Thursday, September 27, 2007

My mind

One quick comment on my last post. We seem to live in an era of privatization. Here in NYC the mayor believes in privatizing and so does Joel Klein. There is this mantra that private is better. I think that the Iraq war is the first privatized war. I think that history will show that it was one of the most inefficient corrupt wars ever conducted. I would hope that private contractors will eventually be held accountable. We also are faced with making some serious decisions regarding health care. No candidate seems to want to propose a government run health care system. This is despite the fact that the feds spend 3% of medicare money on administration and the private sector spends 15%. Privatization can work sometimes, but I think we need to be careful when we assume it is always better.

I am reading this book entitled "I am a Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter. The book is about the mind and in particular what I means. Hofstadter wrote the book after his wife died suddenly. I think he is arguing against what he calls the Cartesian version of I. That is you are who you are only in terms of what body you are in and where that body is located. He makes an argument that all of the I's in the world are somehow connected. Therefore the I that was his wife lives on in some small way inside him and his kids. He sees the I as something that exists beyond the physical and chemical makeup of an individual.

I am not really going to go into explaining what was in this book, because I know that I often read books and then distort them to fit into something inside me. I am not a good reporter of books. I use books to change my thinking but not always in the way that an author intended. I am "famous" in my family for doing this.

This is the point I want to make about this book. I am who I am because of the books I have read, the people I have loved and the experiences I have had. But I do not feel that I retain any of this. I feel that I have taken all of this in and so modified it and distorted it as to make it unrecognizable.

Hofestader really wants to feel that the I that was his wife became a part of him, he wants to feel that he knew her in a profound way. I look at the people I know really well, my wife, my kids and I feel that in a really serious way I have no idea who they are. I have gotten better at guessing what they are thinking or what they want or like, but this is just a skill I have acquired. This skill is similar to getting better at hitting a baseball. When you are little you miss all of the time, but if you practice you learn to make small adjustment that allow you to occasionally hit the ball. You are never able to hit it every time and you are never really aware of where the ball is. You just become better at reacting and reading visual cues.

Of course the study of I can also be the study of the soul. If you are religious this is the easy term. Hofstadter uses another term élan mental which I like a lot. While I believe in élan mental I do not believe that it survives or is transfered in any meaningful way. My father was a major figure in my life. But even thought he affected me and even though some outside people might say I have some of his habits or thought processes I do not believe that any of his soul still exists.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Talk Back

I have received two comments that I think deserve a response. The first one spoke of how wonderful the UFT was. I have been a chapter chair and I will say categorically that the UFT is not a democratic organization. When I was chapter chair the representative from the Manhattan High Schools was not part of the ruling Unity party. This apparently bothered the UFT leadership so much that they changed the way people vote. They used an old trick used by segregationists in the 60's. If you were afraid that a minority group would elect representatives you switched to an at-large system. If you had 10 house representatives and 20% of your population was black you changed the way voting was done to have the representatives elected at large. This almost assured that all of the representatives were white.

The UFT used to have proportional representation, but it changed the ballot so that people now vote on a party. it may still be possible to split a vote, but it is very difficult. The end result is that all of the elected officials are now Unity members. I think that this is actually bad management. I think that you need someone in your organization that has an opposing view. If you don't have this person than you loose touch with your members.

The CSA doesn't change because the majority of its members don't think that the CSA is relevant to them. They don't believe that there is any power in this group so why bother spending any time thinking about who to vote for. The young principals don't care about the CSA at all, they probably see the CSA as something that gets in their way. If the CSA doesn't deal with this quickly they will become even more irrelevant than they already are. By sending the same tired old people around to talk to new principals they are assuring themselves of continued irrelevance.

The second comment I received was someone asking my if I thought the DoE owed me something. This is of course one of the large divides between Joel Klein and the unions. The unions argue that we sacrificed low pay for stability. I'm not sure that is as true today as it used to be. The unions also bring up issues of academic freedom in protecting us, but I don't think there are people in New York City being fired for teaching evolution or even communism.

So, what is wrong with just firing someone. Why couldn't my principal just tell me she didn't like me and that I needed to leave. Actually she probably could have done this, and while I might not have listened to her, I might have.

I think we have to look at teachers and administrators as civil servants. I know that this term has bad connotations today, but you need to examine why civil service was created. At one time every change in administration meant that everyone was fired and replaced with people loyal to the new administration. This created chaos and meant that jobs were filled with people who either had no experience or who were to dumb for the job. Government could not function this way and therefore the civil service was created.

The DoE is attempting to create a situation in which civil service protection does not apply. This will ultimately cause a system filled with connected people who are not good at their jobs. It will also destroy the sense of continuity and family that good schools have. This is already evident in the constant shuffling of principals, if you add AP's to the mix I do not believe that you will help schools.

