Sunday, September 30, 2018


Fred Smith, testing expert and fellow Leonie Haimson Skinny Award winner, describes another problem in NY State achievement test results:
I believe the opt-out movement is viable and capable of growth in NYC--even though we have a Mayor and chancellor who are advocates of mass testing in grades 3-8.
The Grade 6 ELA results for New York City are screwy.  They strike me as a weak link in Questar’s testing chain.  The percentage of students deemed proficient this year is 48.9%.  It was 32.3% last year.  That’s a 16.6 difference– or a shift of from nearly one-third to one-half of (65,000) sixth graders who are now “proficient.” In no other grade is it more than 8.0.
Surprisingly, differences of the same magnitude hold for all ethnic groups.
[I know we were warned not to compare the 2018 results directly with the 2017 results. Still that’s a singular difference since the same publisher, Questar, produced both tests under a $44 million, five-year contract with SED.]
NYC ELA Percent Proficient by Grade
3 - 8

NYC Grade 6 ELA Percent Proficient x Race/Ethnicity
And how does this useless testing program serve educators who are judged by such inexplicable data and who must design programs to meet the academic needs of students–based on such shaky (as in meaningless) information???
An outcome like this is an example of why we need to have timely information about how the items on the examination functioned.  Yet, SED and DOE have not provided data at their disposal that would shed light on the matter.  Instead, NYC parents are expected to march their children off to the deadening testing drumbeat for the next three years uninformed about the workings of the exams.
We must figure out a way to demand and obtain the information hidden behind the curtain of the test questions.*  If SED and the DOE are unwilling to disclose the facts, this would give impetus to a citywide campaign that builds on the reported four percent (4%) opt out rate and escalates it in 2019.
*The information consists of item-level statistics that SED and DOE routinely keeps.  It would allow multiple-choice items and constructed response questions to be studied to see how students answered them.  For M-C items, we should have classical item analysis data on the percentage of students selecting each option.  For CRQs, we should have the percentage of students receiving each score from trained raters.  Having both sets of information would give us a picture of the response and scoring distributions generated by students and lead us to evidence-based insights into the quality of the exams. Not only must SED and the City already have such overall data, they also have—or should be able to produce it by subgroup—i.e., for ELLs, students with disabilities and for students by race/ethnicity—that would give us further understanding.
(If you agree, please post and share the above with allies and potential allies in places I am incapable of reaching.)
I guess the sixth graders are all geniuses or maybe they just had better teachers. No, the tests are invalid and unreliable.

Saturday, September 29, 2018


Grade 3-8 ELA and math state exam scores were released this week. Here are the reactions from the UFT and NYSUT. Note the difference.

From the September 28, 2018 UFT Chapter Leader Update:
New York City trends up on Grades 3-8 ELA and math scores

For the third straight year, New York City made more headway than the rest of the state on achieving proficiency in math and ELA for grades 3 through 8, according to test scores released by the state Education Department on Sept. 26. In ELA, 46.7 of city students met proficiency standards, compared with 45.2 percent statewide. City students were 1.5 percentage points ahead of students statewide, almost doubling their .8 percentage point advantage from 2017. In math, 42.7 percent of city students scored at the proficient level, compared with 44.5 percent statewide. City students were 1.8 percentage points behind students statewide, narrowing a gap that was 2.4 percentage points in 2017. “New York City has continued for three years to outperform the rest of the state on growth measures,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said at a press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at PS 204 in the Bronx. “That has not happened for decades. I know we have a lot of work to do, but we are taking on the challenge.” He cautioned, however, that test scores are just one measure of a student’s, a teacher’s and a school’s performance. “A test score is a single piece of evidence,” he said. “The days of using test scores as a scarlet letter are over.” For more details and a chart with New York City proficiency rates for each grade, read the full story on the UFT website.

See how there is an upbeat mood from President Mulgrew who was with the Mayor and Chancellor boasting about the scores.

Compare and contrast that to the reaction from New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), our state umbrella union.

This is taken from the September 28, 2018 NYSUT Leader:

NYSUT calls state tests badly flawed and inaccurate

NYSUT blasted the State Education Department this week as it released scores from last spring's badly flawed ELA and math exams, saying they are invalid and released too late to be helpful.

NYSUT EVP Jolene DiBrango said the state's broken scale of 'proficiency' unfairly labels students and schools. In addition, she said the standardized tests are too long and not developmentally appropriate. Here's our report from May 2018 which detailed the many problems educators and students experienced during the grades 3-8 state assessments.

We have NYSUT blasting the scores while the hugest affiliate in NYSUT, the UFT, is bragging about increases in what our state affiliate is calling "badly flawed ELA and math exams."

Go figure. It would be nice if the state union and the city union were on the same page on testing. Personally, I agree with NYSUT and believe Mulgrew should have stayed away from that press conference.

I think we can agree that the main reason why the test and punish culture continues to flourish in New York is because the UFT won't get fully on board with the anti-high stakes testing movement.

Friday, September 28, 2018


The UFT conducts contract negotiations in secret. If I ever had a role in running a teacher union, I would quickly change how the union does business by not having secret negotiations and I would be updating the rank and file on how negotiations are proceeding.

