Sunday, April 22, 2012

Something in the Air Upstate as Teachers Rebel Against Teacher Evaluation System Based on Student Test Scores

The Buffalo teachers' union and the school district still cannot reach an agreement on the new evaluation system.  Instead of caving in, the teachers plan to walk out when State Education Commissioner John King addresses the New York State United Teachers next week in Buffalo.   I wonder if New York City teachers will be asked to support them in solidarity? Buffalo is risking Race To The Top funds because they don't have a new evaluation agreement in place.

It looks as though some of our upstate colleagues refuse to submit willingly to value added assessments that are really an excuse to weaken tenure and make it easier to fire teachers.

This particular quote from Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore concerning the State Education Commissioner says a great deal: "[King and his team]They are so far removed from the realities of the classroom and what is really important about measuring student growth and teacher performance that they are just blundering and muddying the waters and issuing edicts that have no connection to reality as to what will really help teachers teach and students learn." 

Rumore continued: "They have no concept as to what the problems teachers are facing, whether student absenteeism, or the 40 different languages spoken by students in our district, or the special-education students. People are so far removed from the classroom," Rumore said of the state education department.

Now that's a union leader!

In a related topic, I was in attendance on Tuesday night at an anti high stakes testing forum where Rockville Centre Central High School Principal Carol Burris was on a panel opposing using student tests to evaluate teachers along with Class Size Matters Leonie Haimson and two teachers.  They talked about writing a teacher letter opposing the new evaluation system.  One pretty good letter from our friends upstate already exists.

Here is the link.

Please consider signing it.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Two bills have been introduced in the State Legislature to end the mayor’s majority control over the New York City Board of Education.  One is Senate Bill S-6915-2011 and the other is Assembly BILL 9723-2011. The Senate Bill would decrease the mayor’s power by limiting him to 4 representatives on a 13 person Board of Education.  The Assembly bill would limit the mayor to 2 votes on an 8 person Board of Education.  Either one is acceptable to me as they would end mayoral dictatorship over our schools and put in some necessary checks and balances.

In his report to the Delegates, an observer informed me (I arrived late) that UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the bills were basically dead on arrival as Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skellos would not bring the bill to the floor so it would never be voted on.  While I essentially agree that the chances of passing these bills are very slim, it doesn’t hurt to try to push for the end of the mayor’s majority control over the Board of Education.  It is the best hope for saving the public schools of New York City before they are completely ruined by Bloomberg and the corporate school deformers. You can't win if you don't try.

Here is the simple wording of my resolution:

Whereas, Mayoral control of the New York City Schools has been an unmitigated disaster; be it therefore

Resolved, that the UFT support State Senate Bill 6915/Assembly Bill 9723 that would take away the mayor’s majority control of the Board of Education.

I was able to obtain the floor during the new motion period at Wednesday’s DA as nobody else had a new motion at the time so they President had to call on me.  As per the rules, I just read the resolution.  I then stated that even if this bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, we should be on record supporting it.  To get an item on the agenda, no debate is allowed and the motion needs a 2/3 vote to get added to the current DA agenda.

It seems to me this resolution is a no-brainer but you never know at the DA.  It made me happy to see that there was overwhelming support for it among the delegates so it was added to the agenda.  However, it is not yet UFT policy because time ran out before the resolution could be debated and voted on. Someone said afterwards that they should have extended for this simple resolution but at least it is on the union's agenda. Hopefully, it will be near the top of the agenda next month. (I also believe that there are ways that we can push this bill forward that we should discuss soon.)

Surprisingly, a different motion to support a rally at DOE Central (Tweed) in support of the 26 schools slated for closure was rejected by the Delegates.  I see no harm in the UFT endorsing such a rally even if it was for the next day. Since it was time sensitive, this motion was for the current DA so there was no debate and it didn't get on the agenda as it was defeated rather handily. 

