Tuesday, July 28, 2015


In another move that shows there isn't much difference between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mayor Michael Bloomberg when it comes to running the schools, the Department of Education rejected its own Blue Book Working Group's recommendations to put lower class sizes into the school utilization formula.

Let's quote Pete Townshend of the Who as we have in the past:

"Meet the new boss; same as the old boss." 

From the song Won't get Fooled Again.

The press release from Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters is below and at the NYC Public School Parents Blog.

For immediate release: July 28, 2015
Contact:  Leonie Haimson, leoniehaimson@gmail.com; 917-435-9329
Wendy Lecker, wlecker@edlawcenter.org , 203 - 536-7567

City’s rejection of class size recommendations of the DOE working group betrays top priority of parents and de Blasio campaign promises

Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “It is deeply distressing that today, the Department of Education revealed it would reject the recommendations of the Blue Book Working Group, including parents, advocates and DOE officials appointed by the Chancellor, to improve the school overcrowding estimates by incorporating smaller classes in the school utilization formula.”

Class size reduction has been the top priority of parents every year since 2007, according to the DOE’s own surveys, and Bill de Blasio promised during his campaign to reform the Blue Book “so it incorporates the need for smaller classes.” (See his completed NYC KidsPac candidate survey at http://tinyurl.com/p9qj5hs )

Added Haimson, “De Blasio also promised that if elected, he would reduce class size to the levels set out in the city’s original Contracts for Excellence plan.  This plan involved average class sizes no larger than 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23 students in grades 4-8, and 25 students in high school.  The city’s rejection of the recommendations of the DOE’s own working group to incorporate these class size goals in the Blue Book is thus a betrayal of that commitment, as well as a refusal to be responsive to the top priority of parents and what research shows works to help kids learn. “

As Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for the Education Law Center pointed out, “In Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE), New York's highest court found that large class sizes in New York City schools played a major role in depriving schoolchildren of their constitutional right to a sound basic education.  Both the Contract for Excellence (C4E) law, passed in response to CFE, and the regulations promulgated under that law, provide specific mandates for reduction of class size in New York City. “ 

“The Blue Book Working Group, recognizing these mandates, recommended the smaller class size standards set forth in New York City's C4E 5 Year Class Size Reduction Plan, as approved by the State in 2007.  Yet, despite these mandates, and despite the fact that class sizes have been steadily rising, the City is choosing not to adopt the class size recommendations of the Blue Book Working Group. Instead, the existing blue book standards will allow for and encourage class sizes to increase even more, in violation of the CFE decision and the requirements of the Contract for Excellence law.”

Monday, July 27, 2015


Verizon workers are threatening a strike.  This is what labor unions do.

I am aware that Verizon is in the private sector and their unions don't have to worry about the penalty of losing two days pay for every day on strike that public employees in NYS such as teachers have to put up with.  Still, it is great to see that there are unions that aren't afraid to use the tools labor has at its disposal even in these very anti-union times.

Meanwhile, we found out the leaders of the UFT were working with the AFT to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to our mayor at the same time that they were negotiating a sub-par contract for UFT members. NYC Educator has details.  We don't get anything back for our generosity.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


I read this disturbing article from Capital NY  on Friday.  The city and UFT could negotiate to possibly replace the teachers in 62 "struggling" schools.  Here is the part of the clearly biased, anti-teacher piece that most concerned me:

Major teacher turnover in dozens of schools is not an initiative that most would associate with the U.F.T. But Joseph Viterriti, a professor of education policy at the CUNY Graduate Center, said this could be an occasion for the union to flaunt its progressive credentials.

Progressive now means test and punish teachers.  It is the status quo after years of teacher bashing from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

NYC Educator, as usual, beat me to the punch by showing how the advice to the UFT from the good Dr. Viterriti to offer up more teachers as sacrifices at the altar of education reform is a terrible idea. Unfortunately, our union has proven over and over how progressive our leadership is and they will more than likely throw more teachers under the bus in struggling schools to save themselves. It probably is too late for this year but expect many to have to reapply for their jobs in 2016.  What is the alternative?

How about trying to be a labor union?

On day one in an alternate universe UFT, after the 2016 UFT election when Mulgrew is ousted and there is a real union leader as president, things would change in a hurry. Besides cleaning house by dismissing most of the loyalty oath signing Unity faithful and opening up union positions to senior, qualified people (like comp time) and having elections for the District Representatives, we would need to change the whole conversation around education as quickly as we can.

