Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Can't We All Just Get Along

I worked in the building I am currently in about 10 years ago.I was fed up with teaching and I saw a job in a foundation doing technology education. I applied and got the job. It started on July 1 so I could start and then decide latter if I wanted to go back to teaching or not.

This job had some strange draw backs right from the start. These guys were outside staff developers with almost no classroom experience. This meant that they felt they knew more about teaching than any teacher did.

I am kind of a local merchant booster, the first day I stopped at this funky coffee shop near the school and bought a cup of coffee. The coffee sucked, so the next day I went across the street to Starbucks and bought my coffee. (I love good coffee.) When I got into the office I could see that everyone looked at me askance. I was trafficking with the mega-enemy.

The foundation mostly ran on Mac's with one PC. I had never used a Mac. This was OK with everyone because they found PC's difficult to use and the fact that I wasn't good on a Mac did make them all feel good. The problem was that after about three days I had figured out how the Mac worked and was having no problems. This did not make people feel good.

By the beginning of August it was obvious that this gig was not going to work. I went to the director and told her that I thought things weren't going well and that I felt I should leave in two weeks. She told me that she was so unhappy with me that she was willing to pay me for two weeks if I would just leave. I have to say I was sort of shocked. I had never had anyone dislike me that much. I never saw myself as polarizing like that.

I guess I'm wrong.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Customer Service

I read two interesting articles lately. They both came from Washington, DC. The first one was an announcement that the mayor had taken over the school system, fired the chancellor and installed a woman who had years of business experience but essentially no experience in education. This woman was recommended by Joel Klein.

The second article was on research done on the voucher program that exists to some extent in D.C. The researchers had discovered that the parents of students who had received vouchers reported that they were very satisfied with their children's school. They felt their child was safer and was learning more. The children according to the researcher were not in fact learning more, and the kids themselves did not feel safer.

I think that these two articles are related. First of all they tap into a great deal of dissatisfaction with the educational system. Politicians have been saying that the solution to education is to privatize it or at least use private techniques to gain control. What they have realized is that there are large numbers of people who are not satisfied with the schools. This is particularly true in cities. The voucher research generally proved that parents who perceived they had a choice were more satisfied.

The school I am currently in has a very vocal, very active PA. Students need to apply to the school to attend. My guess is that parents are generally satisfied with the school because they feel they have a voice. They are the kind of people who are used to being listened to and the principals need to listen even when it is not pleasant. This school has good customer relations.

My last school probably falls into the category of schools in which parents are not satisfied. I am actually not completely blaming them for this. For one thing the parents come in with the feeling that no one will listen to them so they don't really try. The system has spent years essentially telling them that they don't matter. In general the school system has treated them badly. The schools have done a bad job of explaining what was going on in the schools. When we change how we teach kids we rarely talk to parents about it. Most of our contact with parents is to tell them how bad their kid is. We rarely have an honest conversation with them about the issues surrounding their children. Open school night is filled with discussions about how much homework a kid did, or how they did on tests. It is not a discussion on what there kids need to work on, what there deficits are, what their strengths are.

I sat in a meeting once in which the mother of a student accused of some offense was defending her daughter. After the meeting the teacher mentioned to me that she was surprised that the mother would defend her kid. I told her that I thought that that was the mother's job. NYC teachers are not used to dealing with middle class parents with middle class attitudes. We are very poor at customer relations. If we were running a business we would no longer be in business. It would not matter if we had a good or a bad product. Our perception is so bad no one would believe us if we were doing a good job. Ford recently did a survey in which it discovered that people thought the Ford Focus was a great car. Those who compared felt it was better than a Toyota. The same people also said they wouldn't but the Ford. Ford knows it has years of doing badly to make up before people will trust it. Educators have the same problem.

Todays Quiz: What shirt am I wearing in the above picture?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Astrology is good enough for Me.

Principals are not really held accountable for science scores in their schools. It sort of counts, but not as much as math and English. If they personally don't think much of science then basically the science department is screwed. The only thing that saves it is the state mandates. I received a call from one of my old science teachers who is no longer at my old school. She seemed very dissatisfied because her principal had eliminated labs and gone to a 5 day a week science schedule. This is of course borderline illegal.

I think science pisses off principals for a number of reasons. 1)It costs money for supplies, some of the supplies are even icky. 2)Science teachers laugh at people throwing around terms such as "reptilian behavior" that have almost no basis in research. 3)Science students often fail because they do not have enough lab minutes and are therefore banned from the Regents. 4)Science is perceived as being hard. 5)High school science meets 6 times a week, this messes up the nice neat boxes that make principals and programmers happy.

