considering the very low interest rates we have been borrowing under for most of the last decade. Comptroller Scott Stringer reported in May that the NYC economy is healthy as the city outperforms the nation as a whole.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

SOME PRINCIPALS APPEAR TO BE READY TO REVOLT OVER FORCED HIRING OF ATRS

If you can believe this Chalkbeat NY article from Thursday, it looks like the principals in New York City public schools are ready to take a firm stand against the Department of Education force placing Absent Teacher Reserves in their schools for a year to cover certain vacancies. Since the giveback filled 2005 UFT contract, principals completely controlled the hiring process in each school. Chalkbeat interviewed several principals who are not at all satisfied over this limitation on their power.

For anyone who has not been monitoring the situation, DOE's Randy Asher said that ATRs will be placed in a school that has any remaining vacancies after October 15. Usually it is the more difficult to teach in schools that still have openings in October, often because they have principals who are tough to work with. If the teacher is rated Effective or Highly Effective on observations, they get to stay in the school permanently.

The principals are not going to take this reduction of their autonomy lying down. Here is an excerpt from the Chalkbeat piece:

“Many of them (ATRs) have been coming from schools that have been closed down or subject areas that were cut,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “The majority of them were at schools that were highly dysfunctional.” He noted that some may have been out of the classroom for years and not getting proper professional development, effectively hindering their performance as teachers.

Conti said he did hire a teacher from the ATR pool three years ago, through the standard procedure he would use to hire other teachers. He objects to the idea of being forced to hire someone whose effectiveness he could not fully judge.

“It’s never good when somebody from outside a school decides to fill in a vacancy in a school,” Conti said. “ It’s scary that some teacher could be put in your school that you have no choice about.”

Other principals were more harsh. One Bronx principal said multiple experiences working with ATR teachers sent to the school for monthly rotations in the past left the impression that those in the reserve are “not qualified, with very few exceptions.” Other principals agreed, suggesting that if the teachers were high-quality candidates, they probably would have found positions on their own.

The principals and Chalkbeat forget to mention that with "Fair Student Funding" ATRs who are senior teachers will cost a school significantly more money when their average salary is factored in on a school's budget. Chalkbeat contradicts the comment from the principals on the low-quality of the ATRs when they point out later in the article  that "the city offered an incentive system to encourage schools to hire from the ATR pool. During that school year, 372 teachers were hired from the ATR pool under a DOE policy that subsidized the cost of the teachers’ first-year salaries by 50 to 100 percent." That's why I was picked up permanently. I was a freebie for the school in 2016-17 and I'm half price for 2017-18. When ATRs are free or on sale, we suddenly aren't so bad.

Blogger Chaz has covered the reasons why ATRs are not given permanent positions fairly extensively. He cites the high cost of senior ATRs if hired on school budgets, ATR seniority over junior teachers who might have to be excessed if an ATR is hired and the school later has budget cuts, institutional memory as ATRs who are hired permanently might ask questions if a principal says jump, and finally how ATRs have been demonized by the DOE.

When someone sees over and over again the press reporting that he/she is not of high quality, it can have a real effect on the person. I was a rotating ATR for only three months and it impacted on my confidence as a teacher for sure. I have been to several meetings of ATRs done by various groups where polls are taken. Each time, majorities of ATR's vote that they would like to stay in rotation and don't want regular teaching positions. The first time I saw this result I was kind of stunned. After all, what kind of teacher wouldn't want a regular class to teach? Also, who wants to be observed by roving supervisors sometimes nicknamed "field assassins"? These supervisors observe ATRs in classes where the teachers might not even know the kids in front of them and perhaps are not even be skilled at an out-of license subject they happen to be teaching. In the opinion of many ATRs, this is still better than the Danielson observations regular teachers are subjected to.

Looking back with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight after having been appointed to a regular teaching position in 2017, I can say the ATRs who have given up trying to seek a permanent position and/or are blacklisted by the DOE so they can't find a regular job have mostly developed superior coping skills and are to be admired and not criticized.