We would immediately call for a South African style truth commission, as was recommended at the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's third term by my friend Marc Epstein, to expose what really occurs in the schools. Marc and I used to discuss this idea before he proposed it on Diane Ravitch's blog. A year and a half later conditions are now worse in the schools thanks to state legislation and a Chancellor who tries to have it all ways. If Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina say they won't cooperate with a truth commission, we would tell them good luck in the 2017 reelection without union support.  In terms of the schools, it hasn't much mattered whether a "progressive" or a billionaire is in charge of the city. According to City Hall, Albany and DC, teachers are to blame for inadequate student progress. It is high time we expose this fallacy and tell the whole truth about what is going on in our schools.

Schools in New York City basically fall into two main categories.

One group consists of schools who have no difficulty meeting their state statistical objectives. If schools in this category have a decent administration, they have pretty much survived school reform and many of their teachers might not even know what is going on in the rest of the system. If they have a UFT Chapter Leader like Arthur Goldstein from Francis Lewis HS or Kit Weiner at Goldstein in Brooklyn, they will offer to help members in less fortunate schools..

The rest of the schools are the schools that have to work in creative ways to meet their state mandated targets. These schools are almost always filled with large numbers of higher needs students (English language learners, students with interrupted formal education, overage-under credited [high school term] pupils, over-the-counter admits, special education students, free or reduced rate lunch kids). Schools labeled struggling usually contain many pupils who might not be motivated to learn for a multitude of reasons. We will focus our truth commission mostly on theseschools although I am sure many of the top flight schools have stories to tell also but don't want to bring attention to themselves.

We then must divide schools that have more high needs students into two categories: Those who know how to play the game and those who don't know how to play the game. Those who haven't figured out how to play the numbers game are usually in trouble.  Now they are labeled "struggling" by the state. In the past, they were closed and reopened under new names.

By playing the game, some might think I mean cheating to meet state mandates but this is not necessarily the case. There are many ways to play the data game to make miracles appear in student statistics.  Some examples I have seen or heard of are schools that are excluding or strictly limiting the number of higher needs students described in parenthesis above that they admit. These schools are also famous for not replacing students who are counseled out or move out of the area.  This is the charter playbook.

There are many other ways to cook the books. Some schools narrow the curriculum so that all they do is teach to the state tests. This is not exactly motivating a love of learning but it could lead to success in having students pass standardized tests. Now onto more ingenious solutions from our high schools in New York City.

I have worked in the high schools for 29 years.  In that time I have heard many stories about creative ways to cook the school books.

I was told about one high school that took all of the students who had failed a Regents and put them in a separate class. They give the class a fancy title and instead of studying that subject, they did Regents review but the pupils still got course credit which they aren't supposed to get in a review course. If the school was undergoing a Quality Review, the teacher went back to teaching the real subject for a day or two until the reviewers from outside left.

We then turn to the many high schools who offer elaborate credit recovery programs. Some have been documented. Does anyone think Flushing, Bryant and John Dewey are isolated schools doing what students term "easy pass"? We also have principals who grant credit for students who are able to fog a mirror or sometimes even that test isn't necessary and transcripts just change by magic like at Jamaica.  From the information that has come to us at various meetings over the years, the vast majority of New York City high schools fall into playing the credit scheme game in one way or another. Only some are exposed.  Would most agree that it is the tip of the iceberg? Regents cheating is a little more complicated these days but we're pretty sure it goes on.  We just looked and we found some at Richmond Hill.

In addition, there are so many administrators out there who we have been told have passing percentage quotas for teachers.  If a certain number of pupils don't pass, the teachers get in trouble. Teachers have to document contacts made to failing students.  Teachers end up saying, "Why bother failing students? It isn't worth the effort and backlash." Many undeserving students pass.  Why do many administrators want to get rid of senior teachers and hire newbies.  For many it has nothing to do with the added salary on the budget and more to do with how easy it is to compel new teachers to pass almost everyone. Why is replacing entire teaching staffs is such a preferable school reform option?  New, non-tenured teachers are more likely to be pushed to pass just about anyone.

It is the rare principal that has to resort to outright fraud because there are so many weapons at their disposal to pass as many students as they need to in order to make the statistics appear positive. They even have data specialists these days whose job is to massage those numbers.