I don't think that anyone owes me something. I just feel that the politics behind what has happened to me and other AP's is destructive to the schools. Being good at your job should not be the main reason for firing someone. Civil Service rules keep this from happening.

Monday, September 17, 2007

CSA Forever

Alice Roosevelt's grave -Greenwood Cementary

The person who is supposed to be my union rep stopped by today. I know that there are a bunch of people in my district and she should not have to remember everyone's story, but I am in a rather unique situation and I have been asking the union for help for the past year. You would think she would remember something about my situation. She knew nothing at all. She talked to the principal behind closed doors for ten minutes and then she asked me how I was doing. She knew nothing about me or my situation. Evey question I asked was answered by saying email Bob. Of course I have done this almost every day since the end of August.

Unions were created to help their members. Somewhere along the line they seemed to have lost sight of this function. Service is not something they seem to care about. They run all these seminars that give the appearance helping their members. They are just noise. The seminars exist to tell you things you could figure out on your own if someone would take the time to write them down clearly.

My union feels that any problem I present to them is not worthy of service. Most of the people say they will look into my problem and then they stop returning your calls. If I was managing the type of problems Bob is supposed to deal with I would have a list of when I inquired about the problem. If I did not hear back from the DoE in a certain period of time I would call again. I would certainly get back to the member periodically to tell him what was going on. I would at least have a secretary email him and say the problem is still being worked on.

Of course the problem is that unions in the DoE are monopolies. I can't take my business elsewhere. This would be OK, because all governments are essentially monopolies but unions are also structured in such a way that there is no opposition and almost no chance to elect opposition members to the union governing body. This takes away the one thing going for democratic institutions. The throw the rascals out ability that usually exists.

We have a new leader of the CSA, it is time for him to clean house.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Quality Review

This weekend I managed to wander on to the DoE web site. I followed the links to my old school and then I looked under the category "statistics". This led me to something called the school quality report. I have to say I was amazed by what I saw. Statistically you see a school that has not really gotten better for the last three years and you see the following statement under what the school does best:

The principal, who has good capacity to effect change leads and manages a complex organization well, so that it functions effectively on a day to day basis and is improving the quality of its work with students.

What! How did they figure out the principal has a good capacity to effect change. Who did they talk to?

The next bullet said:" The school has taken great strides in recent years to implement an effective discipline code, so that students are safe, secure and able to learn."

Now I see how it is going. The principal is great, the AP security is great. I wonder who else is great?

Guidance and counseling are efficiently managed and, through strengthening links with the school discipline code, are increasingly targeted and focused on students with the greatest needs.

I guess the AP of guidance is really great.

I wonder what this school needs to do to improve. These three people are great I wonder if some people are not so great?

What the school needs to improve
Continue to develop the capacity of the school's cabinet both individually and collectively, to ensure that the school's goals and objectives are met.

Wow! There it is. The source of all of this school's difficulties. It is the lack of capacity in the rest of the cabinet. Take a look at the summary. This says it all.
Overall Evaluation
This is a proficient school.
Significant steps have been taken over the last few years to establish an environment in which students feel safe and secure. This is helping to lay the foundations for continued improvements in the students' academic as well as personal development and in their attendance. Improved links between the school's discipline and guidance and counseling systems are producing a more rounded view of students and enabling more focused packages for their support.

The principal works hard to maintain the balance between the benefits of small learning communities in terms of the knowledge of individual students and the problems that arise with scheduling and the curriculum that can be offered. The impact and effectiveness of this work, however, are being limited by variations in the quality of implementation. The principal has recognized that the key task for individual members of the school's cabinet is to ensure the effectiveness of their teams, both individually and collectively. The principal's task is to ensure the same for each member of the cabinet.

What the DoE evaluator is saying is that the principal the AP security and the AP guidance are doing a great job and their work is being "limited" by the "quality of implementation". I suppose I was one of those people limiting the quality of implementation, I suppose all the other AP's are limiting the quality of implementation.
How come the evaluator doesn't talk about the fact that the other AP's spend at least 50% of their time trying to undo the damage done by the AP security and the poor scheduling done by the AP guidance with the full cooperation of the principal. As a matter of fact, did this evaluator even go above the second floor. Did the evaluator even talk to anyone else in the building.

I hate not having my teachers and my kids around me. I hate doing no significant work for over a year, but I do not hate working for a woman who constantly feels that everyone is letting her down. I do not hate sitting in endless cabinet meetings with no leadership. If I was still an AP at this school I would certainly be very annoyed by this quality review. Come on Ms Principal, take some responsibility for the school.

Friday, September 7, 2007

I ain't going to school with them folks.