In the part of the president's report that I caught or was informed about (I missed the start of the meeting so please fill us in on what I missed), Mulgrew said that the Union would do what it can for the 26 turnaround schools that are slated to be closed.  He also talked about the CESIS arbitration and said that he was confident.  (Later Secretary Michael Mendel told us it was important for members to do the CESIS surveys.)  Mulgrew said that the person in charge of special education reform at the DOE, Laura Rodriguez, was retiring and the new person in charge of special education reform resigned.  As there are many changes coming next school year, the union is expecting many lawsuits from parents and advocacy groups.

Mulgrew also reported on Students’ First New York.  He told us we are looking forward to battling Joel Klein again.  He said that the mayor was now desperate with his school approval ratings hovering around 18% so he was indirectly funding Klein, Rhee, Moscowitz and hedge fund guys.  He said they would try to use parents to stop the teacher’s union.  Mulgrew stated that this is where our work with the communities for the last 2.5 years would pay off.  He mentioned the clergy breakfast for ministers and how there are 125 scheduled to meet him.   

He then told us May 8 was National Educators Day.  He said that at this year’s Spring Conference we would be honoring Robert Jackson with the Dewey Award.  Jackson was an important part of the CFE lawsuit and he also has been the Chair of the City/Council Education Committee.  Mulgrew also told us that the workshops would be great at this year’s conference as they have been redesigned.  One of them would include Ipad training and another would be run by none other than Charlotte Danielson who he stated really only wants her evaluation system to be used to improve teaching.

He then stated that we are working on building community schools.  Even though we have 20 months of fighting with Bloomberg remaining, he believed we have to move ahead with what we want.  Community schools would include wraparound services and technology to enhance teaching.  

Staff Director Leroy Barr next gave a report about cutting day care slots and he said that there would be a rally on April 24 at 2116 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd to oppose these childcare cuts. Secretary Michael Mendel talked about the importance of doing the DOE CESIS surveys and then there were questions.

One question concerned probation extensions.  Mulgrew answered that if someone has more than two extension of probations, they need to contact UFT lawyer Adam Ross.

Another question concerned the continuation of the ATR agreement which Mulgrew answered by saying it would carry on.

There was a question on CESIS and Mulgrew said we would go to Albany after the arbitration.

My colleague Jeff A who hangs out on the same side of the DA as me asked about the validators in the new evaluation agreement.  He wanted to know how we could be sure that the non DOE people who were sent to validate ineffective ratings wouldn’t just be more retired city principals.  Mulgrew answered that the UFT was on the committee to hire the validators so it should not be a concern.  There was a question on false OSI investigations that was answered by saying we should call OSI if there is a false allegation made by an adult. 

This was followed by the motion period (see above) and the regular agenda items followed.  None of them were very controversial.  We endorsed a City Council resolution on celebrating educators; we voted to recognize Administrative Professionals/Secretaries Day; we also voted to support the May Day for the 99% March and Rally; we are also endorsing the Stand4Change Day against bullying as well as the anti-bullying conference sponsored by the UFT and the Council for Unity.  We also passed a resolution calling for full services and instruction for English Language Learners and we passed one looking for justice for Trayvon Martin.

No time, however, to demand an end to Mayoral control but hey the next meeting is just a few weeks away.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


If you are anywhere near Murry Bergtraaum High School on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., you must stop by to see this truly distinguished panel of educators and a parent activist.

  • Carol Burris- Southside HS Rockville Centre, NY; coauthor of the principal's letter against the new evaluation system
  • Leonie Haimson- Executive Director of Class Size Matters and Parents Across America- Top parent activist who has defended teachers in so many forums
  • Arthur Goldstein- ESL teacher and Chapter Leader from Francis Lewis High School in Queens; Arthur has been published many times in the Daily News, Gotham, the NY Times, etc...
  • Gary Rubenstein- Stuyvesant High School Teacher; Gary is also a famous blogger who crunches numbers with the best of them.
The moderator will be the star of the Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman teacher Julie Cavanaugh.