My favorite story was told to me about an attendance office staff in an unnamed school that figured out how to lower the denominator on the school's cohort ratio.  When certain student discharge codes are used, a school doesn't lose credit for a kid who is no longer at the school. Traditionally, a pupil who moved out of state or out of the country was the best kind of discharge because it reduced the denominator on the cohort. If a school had 100 seniors and one left the country, nobody dropped out. The school's graduation rate was then be based on 99 seniors. There was also no way for a computer to trace a foreign discharge but how did a school get multiple students to move out of the country or state?

It was as simple as using the copying machine when one kid left the country and then skillfully whiting out the date and name of the student on a school letter from a foreign country and putting in the name of a different pupil who had dropped out.  When I asked if they worried about an audit, the answer was that they didn't have to be concerned because the auditors usually only looked at a few of the discharges so they wouldn't be concerned that ten kids moved to India if the school had a significant population from that country. Do you think the auditor was going to call India? (Before anyone gets any ideas on turning this over to the Commissioner of Special Investigations or the Office of Special Investigations, the person who told me of this scam is no longer with us and it supposedly happened many long years ago.)  I don't even know how true this story is but I'm fairly certain scams like this are going on all the time as the stakes attached to student progress are just too high.  The public should know about all of them and the union should be exposing them loudly.

In my alternate world with a real union leadership we would have a public confession of every school's sins.  We hide nothing. We would be ready for the editorials from the Post and the Daily News that would say the cure for all of this cheating is to start more charter schools so we can have more school choice.  The answer to the Post's editorial board is easy.

Markets and competition do not work in public education as they only encourage cooking the books. More competition leads to more game playing.  (Someone get this message to democratic socialist Bernie Sanders please. He just voted for more test and punish.)  Add to this the fact that research has shown that children who come from poverty are at a huge disadvantage as they start school compared to their middle class and rich peers.  The American value of equality of opportunity does not exist in our education system and it is made worse by competition which favors those who can play the system.

The federal government originally became involved in school funding to try to fix the inequity of resources. Resources have not been equalized and having schools play with numbers to save principal and teacher jobs is resulting in kids receiving meaningless high school diplomas. All one needs to do to confirm how a NYC high school diploma does not signify a whole lot in most schools is to look at the remediation rates in community colleges at CUNY for NYC high school graduates. Those rates have not moved much after twelve years of school reform in New York City and they won't improve no matter how much pressure is put on teachers and how scripted the lessons are.

All that is likely to occur in what are now called "struggling" schools is a proliferation of new and old ways to play the numbers game

Instead of playing the game, how about we level the playing field by insisting that students in NYC get the same resources as students in Great Neck, Long Island? How can class sizes in the city still be going up when the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit was settled in 2007 and lowering class size was one of the ways to fix the equity problem.  How can city schools be budgeted with a 10-15% cut from full funding when state aid is flowing and the city is swimming in black ink. This all needs to be investigated and exposed.  We can start to have the conversations about how to improve student outcomes when the resources are the same for everyone.

A truth commission would be a good way to turn the discussion on its head. Don't hold your breath waiting for the UFT to call for one.* They would rather have their seat at the table with the politicians who want to fire teachers and tell us to play nice with administration..

That is why I am hoping for an alternate universe.

*UPDATE--Thanks to Phillip Nobile for pointing out in a comment that the UFT did call for a Truth Commission in 2013 to be convened after Mayor Bloomberg was gone to investigate misdeeds under Bloomberg.  Once Democrat Bill de Blasio took over, we never heard the idea again.  In this piece, we are calling for one to be used to expose what is occurring under the current administration as well as the prior one.  My point is that not much has changed in the schools.  It is still a blame the teacher mentality at Tweed.  The only difference is now the union spin is that everything is beautiful. We need to change the narrative.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


The Huffington Post just published a powerful open letter to Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders written by some of my closest friends who are among the finest human beings alive on this planet. Diane Ravitch posted a portion of the letter and a link on her blog.  I had every opportunity to sign and even contributed an edit to the open letter but at the end of the day I could not sign it.

For me, the yes vote in the US Senate from Senator Sanders on the Murphy Amendment to the new euphemistically titled "Every Child Succeeds Act" puts Sanders in the category of just another politician who wants to continue the George Bush-Barack Obama test and punish education policies. As Ravitch put it, "The Murphy Amendment would have continued, in fact intensified, the punishments attached to No Child Left Behind." Keep closing schools and firing educators.