By making minor tweaks in the system so more ATRs will be placed in schools, Randy Asher is really not making any radical changes. The principals still get to rate the ATRs who are placed and as previously stated only those rated Effective or Highly Effective exclusively on the observation portion of their annual rating will stay permanently. Ultimately, principals remain in control and only the ATRs forced placed will suffer as principals will now have an incentive to rate these teachers Developing or Ineffective on observations which unfortunately will happen many times to ATRs who are sent to some of the system's worst principals.

Chalkbeat did not quote one ATR, not even one, for their article. We don't matter to them and that is why I stay away from their biased reporting most of the time. However, it is worth noting that more principals seem to be unhappy since Farina re-empowered superintendents in 2015. A piece from Chalkbeat in June describes the complaints of principals going from a system where they controlled everything in their schools to one where the superintendent has some authority over them.

One principal described the changes:

Ari Hoogenboom, principal of Abraham Lincoln High School, spelled out the pros and cons. Farina's system is likely to minimize wayward principals from breaking the rules or getting in over their heads. But in the long run, it might also discourage stronger principals from taking risks that could help students.

"With Bloomberg, it was like running a hamburger joint, but it was my own hamburger joint," Hoogenboom said. "And with de Blasio I'm running a McDonald's and I have to serve the Big Mac."

Whether the administrative nonsense comes down on teachers and other UFT staff from the principal or the superintendent does not matter much. We are still the ones who are powerless along with parents and students in too many schools. The only solution for the future is to re-empower the actual school communities. That is where the check on principal power needs to come from. In contract negotiations, the UFT should seek to take back all of the givebacks from 2005.

Friday, July 21, 2017

ATR BUYOUT OFFER EXTENDED TO JULY 28

July 28 is the new deadline date for Absent Teacher Reserves to take the buyout. Below is Amy Arundell's message taken from Gene Mann's The Organizer.

Either not enough ATRs are taking the deal to please the Department of Education or people are still making inquiries and didn't know the window was closing so quickly. Deciding to retire is an important decision that in this case has to be made quickly.

Since some DOE and UFT officials love to read the blogs, I can report that one of the reasons I am going to continue working this year is to make sure I make up the money I could have had if I didn't get appointed to a regular position in January and was still an ATR/provisional teacher who could have taken the buyout.

Don't expect the press to let up on the ATR issue. It looks like some of the principals are giong to rebel against any and every check on the virtually almost absolute power they have had over their schools since the UFT ceded so much ground to administration in 2005.

Amy's message:

      The deadline for the Severance Program for ATRs has an extended period through July 28. 
      Eligible ATRs who volunteer to resign or retire by the deadline and who are eligible for the severance package may choose either:

  • $50,000 in a lump-sum, non-pensionable payment or
  • $35,000 in a lump-sum, non-pensionable payment and six months of continued health coverage through Febreuary 28, 2018.
See a fact sheet with more information about the ATR severance program » (http://files.uft.org/atr-fact-sheet-extended.pdf)
If you are eligible and interested in participating, download the ATR Voluntary Severance Agreement and General Release form »(http://files.uft.org/atr-severance-extended.pdf)
        Once you complete the form, you must have it notarized before bringing it, in person, to the Human Resources Connect Walk-in Center, Room 102, 65 Court St., Brooklyn, by 5 p.m. Friday, July 28.

We strongly suggest you speak with a UFT pension specialist or contact the Teachers' Retirement System before finalizing your decision. If you have questions, please contact your UFT borough office. 

Sincerely,

Amy Arundell
UFT Director of Personnel

Thursday, July 20, 2017

MAYOR'S RACE NOT HEATING UP

The race for mayor this year looks like a true yawn as Bill de Blasio should easily cruise to reelection. It remains to be seen how the UFT's early endorsement of the mayor's reelection will play out in terms of the schools.

It is hard to see much improvement in the schools since de Blasio took over as mayor in 2014. We have a subpar contract and an administration under Chancellor Carmen Farina that has  pretty much continued most of the Michael Bloomberg-Joel Klein anti-teacher practices. Universal pre-k and a highly suspect high school graduation rate do not make up for how teachers, parents and others are treated in NYC schools. Maybe education policy will change in a second de Blasio term.