Our friends at City University of New York in the Professional Staff Congress give updates to their rank and file in public. On Wednesday they updated their members on how the negotiations with CUNY are proceeding.

From the latest PSC update:

• CUNY management has presented a formal list of demands but has, so far, stressed only a few demands as priorities. Among them is a demand to allow full-time faculty to count summer teaching as part of the annual teaching load--and thus to open the door to an academic calendar with year-round teaching for full-time faculty and no summer annual leave. As you can imagine, the union has raised serious concerns about this demand.

I wish we knew what was going on in UFT Department of Education-City of New York negotiations. We could discuss what the DOE wants, if anything, in exchange for changing the evaluation system to two observations per year as per the state law. We should be discussing in the schools what is on the negotiating table.

PSC rallied on Wall Street in support of their contract goals yesterday.

Serious question: When was the last time the UFT tried to get the members out for a citywide mass demonstration for anything?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


I saw this today on teacher-parent  Chris Cerrone's Twitter.

Dear HS teachers,

Repeat after me: "you don't need to give a s**tload of HW to get kids to don't need to give a s**tload of HW to get kids to learn"

Sincerely, Dad of a HS student (& teacher of 24 years. )

I was thinking about our readers when I read this.

How do the teachers here feel about homework?

As a parent of a fourth grader, I believe my daughter Kara gets a decent amount of homework and sometimes it is helpful. As a teacher, I assigned less over the years and did not find learning decreased. I liked project based learning and found it worked for most students as assignments were spread out however some kids really thrived on daily routine homework structure. They had a hard time keeping up with a long term assignment.

Any thoughts?

Please be professional if commenting.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


Filmmaker Michael Moore had been hugely silent on the privitization movement of education. He never did a major documentary on charter schools and he was asked to many times. He did come out against Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary in 2017 and now his latest film, Farenheit 11-9, has an important segment on the wave of teacher strikes that have spread throughout the country.  I know, I know, they are not likely to spread to NYS but teacher strikes are a major story this year nationally.

In this interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Moore acknowledges that the teachers were not encouraged to strike by their union leaders. This is so important because union leaders are doing well not just in NYC. It's teachers in the actual schools that need improvements in their working conditions and have to do the actual organizing.

From the transcript of the conversation:


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

ANICOLE PORTER: Fifty-five of 55 counties. The strike will go on in all of them tomorrow.

STRIKING TEACHERS: Fifty-five strong!

AMY GOODMAN: That’s from Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore, the Oscar-winning filmmaker. It’s his latest film. These teacher strikes, Michael, and teachers in this country, what they’re going through?

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, there’s an uprising going on right now with teachers all over the country. And it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. These teachers in West Virginia, they’re fighters. Their union, their own union, their leadership tried to discourage them from going out on strike. They wouldn’t listen to them. They went out on strike. They got all 55 counties to go out on strike.

STRIKING TEACHERS: Fifty-five united! Fifty-five united! Fifty-five united!

MICHAEL MOORE: And then, when they finally got the governor to give them what they wanted—

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Justice.

MICHAEL MOORE: Governor Jim Justice—I know. You can’t write this stuff, right? The bus drivers and the lunch ladies and everybody else were also on strike with the teachers. He would only give the raise to the teachers. And they said, “No, you’ve got to give it to the bus drivers and the cooks and the janitors and everybody else.” And he wouldn’t do it, so they wouldn’t go back to school. They stayed out on strike until there was justice for the custodians and the people in the lunchroom and the bus drivers. That kind of solidarity, if we all ever get together and support each other, and not cross each other’s picket lines, that is the scariest thing for these people, because they won’t know what to do. They won’t be able to run their businesses. They won’t be able to run their schools. They won’t be able to do anything.

How difficult is the concept of worker solidarity to understand?

Monday, September 24, 2018


I find it difficult to accept that even though teaching and learning conditions in NYC schools for UFT members are less than close to ideal, but we are in intense negotiations with the city-Department of Education and may soon have an early contract. We are negotiating without any kind of public union campaign to win a good contract which is very hard to believe.

We have proof in Arthur Goldstein's report from the September 24, 2018 Executive Board meeting that  contract negotiations are serious even though the current contract does not expire until February 2019.

From Arthur:

Michael Mulgrew—At this point, we’ll get all numbers, but the one we have to watch is new members. Should be part of a standard report. We need to reach all our new hires. So far everything seems to be going well. Little bogged down in negotiations. Going back upstairs to continue.

Further down from Mulgrew's report:

Most of our work now about contract, Biggest issues are ones we’re getting to now. Thanks people who worked weekend to prepare. 

Your guess is as good as mine as to what these "biggest issues" are but we may soon find out.

We are negotiating in a climate where there is a substandard pattern for contract raises for muncipal unions set by DC 37 of 7.25% salary increases over 44 months (47.5 months for UFTers because of two extensions to the current agreement) that will be partially funded through healthcare givebacks, including forcing new employees into managed care for their first year on the job.

If the UFT has to accept these paltry raises that don't keep up with the inflation rate, then we are hopeful that there can be real gains made in non-economic parts of the contract. For example, adhering the state law of two observations per year as opposed to four (six if you include the non-evaluative observations) that NYC currently has.