Murry Bergtraum is at 411 Pearl Street in Manhattan.  Take the 4, 5 or 6 to City Hall or the A,C,2 or 3 to Fulton Street or the R or N to City Hall

Tests are getting longer because they are now about teachers! 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I can't believe that Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the press are using the case of Eric Chasanoff to try to make the case that the Chancellor, not independent arbitrators, should have the final say in who gets fired.  Chaz, as he is known, has defended himself very eloquently on his blog.  As his chapter leader for many years, including when he was removed from Jamaica, I feel I must add a few points on this matter to show just how ridiculous the Chancellor and the press are in trying to make Chaz the poster child for abusive teachers who get away with everything.  The press and chancellor are guilty of what  R.E.M. called "Exhuming McCarthy."

For those who do not know the story, Chaz was removed from Jamaica High School for making an awkward remark to a student and touching her on the shoulder to calm her down. The DOE tried to turn it into a sexual case so they could suspend Eric without pay after a probable cause hearing where the standard of proof is very low for the DOE.  In a probable cause hearing, a Special Commissioner of Investigations report is usually sufficient evidence to suspend someone but Chaz won his hearing.

The press quotes the Special Commissioner of Investigations report in this case as if it were the gospel but in the probable cause hearing the arbitrator found that the report was flawed as the investigator was not credible and Eric was not taken off payroll.  Chaz is one of the few people to win one of these hearings.  There was no reason for the DOE to continue at that point but they moved forward and filed 3020A charges to try to dismiss him.  In the 3020A case, once again a different arbitrator found the SCI report flawed.  Eric was fined a minimal amount for making an awkward statement to a student, which he admitted was not the wisest thing to say. Now here comes the press to dredge up the case and try to make Eric into a monster.  The record should reflect some more facts that I haven't seen anywhere else.

Eric is a very popular teacher as students would practically beg guidance counselors to be able to get into one of his earth science classes. The Daily News and NY Times never interviewed my outspoken colleague Marc Epstein or myself or they may have discovered this information.  They may also have found out that earth science grades took a nosedive after Chaz was removed from Jamaica.  He is thought of as a very good teacher.  Another teacher and I both testified to this fact at his 3020A hearing.

I also haven't seen this anywhere in the press or on Chaz's blog but it has to be noted somewhere that when the principal called Eric and me down to his office to talk about the incident that led to the 3020a case, he said specifically that this was not sexual. 

Speaking of the principal, he did not see eye to eye with Eric  This particular principal and I generally worked out issues however when it came to the Office of Special Investigations or the Commissioner of Special Investigations, he had a very quick trigger finger and would often call in a report on incidents that were purely trivial.  We used to argue about this all the time. We often would joke that the principal had OSI on speed dial and he actually had an assistant principal who had as one of his duties that he was in charge of the many OSI investigations that were kicked back to the school.

In terms of Chaz, I believe the principal was not happy because a few years earlier he called in a rather insignificant incident against Eric to OSI and it was founded but the only punishment was for Eric to receive a letter in his file.  However, Eric grieved it (those were the days when we could grieve letters that were unfair or inaccurate) and Chaz won at arbitration.  The arbitrator saw that the letter was erroneous and removed it. I remember the principal being a little perturbed when the DOE lost the arbitration.

Subsequently, he seemed to be looking for anything against Eric.  This situation worsened after the DOE was dragged to the Public Employees Relations Board by the UFT over Chaz.  The Principal also had to deal with the fact that Eric was elected multiple times to be a representative for the teachers on the School Leadership Team.  Does the press think we were all that stupid to vote him in?  After the incident that led to the unfounded probable cause hearing,  the school had the SCI investigator come back over and over again to talk to kids and seek evidence which he really never found.  This is why his report was easily picked apart by Eric's representatives.

In the end we have three separate independent arbitrators assigned to hear the two cases involving Chaz and all three figured out that there was basically nothing going on with him.  Are they all in the pocket of the UFT?  I don't think so as they are selected by and paid for equally by UFT and DOE and either side can throw an arbitrator off the panel at the end of the year.  The reality is the principal had a quick trigger finger when it came to calling the Office of Special Investigations and the Commissioner of Special Investigations on all employees and not just Eric.  The arbitrators knew there was not much there as  would any decent reporter if they bothered to do their job and investigate multiple sources and not rely on a flawed SCI report.