The mayor should be safely reelected by the time the UFT contract is up for renegotiation in 2018. The current interminable nine year agreeent does not expire until November 30, 2018.

For those looking for an alternative to de Blasio, the Village Voice has a rundown on the candidates in this week's issue. None look very strong in the Democratic field.

As for the Republicans, the only one running is Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis. I checked her website for anything on the schools and found this:

EDUCATION


Nicole attended New York City Public Schools from kindergarten through high school. She received a great education and she wants to make sure that every child in our city gets the quality education they deserve.

New York State spends $22,593 per student per year to educate our children, the most of any state in the nation and 87% above the national average.  But, when it reaches New York City, it doesn’t seem to make it to the classrooms.  A big chunk of money goes towards contracts and consultants! While, all the time, we hear about teachers paying for classroom supplies, students lacking up-to-date textbooks and technology and classes being held in trailers parked on the school playground. Simply put, it’s wrong and unacceptable.

It sounds ok. Money sucked up in the bureaucracy is a major concern in NYC schools and has gotten worse under de Blasio as central Department of Education spending on central staff has soared. However, how Malliotakis would solve education issues is very problematic. Simply put, she would end up lowering public school enrollment by pushing for charter schools and tuition tax credits for religious and private schools.

This is not on her website but it is from an SI Live piece quoting some Conservative Party officials endorsing Malliotakis:

As a product of New York City public schools, Nicole has a clear understanding of what a great education can mean to the children of our city; she'll fight for high standards and against the special interests that seem intent on dumbing-down our schools. She also will fight for the expansion of charter schools in the five boroughs and tuition tax assistance for New Yorkers who send their children to religious or private schools. The Conservative Party is proud to endorse Nicole Malliotakis for Mayor of the City of New York."

I'll take a huge pass on Nicole. Her Trump style plan would send the public schools into a major crisis. Lower enrollments as public money is diverted from public education to charter and private schools would lead to public schools offering fewer programs. The issues in our schools that she writes about on her website would worsen.

She is not a friend.

The real concern is how public school teachers have little to choose from in yet another election. De Blasio = more of the same and the Republican alternative is worse. I guess that is the case in most elections these days. Not too many politicians on our side.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

TRUMP NLRB SHAPING UP AS ANTI-WORKER

Mike Fiorillo sent out this piece from In These Times on the Trump nominees for the National Labor Relations Board. One of the reasons I vote Democratic, even though the Democrats have pretty much neglected labor, is because when Democrats control the federal bureaucracy working people tend to have a little less difficulty organizing into unions. Here is what the In These Times article says about Trump's NLRB:

It might not get as much press coverage as other Donald Trump administration calamities, but the U.S. president is set to appoint a known union buster to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), push the body to a Republican majority and reverse Obama-era protections that rankle Big Business.

And further down In These Times makes some frightening NLRB projections:

Trump is putting the NLRB in the position to undo a number of important Obama-era labor decisions. His NLRB could potentially reverse rulings that made it easier for small groups of workers to unionize, established grad students as employees, put charter school employees under NLRB jurisdiction, and held parent companies jointly liable for with franchise operators who break labor laws. Writing about the imminent anti-union crackdown on this website in May, Shaun Richman wrote, “Unions and their allies should be convening research teams to plot out a campaign of regulatory and judicial activism. That work should begin now.”

Darker days are here for unions and it will probably get worse before it gets better.

Monday, July 17, 2017

ANTI-TEACHER, ANTI-UNION WEBSITE PUBLISHES VIRTUALLY FACT FREE OPINION PIECE ON ATRS

Daniel Weisberg is a former New York City Department of Education lawyer under Chancellor Joel Klein. Weisberg has written yet another opinion piece for an anti-teacher website in which he repeats many half-truths and outright false statements about Absent Teacher Reserves, teachers in New York City who have no permanent teaching position through no fault of their own. This blog will not link to Weisberg's garbage but since ATR friends for some reason are sending it out all over the place, the ICEBLOG will provide a refutiation of the former Klein assistant's biased piece.