An early contract without any fight should only be up for discussion if it is very favorable.


The New York City Public School Parents Blog has a summary of the recent NYC Department of Education busing scandal. Parent activist Leonie Haimson credits Chancellor Richard Carranza for taking swift action to actually terminate a top official at the central DOE.

From Leonie's piece:
The first week of school was dominated by stories about a major busing fiasco, with 67,075 hotline complaints from parents during the first four days, and many kids left on the sidewalk waiting for school buses which never came, as first reported by Ben Chapman of the NY Daily News.

Ben also broke the story that many bus drivers with criminal records had been allowed to slip through the cracks via faulty background checks, and that a retired police investigator had been let go by DOE for blocking too many hires with questionable records, while his signature was forged to the hiring documents.

As a result,  Chancellor Carranza fired Eric Goldstein, CEO of School Support Services.  Goldstein had led this massive fiefdom for more than a decade, where he controlled the spending of billions of dollars in vendor contracts for transportation, food and athletics.

This was a dramatic move by the Chancellor, as no one at that level has been fired at DOE in many years, at least in my memory.  Carranza also promised that from now on, the method for vetting bus drivers would be handled by the department's Division of Human Capital, with the same careful screening that DOE employees are subject to.

Is this a new day at the DOE where people may actually be held accountable or is this just someone taking the fall and will it be business as usual down at Tweed Courthouse? 

Do you think Richard Carranza is going to dig deep to discover what many of of the Klein-Walcott-Bloomberg-Farina people have been doing at the DOE?

I know that the DOE is receiving larger budgets but much of that money doesn't filter down to the schools. I wonder why.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


This is part of this week's Organizer by Unity's Gene Mann.

School Handbooks
Your principal must adhere to the guidance issued by the Department of Education about school handbooks. While school handbooks may be used to notify staff of school procedures such as safety drills and student dismissal, they may not contain directives that contradict the DOE-UFT contract. For example, handbooks may not establish a staff dress code or mandate a specific timeframe for requesting a personal day. In addition, members can be asked to sign and acknowledge only the receipt of the handbook — not that they have familiarized themselves with its contents. If you think the DOE’s school handbook guidelines are not being adhered to in your school, have your Chapter Leader contact your UFT district representative for assistance in resolving any issues. For more information, read the DOE school handbook notice.

Friday, September 21, 2018


Same as with the Executive Board, Arthur Goldstein usually writes a report for Delegate Assemblies and the annual citywide Chapter Leader meeting. Yesterday was this year's Chapter Leader gathering. From Arthur's account of President Michael Mulgrew's report, things are looking mighty upbeat these days.

Let's take a closer look at some of the issues from the perspective of President Mulgrew.

First of all, Janus does not seem to be a problem for the UFT. The Supreme Court decision that made union dues optional has not even scratched, let alone dented, the UFT according to the President.

From Arthur's minutes of Mulgrew's report to the Chapter Leaders:
Last year was Janus. Says we did good job. There is no longer an agency fee payer. Last year we had over 2K AFP. By August were 410. Lowest number by far. Will update at DA, because we’ve been working on new hires. We put together aggressive plan, including two weeks of training. Before day one, 2600 of 4K had signed up. 

Further down we learn:
Right now there are fewer than five people who’ve dropped UFT. Says we did a great job. No one has had results like these in other states. 

This meeting last year we had Constitutional Convention. Once we got through that, we would prepare for Janus. We destroyed CC in every county in state, and came through Janus in a way that was unheard of, due to work of CLs. This year there is not as much apprehension, but we never know what will happen. We will plan and deal. 

So we went from 2,000 down to 410 non-members; we are signing up most new employees and the best news of all is that virtually nobody is attempting to opt out of  the union according to Mulgrew. This a UFT golden age then if this is the case.

There's no teaching shortage here in NYC either.
So far we haven’t been affected by teacher shortage like other places in the country. One Southern district needed 241, opened 110 short. States have defunded education, denied raises for a decade. In NY we have bucked trend and spend more.

Even if that extra spending doesn't seem to find its way to the schools Mr. President?

Only when talking about the Department of Education's 300 lawyers do we hear a hint that there may be major problems in the schools but even here the President is optimistic about the latest restructuring at the DOE.
We have contractual rights. Not all are implemented. We have to focus on this and enforce rules. Problems that you cannot solve should be sent to us.

Lawyers are controlling disciplinary system and central staff thinks their job is to support principal no matter what. We want to help children. We didn’t do this to be rich of famous. If leaders believe that, there will be better results. Big restructuring at DOE, and some decisions give us hope. 

I will attempt to translate from Mulgreweze into English this Mulgrew gem: "We have contractual rights. Not all are implemented."

The Eterno translation is the DOE and their army of 300 lawyers have no respect for our contractual rights. Unless you have an enlightened administration, the contract doesn't matter.

We have a wide range of readers who are teachers from across the city.

Please be honest answering this question:

Is the contract adhered to by the administration in your school?

If the answer is no, then why are we making nice-nice with the DOE?