This blog analyzed the situation in DC last week and concluded that anyone who supports public education should be satisfied that the Republicans united with two dissident Democrats along with one independent to defeat the Murphy Amendment before passing the overall "Every Child Succeeds Act".  Gone are the days when I am going to take a politician at his/her word that he/she loves public school teachers and parents.  The proof is in their record.  On that score, Sanders failed the test last week.

Therefore, to support a letter that states right in the introductory paragraph, "We are educators and supporters of yours, from across the country," is a step I cannot take right now. I refuse to endorse another Democratic politician, even if he says he is a democratic socialist, who would vote for such an anti-public school teacher and student abomination of an amendment that continues test and punish.  I may end up voting for Sanders as the lesser of the evils in the primary but no he is not our friend.  Do not be fooled by Sanders or anyone else.

Haven't we been down this road too many times in the past few years with Democrats who say they are with us and then stab us in the chest and the back?  See Barrack Obama and Bill de Blasio for some recent examples.  I'm no Hillary Clinton fan and voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party so they can increase their vote percentages to hopefully make a breakthrough in this millennium is not something to look forward to in the 2016 presidential election either.

I will probably vote for a Democrat for president hoping they keep control of the federal bureaucracy and make judicial appointments because Republican Party policy goes against working people, teachers, public school parents and labor unions, all groups I belong to.  However, the Democrats are not much better for us and on public education in particular, they are in some ways just as bad or worse.

We can delve into the reasons why most Democrats now vote against us and certainly the impact of the Supreme Court case called Citizens United, which has opened up the floodgates to corrupt money in politics and should be overturned, is right on top of the list.  However, that is not my purpose in writing today. If working people, teachers, public school parents, students and labor unions want to turn around our national 34 year slide since Ronald Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981, there is only one course to take, one that is seldom taken anymore.  It's called labor militancy.

  • How could New York City get away with giving teachers a contract where we won't get paid for work we did from 2009-2011 until 2020 and embeds second class status to members called Absent Teacher Reserves?

  • How can the city get away with keeping the anti teacher bureaucracy in place at the Department of Education even after the unions supported a so called worker friendly Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2013?

  • How can the state of New York get away with changing the teacher evaluation system over and over as a way to try to fire teachers and say public schools are failing?

  • How can President Obams get away with anti-teacher test and punish policies and praising firings of whole groups of teachers?

I could go on and on and have done so on this blog.  The answer to all of these questions is they get away with it because labor militancy on a grand scale does not exist in the US. It is that simple.

Please don't tell me about the strike by teachers in Chicago or threats and local job actions elsewhere. These local actions are amazing but they only score small victories.  After the 2012 strike, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel still closed a bunch of schools and got rid of  masses of teachers and the union was powerless to stop most of it.  When we are threatened nationally, we need a national response that is strong and firm.  Will we get it from our union leadership at the AFT/NEA or AFL-CIO levels?  Of course not. We never do.

Let's spend our limited energy as NYSUT opposition Stronger Together Beth Dimino (who signed the Sanders letter) says "saving ourselves."  We know the Supreme Court in the Friedrichs case could end public sector unionism as we know it.  Without automatic dues coming in thanks to Act 10, Wisconsin has lost half of its public sector union members.  As the video above shows, this is a national model and it might just succeed.

We have to fight to make members believe in the union again.  We can't expect politicians who might be with us on some or even many issues to bail us out.  The House of Representatives has been so gerrymandered that very few districts are competitive so even if  the unlikely happens and Sanders wins the White House, the national political equation will not change radically.

Why there has not been a threat of a nationwide or statewide teacher or public employee massive job action or a general strike from the rank and file is beyond me? We have to stop expecting some ideal leader to save us at the government or union level because as my friend Sue Sutera said during the Jamaica High School phase out, "All we have is each other."

All of us together could be an unbelievably robust weapon if we would just try. More about that later.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


We had a fine time watching the Orioles play the Yankees this evening while discussing strategies to win a major victory in the 2016 UFT Election.

Spreadsheets, ground game, literature, other caucuses and much more were on the agenda along with baseball.

UFT veterans Ellen Fox and Ed Beller were also in attendance.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Chalkbeat is reporting that the latest surveys have come out and Chancellor Carmen Farina is a hit with the teachers.  She has gone from 31% saying they are satisfied with the Chancellor last year to 60% saying they are satisfied now.  Of course they don't give Absent Teacher Reserves the survey at all to skew the results. Even though I was on staff as a Leave Replacement Teacher at Middle College High School this year, I didn't receive a survey.