I don't think the Daily News will be reading this piece to try to get another take on this story but when the DOE keeps losing over and over again with independent arbitrators that they agreed to, concerning the same teacher, maybe they should admit there is nothing wrong with the process but something wrong with DOE officials and SCI investigators going on fishing expeditions to try to fire people who have done nothing to warrant their dismissal.  The arbitration process needs to be strengthened, not weakened, so we can grieve file letters again.  Due process worked for Chaz. Thankfully, we still have a semblance of it. Taking him through the mud again reminds me of the McCarthy hearings.  To Walcott, the NY Times and the Daily News I paraphrase from that time: Haven't you done enough to try to assassinate this man's character?  Have you no sense of decency?

Friday, April 06, 2012


The other night three of us from Jamaica High School traveled over to Bryant High School in Western Queens for their Joint Public Hearing.  The city wants to close this great school, and twenty-five others, including seven more large high schools in Queens.  The city would shut the schools on June 30 and reopen them the following day with a new name and around half of the staff would be new.

Teachers would have to reapply for their jobs to stay at their old schools. This so called turnaround model is being used by the city because they couldn't reach an agreement with the UFT on teacher evaluation. I strongly believe the city wants to be able to fire as many teachers as possible because, in spite of scholarly research to the contrary, it is their contention that it is the teachers who are solely to blame if students don't graduate.

The Bryant experience was painful for me because it is somewhat similar to what happened at Jamaica High school the last two years where DOE officials came to our school for Joint Public Hearings.  DOE officials at the hearings ignored everything parents, students, alumni, teachers and community activists had to say about how we had a good, viable school that should be kept open.  We were phased out by the Panel for Educational Policy in 2010 and remained open thanks to a lawsuit but the DOE closed us again in 2011 and still another lawsuit is pending on that closure. Many of us remain at Jamaica as the school phases out and we are saddened on a daily basis as our students are shortchanged in their educational experience.

Listening to our friends at Bryant, they made so many good arguments about how their fine school is a big part of the community, how there are many English Language Learners and Special Education students who needed extra time to graduate, how the alumni wanted to see their school continue and how there was so much history there, how Bryant's SAT scores beat the city average, how the kids were afraid of losing some excellent teachers and more.  DOE officials looked bored sitting on the stage and they trotted out their usual cherry-picked data to show that Bryant High School is having problems while not pointing to any statistic that makes the school look good.

UFT Treasurer Mel Aaronson spoke against the closure for the Union as did District Representative James Vasquez and LIC High School Chapter Leader Ken Achiron.  Sam Lazarus, Bryant's Chapter Leader, made an excellent presentation as did other members of the Bryant School Leadership Team and the local Community Education Council.  All speakers wanted to see Bryant remain open.  My turn came a little later as someone generously handed me their speaking ticket. (I had a very high number).

I told the nearly full auditorium how the DOE will promise resources but they will never end up in the classroom. As an example I talked about how Jamaica's building previously had advanced placement classes in history, English, math, science and second language and now the whole building (new schools included) only has one remaining AP class.  I also spoke about the great programs we had that are now gone.  I told the gathering that DOE officials are only at Bryant because the law says they have to be there to hold this meeting.  The mayor's eight appointees on the Panel for Educational Policy can outvote the five borough President appointees on every issue and the mayor's people do what DOE wants. However, I don't think this fight to keep schools open is futile.

I closed my remarks by saying that even though the situation does not look good for any of us, we can win this battle but we must take it to the state.  It was the State Legislature and Governor that gave the mayor control of the schools and the power to close schools.  The state can take that power away from the mayor today.  It's time for us to push for an end the mayoral dictatorship and an end to the mayor's right to close schools.  We need to hold the State Legislature responsible for the incalculable damage that Mayor Bloomberg is doing to the schools.  We should start this campaign immediately before more lives are ruined by this awful school governance system that is antithetical to democracy.

I truly hope that we can regain some semblance of a school system before it is too late.