Mulgrew gets the final word today based on this question from a Chapter Leader about new Chancellor Richard Carranza.

Q—What’s your relationship with Carranza? Good, fair positive, combative?

A—Fariña was not good to have public fights with. We’d had Klein, Black, Walcott and Bloomberg all together. We were looked at as people who just wanted to fight with everyone. For Carmen, we tried to restore respect for profession. We had issues with her management. Policies moved back into right direction.

Many members don’t remember bad times. Personally, chancellor is really good guy. But I do my job. What are we looking for him to do? We want DOE to support and help schools, not just control workforce via principals. Is it about control or education? If you harass and bully kids so they do worksheets, they don’t learn. We make decisions based on what union needs at that moment. We need to embrace and support working people at the schools. Bar was low when Fariña came in. Was comparison with Bloomberg’s last term. We need new chancellor to work with us to help. I’m optimistic.

Just because you get along, for example, with principal, doesn’t mean you don’t have responsibility to staff. 

Your turn anyone?

Thursday, September 20, 2018


We have advance copies of what MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators) and Another View in the UFT are going to distribute at today's citywide Chapter Leader meeting.

I like what MORE is saying  and this could be a companion piece to our September 1 posting on how low expectations are for the upcoming contract. MORE could also mention that the UFT will be stuck with almost a year without a raise because DC 37's pattern has 8 months of 0% increases and the UFT extended our last contract twice for a total of 3.5 months to pay retirees lump sum payments that the rest of us are not getting in full until 2020 and to pay for paid parental leave.

I have one question for MORE: 
Where are all those teachers going to come from who are ready for militancy? If the teachers are truly up for a fight, sign me up to help.

Now for Another View in the UFT which is Norm Scott and several others. I hope I am not letting out state secrets there.

UFT certainly needs change in how they operate. Will the leadership listen? They have not in the past.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


We were very saddened to learn about the passing of George Schmidt, the editor of Substance News out in Chicago. He died at age 71 from lung cancer. George was instrumental in getting dissidents elected as leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union. Even so, right up until the end, he had no problem criticizing those leaders even in the age of Janus when unions are under attack from outside.

He also was a man who truly stood by his convictions when he published state standardized exams in Chicago and as a result was fired from his teaching job for exposing the tests with all of their flaws. George was a man who did what he believed in no matter the consequences. We can all learn from that and try to live that way.

I only met George once but we corresponded on email a bunch of times. George was influential on bloggers such as Norm Scott and me.

George was a school safety person within the Chicago Teachers Union for a time and he did not think students should get away with anything. He believed in consequences for poor behavior.

Our thoughts and prayers go to his wife Sharon and their three sons.

Here is a part of the obituary Sharon wrote in Substance:

George's multifaceted career spanned five decades. He helped many thousands of people with his tireless energy, intense focus, intellectual gifts, desire to serve and unwavering commitment to the the truth.

A University of Chicago alumnus, George was a brilliant English teacher, who worked inside his classroom and within the Chicago Teachers Union – serving in various roles including delegate, mentor, consultant and researcher – for quality education for students and fairness for school workers.

While he believed that public schools and unions are essential in improving the lives of working class people, George knew the institutions need watching. He used print newspapers and an online news service to hold accountable those in power. Much of his ongoing critique of the Chicago Board of Education was against racist policies.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


There was so much that happened at the first Executive Board of the year. Arthur Goldstein's report is as usual required reading. This is some of what caught my eye.

First, in an astonishing admission on new people not signing up to be UFT members, we learn  this from Arthur's minutes of President Michael Mulgrew's report:

(Updated with clarification from Arthur)
Not sure number of agency fee payers, from 2000 down to around 400. Next challenge is process for new members, who are no longer members until we speak with them. We did new member engagement over summer. We had names and phone numbers. By first week we signed 2500 of 4000 members. Will probably be another 900 new teachers in next few weeks.

If 1,500 new people are not UFT members, that isn't too good if we had access to them under the new law over the summer. I also heard there were 1,200 Agency fee payers from other sources, not 400 as Mulgrew says. Even if we take the UFT at their word, how many of those 1,500 are consciously not joining the union? The UFT will call it a victory no matter how many join but over time if a significant number of new employees do not enroll in the Union, it will mean plenty of losses if that is the trend.

Also, how can the DOE still be about to hire 900 new teachers now when school has already started when there are so many Absent Teacher Reserves out there? I'm sure the licenses match for most of the new hires where ATRs could fill these vacancies.

The next part that I found interesting was UFT Vice President Carmen Alvarez retirement remarks where she talked about the "game changer" she thinks the next contract will be.

Here are her words as recorded in Arthur's minutes:

Alvarez—loves union, thanks for opportunity to support members and young people they serve. UFT allowed me to make a difference. Believes new contract will be game changer. Opportunity for you to create magic in schools. Thanks us.

I don't know what this means but we can be hopeful.

Finally, the UFT/Unity Caucus is incapable of changing on having democracy for District Representatives. So what else is new?  Before 2003, UFT District Representatives were elected by Chapter Leaders in their district. Bruce Markens and Tom Dromgoole in Manhattan High Schools were actually not members of the Unity Caucus and they won. Randi Weingarten changed the rules to make it an appointed position in 2003. Now the UFT wants to change the rules again so the appointments can come from a larger pool. I guess some Unity people need jobs and there is only one DR per district.