My wife was on sabbatical this year; she didn't get a survey either.  Anybody else not polled?

Are we the minority who are unhappy with the schools and is there a Richard Nixonish silent majority out there who are crazy about the Chancellor and the New York City system?

Here are the full results.

Here is the DOE's more selective results.

My very brief analysis is that nobody played with the surveys and having a couple of thousand angry ATRs involved would have changed things but not that significantly.  Some will say that people are too scared to say anything negative about the schools and they may have a point but I would argue that the UFT is mainly responsible for the Chancellor's improved rating.

The UFT's top down spin that everything is wonderful now in the NYC schools has resonated with many people.  To me this is more evidence that he/she who heads the union at the school level (chapter leader/delegate) relays the message that the rank and file receive.  In most schools those leadership positions belong to members of Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus where loyalty to the party line is a membership obligation. Mulgrew has decreed it's all hunky-dory in NYC schools. See any Delegate Assembly report for details.  The problems are with the state according to the UFT leaders.

If we want to change the union, we need respected UFT members like those who read this blog to present the alternative view in just about every school. To put it another way, get in touch with us and spread the word.

Monday, July 20, 2015


We knew the choice of ousted Hillsborough, Florida school Superintendent Mary Ann Elia for New York State Education Commissioner was not going to sit well with many educators and parents.  Less than a month into her new job, she has proven the critics were right.  She looks like just a different version of former Commissioner John King.

As reported on the B-LoEdScene blog via the Buffalo News, Elia told the media she is going on a listening tour.  While in Buffalo, she was pushing the same old blame the teacher garbage as her predecessor.

Here is what she told the school board: "It's important for you to understand there will be consequences if you can't move those schools forward," she said.

Improve or else.  This is Elia's grand new strategy.  The whole false premise that schools fail because of lousy educators is moving ahead full steam at the state level.

The list of schools going into what is now euphemistically called "receivership" was released by Elia's State Ed Department last week. Schools are now termed "struggling" or persistently struggling."  Who invents these terms?  One of their solutions for struggling schools is to replace the teachers as if bad teaching had much to do with lack of student achievement.

The best quote in response to Elia comes from Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore:

That someone's going to come in here and wave a magic wand, and all of these kids who have severe problems will start doing well, that's just not going to happen."

Rumore is no hero to me as he was one of the supporters of the NYSUT coup d'etat last year that gave us Revive NYSUT who have revived nothing but enhanced their own pensions.  In this case, however, Rumore has nailed it. His comment goes right along with something our friend Harris Lirtzman said the other day at Perdido Street school:

...where are all the magical teachers going to come from to staff these schools when their current roster get dumped in the ATR in New York City and straight fired everywhere else?  Will the State give the "receivers" special wands and hocus-pocus powers to make magical teachers appear from thin air? What "master" teacher anywhere would transfer to any of these schools when the State accountability system will turn a "master" teacher into a "developing" teacher in one year?

For those who have not been following, this is what the state said in their press release concerning struggling schools.

Struggling Schools are defined as schools that have been identified since 2012-13 as Priority Schools (i.e., among the lowest performing five percent of schools in the state).  Priority Schools that have been in the most severe accountability status since the 2006-07 school year have been identified as Persistently Struggling Schools.

Under the receivership law, a school receiver is granted new authority to, among other things, develop a school intervention plan; convert schools to community schools providing wrap-around services; expand the school day or school year; and remove staff and/or require staff to reapply for their jobs in collaboration with a staffing committee.

In the 20 schools identified as Persistently Struggling, the superintendent first serves as the receiver and is given an initial one-year period to use the enhanced authority of a receiver to make demonstrable improvement on annual goals established by the Commissioner, including student performance.  Absent demonstrable improvement, the Commissioner will direct the school board to appoint an independent receiver within 60 days.  The Commissioner will work closely with the school board to ensure that the most qualified individual is identified and the appointment of all independent receivers must be approved by the Commissioner.  Additionally, the school will be eligible for a portion of $75 million in state aid to support and implement its turnaround efforts over a two-year period. 

We are all fully aware this was going to be awful after the State Legislature allowed receivership into state education law. We didn't know how bad it would get.  

All I can say here is every time we say it can't get much worse in education, it does.

My question is what are the unions going to do in response to the receivorship nonsense?  The answer to that in all probability unfortunately is not much.  It's up to the rank and file to move them in the right direction.

To see if your school is on the list, just scroll down to the bottom of the NYSED link.