Weisberg claims that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina "are resurrecting one of the most harmful and discredited ideas in education policy: forced hiring of teachers."  He then gives little specific evidence to prove that so called "forced hiring" is bad except to cite a very dated anti-tenure article from 1999 on the difficulty of firing bad teachers.

If the problem is keeping criminals and/or pedophiles away from children, the process to remove a teacher from a classroom in New York City takes about the time it takes to make a phone call to the Office of Special Investigations or the Commissioner of Special Investigations who then remove the teacher from the classroom instantly. Having to subsequently prove the teacher really is a criminal is something that should be basic to our system of justice even in schools since there are many false allegations. The reality is that anyone accused of almost anything can be taken away from students in a flash.

I personally know one of the four long serving teachers who the NY Post claimed were kept out of the classroom indefinitely but stayed on payroll. This teacher taught at Jamaica High School with me. He was going through a nasty divorce many years ago and was accused of sexually assaulting a child. The teacher was totally vindicated as the person who made the accusation recanted but it wasn't good enough for Joel Klein so the teacher was kept out of the classroom indefinitely on suspicion of possibly having once been suspicious. This must be one of the "lemons" Weisberg is talking about. For the record nobody at Jamaica High School where we worked together ever accused this teacher of doing anything improper to any child. Many of the so called "lemons" or "trash" that Weisberg and others refers to are simply people who had personality clashes with administrators. "Lemons" and "trash" are subjective terms.

Weisberg then cites some statistics from 2014 saying that 25% of ATRs were brought up on disciplinary charges. In the New York City Department of Education for many teachers this means that the teacher had a problem with an administrator. The simplist way for an administrator to get rid of a teacher from a school is to file charges against him/her. If the teacher is not overly popular with the students, it is as easy as bringing a few kids into an office and asking some leading questions.

When I was chapter leader at Jamaica, I was once called to a new principal's office because an outside investigator was in the building and a teacher needed advice on what to do. The new principal covered my class and asked the kids some leading questions about me. I tend to be popular with students so he got nowhere. How do I know this? When I returned to class, the kids told me about how they defended me. Unfortunately, asking the leading questions is done repeatedly by some unscrupulous admistrators to try to dig for dirt even when there is not even suspicion of someone possibly being suspicious. Remember, there are no real consequences in NYC that I know of for principals falsely accusing teachers. Maybe they can be transferred from an assignment to another if they alienate an entire school community but they don't end up unemployed except under very extraordinary circumstances.

Weisberg then claims 60% of ATRs don't even bother looking for a regular job. He neglects to mention that the open market transfer system is closed for many, particularly senior teachers as Chaz documented when Weisberg wrote essentially the same anti-ATR piece back in 2014 and we showed at this blog when we did our analysis of the so called open market last week. The open market is a dead end for most senior teachers regardless of their records. Principals can hire two teachers on their budget for the price of one experienced teacher. "Come back when you're younger" was the ICEUFTblog conclusion.

Weisberg continues by saying that placing ATRs after October 15 for the rest of the year, as the new Department of Education policy intends to do, is terrible policy. He writes: "More to the point, subjecting thousands of kids to ineffective teachers for even a year is simply unacceptable."  The argument is ridiculous.

Principals have between July and October to fill their vacancies with any certified teacher they want. They can go outside the system and hire those cheap newbies through October 15th. If they can't find a candidate in four months, the central DOE will send them someone and the DOE retains the unilateral discretion not to send anyone they think is not fit (a teacher who beat a disciplinary hearing). There are relatively few openings after October 15. Most are for leaves for illness or maternity and are temporary in nature. Would Weisberg rather see the classes go unfilled? That happens.

He then proposes the DC-Chicago solution where an ATR gets a time limit to find a new position if she/he is placed in excess because a school closes or a program is downsized and then they would be placed on unpaid leave if a principal doesn't hire them within a year (or a different time limit). This exposes his real aim which is to terminate senior teachers. This flies in the face of civil service law which put in place a seniority system in large part to stop a spoils system and arbitrarily firing people who have experience.