Continuing Resolution on the Selection Process for UFT District Representatives

WHEREAS, The Executive Board adopted a resolution on the selection process for district representatives  on June 3, 2003; and

WHEREAS, District Representatives Interview Committees have discussed more flexibility in their recommendations to the UFT President; and

WHEREAS, the interview committees make recommendations to the president, and half of the members on the committees will continue to be chapter leaders; therefore be it

RESOLVED, the committees may choose to interview and recommend any candidate from any district who meets one or more of the following criteria:

1) A present or past chapter leader for at least one year.
2) A present or past district representative for at least one year.
3) A present or past executive board member or at least one year.
4)  A present or past UFT officer for at least one year, and be it further

RESOLVED, the president may choose individuals for each existing vacancy from the committees' recommendations. However, if the president does not choose from the names submitted by a committee, the president will meet with that committee and explain the reasons for the selection.

New Action's Jonathan Halabi spoke against this resolution. Here again from Arthur's minutes:

Jonathan Halabi—I rise in opposition to this resolution.
District Reps should be responsible to the Chapter Leaders they serve. In the past Chapter Leaders elected their District Reps – now that’s real accountability.
Not only does this resolution not restore this basic piece of control to the chapter leaders – it allows DRs from outside the district, it allows a retiree to become DR.

DRs should be accountable to all the CLs in their district, not just those on the committee. That’s fundamental, you should be accountable to those you serve.

If we wanted to increase the pool, why require chapter leaders to come from the school they serve? If we wanted to increase the pool, why require executive board members to come from the UFT?

Needless to say the resolution passed with Unity saying we need a wider pool of candidates.

Monday, September 17, 2018


This piece in the Indeypendent was written by my one time colleague J. Bryan McGeever. It is an interesting look at the transition as a NYC public school teacher to  also becoming a NYC school system parent. I wish Bryan, his daughter and his wife, who was a Chapter Committee member for years, all the best.

Sep 14

Dear NYC,

Do you see the lovely, little girl rushing up steps of P.S.139 in Brooklyn? Yes, that’s her, the one with the long, spiral curls. It’s her first day of Pre-K and she’s mine.

As a teacher myself in the New York City Department of Education for fifteen years, I wanted to publicly announce that I’ve been nothing but kind, generous, and compassionate to every kid who’s ever stepped inside my classroom. The boy who received a perfect score on his Regents exam, as well as the one who threatened to set my hair on fire. The young lady who read her poem in Urdu at the city-wide competition and brought the house down, as well as the boy who said he’d shoot me after school. The student from Guinea who handed me a note regarding her genital mutilation as a child, and the boy who came out to me in a personal essay. The one who blindsided me into a blackboard, and the one who waited tables at the local IHOP. The nineteen-year-old who laughed when I caught him having sex with a fifteen-year-old in a stairway, and every kid who’s called me a punk-#@* before eight-thirty in the morning for the past fifteen years.

There has never been a single child in New York City, in or out of my classroom, that I have treated with malice or not offered compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. You have my word on this.

And now it’s time to return the favor.

For forty-something years I’ve dreamed awfully big dreams. Every single one has turned to dust except for the vision walking up those stairs. You will cherish and honor every second that she graces your hallways. I’ve seen this system at its worst and you will not be sneaking anything past me, understood?

Some of the most shocking, eye-popping experiences I’ve had in my adult life have taken place inside NYC public schools, and I’m not talking about troubled kids. I witnessed Bloomberg era cruelty first hand. I saw what you did to those teachers. I watched you starve those kids of funds so you could gain control of their buildings, and I’m keeping a watchful eye on the current administration’s handle of mayoral control, as well.

The largest school system in the country still has no true path as to where it is headed. Although, there is one certainty. Every day that I entrust you with my daughter’s care, she will come home safe and happy and excited about the world, otherwise, you’ll have a lion at your door roaring very specific questions.

Frankly, New York, I don’t particularly trust you. The ‘danger and romance’ you offered in my twenties and thirties no longer appeals to me. Broadway, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge still leave me in awe but lose their luster once I admit that your school system has left me frazzled and shell-shocked. Its instability, indifference and lack of true leadership, I swear most times it appears you’re making it up as you go along. I just received word that my school district has changed yet again. At this point, I no longer bother asking why. It’s just your way.

So I’ve got my supplies ready for another year, and I’ll get that bulletin board decorated tomorrow because we both know I’m decorating it just for you. It presents a good front, doesn’t it? But there’s one thing different about tomorrow. It’s the first time you’ll be seeing me as a parent, which brings us back to the little girl on the steps. Unfortunately, New York City Department of Ed, you’re all we’ve got right now. So this is just a note from a father wishing you a very, very successful school year.

J.B. McGeever’s collection of essays, Small Rooms and Others, will be published by Unsolicited press in the fall of 2019. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


One of the most humbling aspects of being a teacher is the observation process. I fully understand why NYC teachers want the number of annual observations reduced to the absolute minimum proscribed in the NYS law which is two. I agree with everyone that this should be addressed in contract negotiations as NYC's 4-6 mandated observations per year is outrageous.