I see in the paper today that schools in the US have never been so segregated. We know this in NYC because we have all seen it. The city created a bunch of specialized schools throughout the system that allowed middle class parents to send their kids to "good" schools. Of course the affect was to segregate the schools.

In my neighborhood there were always big hustles going on to get kids into non-zoned schools. I did it and so did many other parents. Before these specialized schools were created there was much middle class flight. Some parents left the city, some parents went to parochial schools and some parents chose private schools ($20,000/ year)

I remember a family that I was friendly with. Their boys played with my son. As soon as the oldest kid became 5 they sold their house and moved to the suburbs. This was a common New York story for those people who could afford it. This is not how you build a strong city.

What happened was the city, in order to stop white flight, allowed parents to manipulate the system and allowed schools to become increasingly segregated. The emphasis that Bloomburg placed on education was very smart. The people you want in the city are people who care about sending their kids to good schools. The problem is how to do this without creating a de facto segregated system.

My kids went to public school in New York City. I thought this was important, but I did figure out how to get my kids into the best possible schools for them. I did not want my kids in schools where no one cared about knowledge, or kids did not allow anyone to see that they were curious about the world.

The house I ran seemed to always have more white kids than the school at large. Still, they were a minority. I was always faced with the issues of tracking students. We had three cohorts and even if you did not believe in tracking the cohorts would still be tracked by the third year. They would track because one group would be taking things such as physics and math B and this would create a schedule that forced them to be together in English and social studies.

One of the things we did was to take kids that seemed to be working hard and showed curiosity and a desire to do well and move them into our honors track. We never looked at their reading or math levels. We made judgment calls about them based on who they were. What I think we were doing subconsciously is tracking kids by desire.

This was an interesting way to track because it gave you all of the good things about heterogeneous classes. The best thing I saw was good kids helping kids who were having trouble. This bred compassion and it also reinforced learning among the better students. Teaching someone else is the best way to learn.

It may be that if we change admissions standards for elite schools to account for desire than we may see these schools become more integrated. Minority kids have a real disadvantage on standardized tests. Their vocabulary is not even close to my own kids' vocabulary.

I am not sure how to test for this desire. Teacher recommendations are only good if you know the teacher. Teachers tend to recommend kids who gave them no trouble. What I think you need to find is kids who are curious. You want to find kids who have the resiliency to not know something and to work to figure it out. Give me a class full of those kids and I don't care what their color or grade level is I can do great things with them.

I have added a new link to a science teacher's blog who is at the beginning of being forced out of her school. I don't know her but the process is informative. It can happen to anyone. Asking any teacher, but particularly a science teacher to travel is such bad policy that I have no comment.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Joel Klein wants to fire me.

Last year the DoE decided to get rid of district 79 schools. They were going to close some of the programs and merge some of the programs into other schools. To do this they decided to fire all of the teachers and make them reapply for their jobs. In the process of doing this a bunch of teachers did not find new jobs. The union contract would not allow these teachers to be fired so they are now replacing per-diem substitutes in many schools. When asked about these teachers the chancellor replied that if he had his way he would fire all of these teachers.

At this point in time there are a bunch of assistant principals who do not have assignments. The new contract does not allow these APs to be fired. I know that Joel Klein's desire is that we all be fired. He can not do this at this time.

I remember reading an interview with someone from Ohio who was having his house foreclosed. He had worked in an auto factory and then the factory had closed down. He was talking about how he had done everything that was asked of him in life, worked hard, married, bought a house, had kids etc. and then the job just left him. Joel wouldn't have any sympathy for this guy. Joel would only care about the auto company being profitable.

The DoE is full of people who are not great at their jobs. I would guess that Bloomberg L.P also has a bunch of people who are not good at their jobs. The world we live in today seems to feel that these people should be cut loose. Unions are a good thing because they keep bosses from doing this.

I am not sure that this is a good way to run the world. I have fired people and pushed people out. Generally I did this to people who wanted to manipulate the system and refused to try to do good work. I had two lab assistants who complained every time I asked them to do anything and who only did the minimum all the time. These were not good workers. I do wonder what happened to them, but I do not feel sorry for them. I have also allowed people who are not good at what they do to continue working for me because they seemed to care a lot about their job. I am sure this is a weakness on my part.

I don't really get people who don't try. It may be that in some cases they are just in the wrong place or working for the wrong person.

Because I got in trouble when I went to apply for a new certificate to become an AP organization my application was sent to investigation. The reason I applied for the APO license is that the majority of jobs available call for this license. I did this in July and I have not heard anything from the DoE. In other words the DoE wants to fire me because I can not find a job on my own, but the DoE has made it impossible for me to find a job on my own. This is a real catch 65.

Of course I let the union know about this right away. Of course the union did nothing as usual. I think I don't understand what they are supposed to do.