Weisberg is attempting to make an end run around the law to effectively eliminate tenure. Excessing would essentially mean firing if he has his way. We would all become at will employees since senior teachers are often passed on for jobs just because of the cost on a school budget. Tenure in DC or Chicago means next to nothing if a teacher is in a school that is slated for closure or downsizing. New York still has a more progressive civil service law that does not allow school officials to just clear out the senior, higher paid teachers by downsizing programs and then covertly blacklisting most of the excessed teachers which is the real agenda here. If someone doesn't think blacklisting exists, wake up. I was told by an official I was blacklisted. I got hired in spite of this mainly because the school will get a full subsidy for my salary for the first year and a half subsidy for the second year and I have sufficient time to retire already.

What about alternatives to patronage hiring?

Can managers succeed if they do not pick the employees that work for them? Obviously, the answer is yes. Look at the New York City Police Department where the Precinct Commanders are "stuck" with the officers that are sent to them. If someone is sent to them from the Police Academy or another precinct, they can't turn around and reject the new officers. Even without that hiring power, the commanders are still responsible for reducing crime in their precincts. Look at so many other government agencies and it is the same way. We can go outside of government on this issue too.

Let's examine sports. In most pro sports franchises, the general manager gets the players and then the manager in baseball or the coach in other sports has to work with the players he/she has been given. I don't see the Dan Weisbergs of the world screaming about how coaches need to hire all of their players.

Uncontrolled administrative power at the principal, superintendent or central Department of Education in New York City is the biggest problem here. At the principal's level, it has led to patronage hiring as well as massive grade inflation and grade fixing scandals. These scandals have been well documented by Sue Edelman. Sources tell us that what is public is the tip of the iceberg as many teachers are too scared to report what is occurring in their schools for fear of retaliation.

We have reported here that the place to investigate to find how the increase in high school graduation is rather meaningless is the CUNY on time graduation rates, particularly in the two year colleges, which are as low as 1.4%. NYC high school graduates feed these colleges. The answer is that we must bring back integrity to the high school diploma. In order to do that, NYC must reign in principals not only from above, but also from below by empowering teachers and parents again. Changing the hiring back to committees would be an important first step.

Good principals are not afraid to work in partnership with their school communities and would object to the Weisberg approach of firing the senior people in excess.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

STATE POLITICAL NEWS: CUOMO APPROVAL RATING DOWN; SHELLY SILVER CONVICTION OVERTURNED

The latest Quinnipiac poll has Governor Andrew Cuomo down to a 46% approval rating. Since his disapproval is at 38%, it isn't so bad. However, Cuomo was at 52% approval in March so he is going in the wrong direction.

The real positive news in the poll is that a majority of New Yorkers don't think Cuomo would be a good president.

From the poll:

11. Do you think Andrew Cuomo would make a good President or not?
                                                               WHITE......
                                                               COLLEGE DEG
                     Tot    Rep    Dem    Ind    Men    Wom    Yes    No
 
Yes                  34%    17%    49%    29%    32%    36%    32%    30%
No                   56     83     38     60     59     53     59     61
DK/NA                10      -     12     11      9     12      9      9
 
                     AGE IN YRS..............    WHITE.....           Non-
                     18-34  35-49  50-64  65+    Men    Wom    Wht    Wht
 
Yes                  34%    32%    39%    33%    27%    34%    31%    43%
No                   53     60     53     57     65     57     60     46
DK/NA                13      8      8     10      8     10      9     12
 
                     AREA.............
                     UpStat NYC    Sub
 
Yes                  27%    40%    36%
No                   66     48     52
DK/NA                 7     12     12


That 56% no number is encouraging.

As for former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, his corruption conviction was overturned on Thursday. This is not a surprise as the United States Supreme Court made corruption convictions for public officials very difficult in a rather awful 9-0 decision we reported on in June of 2016. Under these rules, I don't think it will be easy to convict Silver in a new trial.