What can a teacher do if he/she is working for a vindictive administrators who is determined to use the observation process to get a teacher or a group of teachers? Here, we call it "Weaponized Danielson" as the Danielson Framework we are judged on is often misused. The answer is we can do planty to fight back if the supervisor is not technically competent but that response changes to much less if the administrator knows what he/she is doing.

UFT's Team High School put out a "Cheat Sheet" on how teachers can successfully challenge poor observation reports and other problems with APPR or Annual Professional Performance Review. The process is called an APPR complaint.

I read the Cheat Sheet rather closely and concluded teachers can only challenge technicalities. This conlusion is based on experiene with APPR complaints too. If the administrator didn't follow the procedures correctly, the teacher can have an observation report pulled and not used against him/her. For example, if the administrator does not give a pre or post observation conference on a formal observation, an APPR complaint should be sustained. If the supervisor fails to stay for the entire period for a formal observation, it can be challenged. There are multiple technicalities the principal/assistant principal must adhere to or the teacher can file a successful APPR Complaint.

Remember, an APPR Complaint must be filed within five school days of receiving an observation report. Don't wait as that is a fast turnaround time. 

APPR complaints go to the Principal and then the next step is to a neutral arbitrator. Here is a link to a UFT official APPR Complaint form.

What if the principal/assistant principal follows the rules but lies? Then, options are much more limited. The UFT Cheat Sheet says this:

***Disagreeing with a principal’s scoring of a component is not cause for an APPR complaint. Disagreements on substance should be, in the event of an overall Ineffective rating, addressed though a rating appeal. 

Good luck challenging supervisory judgement in a rating appeal. The Department of Education believes in supervisor infallibility and arbitrators normally don't deal with substituting their judgement for the judgement of a supervisor. We have a high burden.

What the union should be doing, and would be doing if we had a strong union, is challenging the entire evaluation system in court and lobbying strongly to scrap it. (We have a petition asking for it to be repealed; see right side of page.)

A legal challenge was taken up by Long Island teacher Sheri Lederman, represented by her husband Bruce, against an earlier version of the APPR system. Lederman won as the judge ruled her ineffective Measures of Student Learning rating was "arbitrary and capricious" si it was thrown out.

Arbitrary is defined by as: "subject to individual will or judgement without restriction; contingent solely upon one's discretion."

Capricious is defined as: "subject to, led by, or indicative of a sudden, odd notion or unpredictable change; erratic."

I think those two words kind of describe the evaluation system as a whole and the way the Department of Education specifically manages the NYC schools.

Nobody should have their career ruined by this awful system. Take action to fight back individually if necessary and collectively.

If anyone has questions about observations or APPR complaints, email us at or contact the UFT.

Friday, September 14, 2018


Teachers are continually micromanaged in so many schools. One of administrations' favorite themes often is to mandate that  teachers have elaborate decorations in their classrooms and fancy, detailed bulletin boards. New research shows these mandates are counterproductive.

This is from the Association for Psychological Science.

Psychology researchers Anna V. Fisher, Karrie E. Godwin and Howard Seltman of Carnegie Mellon University looked at whether classroom displays affected children’s ability to maintain focus during instruction and to learn the lesson content. They found that children in highly decorated classrooms were more distracted, spent more time off-task and demonstrated smaller learning gains than when the decorations were removed.

I am not at all surprised by these findings.

Class Size Matters Executive Director Leonie Haimson commented on Twitter on the study:

Teachers spend hours decorating their classrooms; not only is it a waste of time but distracts students!

When the Joel Klein-Carmen Farina bulletin board directives came down on us, many of us resisted at Jamaica High School. We told administration that kids couldn't care less about how the classroom is decorated. Our reward if I recall was we didn't get our own classrooms. Nice to see research at the elementary level backs up what I believed was true. I must admit, however,  I was wrong. I didn't think overly decorated rooms led to lower test scores. I just thought it didn't make a difference.

There is so much that is wrong in education that could easily be corrected if the powers that be would occasionally listen to teachers.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Cynthia Nixon is doing about as well tonight in the Democratic Primary as Zephyr Teachout did against Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Primary. Nixon is getting 34% of the vote according to NBC with over 99% of precincts reporting.  Many on the left despise Cuomo for good reason as he is no friend of public education. He wins but that is a significant number in his own party that despise him.

Tish James is doing much better than polls said and has won the primary for Attorney General. Teachout finished a strong second in that race but this one isn't that close as James has a 10 point lead. UFT backed James.

Lieutenant Governor sadly hasKathy Hochul with a win against Jumaane Williams but only by 6 points. Not a hirrible showing for the challenger.

It doesn't look bad for the Democratic establishment however the real story of the evening is the losses for five rogue NYC Democrats from the Independent Democratic Conference. The IDC is having a a very rough night.

Nothing is more pleasing tonight than watching Robert Jackson, a true friend of public education, easily defeating UFT backed charter school friendly Marisol Alcantara by 16 points with 95% of precincts reporting. IDC leader Jeff Klein losing to Allassandra Biaggi is a big win for real Democrats also.  Jose Peralta, Jesse Hamilton and Tony Avella all losing too makes this a disaster for the IDC.

I am going to sleep now. I stayed up late for these results. I sometimes expect the worst on election night and avoid the news until the morning.

Update: Part of statement from Working Families Party:

Minutes ago, Working Families Party candidates Alessandra Biaggi, Jessica Ramos, Rachel May, Zellnor Myrie, John Liu, AND Robert Jackson won their races for state senate in New York, virtually SWEEPING the turncoat IDC caucus.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


This is not any kind of official endorsement from ICEUFT but in case anyone is interested, and I have been asked on several occasions, I will be voting in the Democratic Primary for Cynthia Nixon for Governor tomorrow, Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor and Tish James for Attorney General .

Nixon is by no means a perfect candidate. She says some dumb things like she wouldn't run against Bloomberg. However, her pro-labor position calling for public employees to have the right to strike is the best position I have seen a major party candidate for high office take in a long, long time. It's also encouraging that she pledges to fully fund public education. If she were to pull off a major upset and knock off Cuomo and we got back our right to legally strike, that would be a big win. Andrew Cuomo's record of being anti-labor and anti-public schools is well known. I don't expect Nixon to win but if she can outdo Zephyr Teachout's 34% that she received in the 2014 primary against Cuomo, it would take Cuomo down a notch or two.

On Lieutenant Governor, I am on board with Jumaane Williams.Kathy Hochul has a poor record as Cuomo's right hand person. Williams opposes mayoral control of the schools. That sounds good.

This is from Ballotpedia:

Jumaane has been an opponent of mayoral control of schools, citing the lack of parent involvement and the failure in closing the achievement gap for students of more color and those with disabilities. He understands the importance of these issues intimately, having been a student with Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who had the support of family and teachers in order to succeed. Going forward, he believes a municipal model, which would incorporate greater oversight from the City Council, would be more effective in addressing local concerns and increasing accountability. Jumaane feels the charter school system, intended to be a laboratory for innovation to bring to public schools, has thus far been misused and is opposed to the forced school co-location and closure policy that has dominated the last decade. Locally, he has successfully fought back against a proposed co-location at IS 240 and is working with parents, students and teachers on a similar effort at the Tilden Educational Campus. Jumaane has also been an active supporter of his local parochial schools, helping to rally support to save institutions like Nazareth Regional High School from closure.

Attorney General is a very tough pick as there are two very good candidates and one is not running with the Democratic establishment. Zephyr Teachout would make an excellent Attorney General and I so want to vote for her but Public Advocate Tish James I believe has a better chance of winning. I have to hold my nose and forgive James for lining up with Cuomo as the Democratic machine candidate however I would hate to see James and Teachout split the progressive vote and someone else win the job so I am sticking with the favorite James here.

James was a real friend of Jamaica High School when she was on the City Council and we were fighting to remain open. A group of students and I went to testify before the Council and James treated the kids and me with the utmost in respect in supporting our school.

As Public Advocate, James has been a strong supporter of public education. Read her views opposing mayoral control and having School Leadership Teams select principals at the NYCKIDSPAC site. She has no problem suing the Department of Education and will continue as our advocate on the larger statewide stage. UFT is endorsing James. I got the robocall on Wednesday night from political director Paul
Egan yet I am still supporting her. (Sarcasm alert there, as the UFT endorsement helps in reality.)

UFT's snub for pro-education leader Robert Jackson in the 31st Senatorial district is kind of hard to believe. NYCKIDSPAC strongly supports Jackson who was head of the City Council's Education Committee. Jackson is one of a group of State Senate candidates the Kids Pac is endorsing. Here is what they say about Jackson:

One of them is a seasoned veteran, Robert Jackson, who has extensive experience as the chair of the NYC Council Education Committee and a twenty-five year history of education advocacy as a school board president and lead plaintiff in the CFE lawsuit to obtain fair funding for NYC schools. 

UFT is turning its back on a long time friend Jackson by endorsing Marisol Alcantara who is pro-union  but a big advocate for charter schools. Major Charter money helped back her initial senate run in 2016.

If you live in the 31st Senate District, please vote for Robert Jackson.

I'm sure my two cents will change the outcome. Maybe not.

Update-Text message from UFT Thursday morning:

We are supporting Tish James in today's Democratic primary for state attorney general. Remember to vote! -Rachel from UFT


This video is on how to differentiate instruction without doing hours of extra planning. It is from Education Week. It is worth a look. I also recommend showing it to your supervisor if you are accused of not differentiating.

Differentiated instruction is one of the educational fads I wrote about for the NYC Parents Blog earlier this spring. Teachers spend so much time trying to make things look good and not enough time educating in a way they feel will best help their students. This is especially true in the age of Danielson when teachers are observed so often. We are watching our back worried that the door might open and the latest drive-by observation could come at any second.

This is one of the comments that came in reaction over at the NYC Parents blog:

David Suker said:
This is why I plan to retire in the next 3-5 years and take my kid as far away from this system as I can; this isn't education. It's quantum stupidity and crazies are running it.

Hard to argue with David.

Monday, September 10, 2018


This is all from NYBATS.

Following NYBATs endorsement of Cynthia Nixon, she sent this letter to teachers. To really make a difference in NY public schools, she asks teachers to place copies of this letter in the teacher mailboxes in your school on Wednesday, the day before the Democratic primary:

Dear Fellow Parents and Beloved Teachers:

I am running for Governor of New York because our children need state leaders that make education the number one priority for all children, regardless of their zip code or the color of their skin.

My opponent, Andrew Cuomo, has refused to comply with an order from the state’s highest court to increase funding to our schools by billions of dollars, has forced schools to use high stakes tests to evaluate teachers, and has consistently prioritized charter schools and private schools over our public schools.

As a proud public school graduate and a prouder public school parent, I will put our children and their schools first. I will:

• End the massive racial and economic inequality that exists in public school funding and provide the funding our schools are owed for smaller class sizes, high quality curriculum, music, art and other critical needs;

• Permanently repeal Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation system based on high stakes tests and reduce testing for our children;

• End the school to prison pipeline by eliminating suspensions for Kindergarten to third graders and investing in school counselors, social workers and after school programs.

I am asking for your vote in the Democratic primary for Governor on Thursday, September 13th, and I am asking you to join me in voting for Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor. Together we can give all of our children the schools they deserve.

Thank you,

Cynthia Nixon

P.S. Need to find out where to vote?

Sunday, September 09, 2018


I am often skeptical about what I read in the press. The other day we reported how 3% of municipal union members in NYC dropped union dues according to the N.Y. Post. If the DOE is to be believed, none of those 3% came from NYC teachers.

From  Chalkbeat's Alex Zimmerman's Twitter:
NYC's education department says zero teachers tried to opt out of paying union dues in tiny window of opportunity post-Janus.

That would be zero teachers trying to leave,  not one.

UFT solidarity forever!

Below is a DOE response to a Freedom of Information Law request from Chalkbeat's Zimmerman.

Dear Mr. Zimmerman:

This letter is in final response to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request referenced above. In response to your request for "any documentation that shows the number of teachers who opted out of paying dues to the United Federation of Teachers during the annual two-week window that ended July 1, 2018," I have been informed that the NYC DOE received no requests to opt out of paying dues during the window you reference. Accordingly, there are no responsive records to provide.

The remainder of the letter informs Zimmerman about rights under the FOIL law.

Something does not compute. The N.Y. Post said there are 10,000 fewer municipal workers in unions in NYC. Some commenters here say over and over how they opted out. Did all of them miss the window or lie?

It looks to me like UFT is not losing any dues without a struggle. They will do everything they can to keep dues coming in. It seems that they have support from their partners at the NYC DOE. On the surface that is positive in the sense that it keeps the union fully funded.  However, it gives the UFT yet another reason to cozy up to management and not fight for the UFT membership.

 The UFT just may well be the Hotel California: "You can check out any time you like but you can never leave."

Saturday, September 08, 2018


The slightly edited email below was sent to UFT President Michael Mulgrew from a teacher at Forest Hills High School, where there have been numerous problems with Principal Ben Sherman violating the UFT Contract. The teacher signed the email but wanted to have the name removed for the blog as well as a reference to any specific teacher.

Dear Mr. Mulgrew,

We are still very much looking forward to your visit to our high school this month to help inspire us through our current crisis with our new Principal. It's too bad it could not take place when we clearly had the momentum back in June, but we understand there was a conflict with a parental leave announcement. We were coming off a resounding No vote concerning the school's proposed SBO. Our situation hasn't changed much. If anything, it has escalated with the Chapter Chair now put on the late session, making it impossible for him to attend Delegate Assembly meetings.

Despite an extraordinary summit between representatives of the Superintendent's office, the UFT, and CSA, no corrective action has been taken. He seems to be waiting us out and refusing to take any action concerning previously filed grievances, continuing his plans to destroy the union. We made a big sacrifice to put our names out there and all we have to show for it is a punitive schedule, no Circular 6R choice, and additional observations.

What's our next move? What can the union do for us? Can we look forward to your support?


A Forest Hills High School Teacher

Friday, September 07, 2018


Is the municipal union retention glass 3% empty or 97% full?

We have data from the not exactly pro- union NY Post reporting that 3% of city workers have stopped paying union dues in the weeks after Janus.

From the article:

More than 10,000 city workers stopped paying their union dues after the landmark Supreme Court decision in June gave them the right to end the payments.

City records show that there were 314,770 city workers paying union dues prior to the Janus v. AFSCME ruling on June 27 that found government workers can’t be forced to pay dues to unions that represent them in collective bargaining.

By the first July pay period following the decision, the number dropped by 10,328 – or 3 percent – to 304,442.

There was so much publicity around the Janus decision so if only 3% of workers decided to quit their unions in the immediate aftermath, this is encouraging news.

I don't know of too many people who have been more critical of their union's leaders than this blog has been however we need a union now more than ever. I am hopeful that people realize our problem is the leadership and not the idea of union. Or maybe, it is the ironic inertia of mass member apathy that just marches on.

We will learn more when we have UFT specific data.