The part of all of this that I find the most disturbing is the elimination of lab periods. The state says that all students need 1200 minutes of labs before they take the regents. The separate lab period provided our students with more than 1200 minutes. Those students who were absent on a few lab days could still pass lab. The motivation for eliminating these labs is programming. The idea that programs should fit into these nice square boxes is the product of people who are not good with numbers or patterns. Exactly the same people who were probably never good at science. Decisions about programs are made for administrative purposes and not student needs. This is sad.

The other thing about labs is that science needs to be hands on. Teaching theory without doing experiments short changes students. In my last school we had 43 minute lab periods. Most of the time the labs were far away from the class, the students were often not the same as those in the class. This was devastating to the science program. Teachers often did cookbook labs, not discovery labs. The past few years it was hard to get anyone to listen to my complaints about this. Bad scheduling changed from being the exception to being the norm.

When you think of it, the idea that knowledge can be divided into little discreet units of 43 or 45 minutes is absurd. The idea that if teaching math five days a week is a good idea than teaching Spanish five days a week must also be a good idea is equally as absurd. Some principals just want the programming to be easy so they can concentrate on instruction. This is a bad idea. Programming often defines instruction. To think otherwise is wrong. You can not ignore programming in a high school.

Good teachers are always number one, but they are followed by good programming. Programming is the way you support teachers and students.

Old folks

My kids gave R and me a weekend at a B&B in Massachusetts and tickets to a Stevie Nicks concert. Stevie Nicks was a young kid when she sang with Fleetwood Mack in 1971. This means she is no longer young, though she looks pretty good. She was born in 1948.

The tickets we had were in the front row of a section. In front of us was a walk way. This was great because it allowed us to watch people walking by. Stevie Nicks fans run from late 20's to people who grew up with her. Those people are getting old. This brings up the issue of what to wear to a rock concert when you are an old fart.

For me and most men this wasn't a big deal. When we were 21 we went to rock concerts in jeans and T-shirts. I looked good in jeans and I could wear a tight T-shirt easily. Sometimes I wore a blue work shirt. The uniform for us political people. Today most of us old guys came in jeans and a loose fitting shirt. In my case the old guy uniform, a Tommy Bahama shirt. This is not a big change from the 70's.

If you are a woman this is a much harder problem. Going bra-less with a flimsy top and a short skirt is not a good option for most women over 50. The 70's tops are very popular now but only if you are under 30. Some women showed up in their lavender polyester pants, some got crazy in flowered Chico pants. Both solutions are sad in my opinion.

R chose to wear a modest length skirt and a black top with long flowing sleeves. This seemed to be a popular solution. We saw one women in fishnets and what looked like an Elvira skirt. Not a bad look. There was a women in a low cut red one piece that came straight out of Fredericks of Hollywood. The back came down low enough to catch a little butt cleavage. Not a pretty sight. But she was high on something. A good rock and roll look. A significant number of people were having difficulty walking, but not as big a number as in the 70's.

My parents never went to a rock and roll concert in their lives. My mother did not need rock and roll clothes. But 50 and 60 year old women do go to rock concerts. The women's magazines need to address this burning issue of what to wear. It's only rock and roll but what you wear still matters.

Friday, June 15, 2007


When I was young I thought that tenure was something teachers received so that they could be free to speak their mind. Teachers needed to be a voice that spoke the truth without censorship. I still believe in tenure, I have just changed my thinking on why I think it is necessary.

I think that tenure has become more like civil service protection. In a system that has ever changing waves of politically motivated people and radical changes in philosophical approaches to education, civil service protection becomes a necessity. This type of protection creates a stability that serves the educational community. Schools are not like businesses. They can not easily become bankrupt and go out of business. The affect of what a 2nd grade teacher does may not be immediately apparent. If I design a line of shirts that no one wants I know it in less than six months. Not true of teaching.

Teaching is also subject to the type of budget balancing that needs to be controlled. A mayor with a fiscal crisis may decide to chop off the top 10% of salaried teachers. Tenure keeps that from happening.

This is of course a self serving argument. I an still gainfully employed because of tenure protection. I do feel that I was a political prisoner for the past year. It is not that I believed in evolution when the school board didn't. I would love it to be that noble. I do believe in doing what ever is necessary to help students. This is a small political point, but it got me in trouble.

I hear that my ex-principal is trying to get rid of another AP. I guess getting rid of me did not cause a dramatic improvement in her school. I wonder how many AP's she will have to get rid of before someone in the DoE realizes it is her.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Testing always seems to be in the news lately. The latest thing is that the chancellor is considering paying kids who do well on tests. Actually he will pay every kid who takes the test, but believing in merit pay, he will pay those who score highest extra money.

This story is not as simple as it seems. It turns out that the empowerment schools do not have to use these tests. They can develop their own preliminary test instead of buying the ones created by McGraw Hill. Many of them chose not to buy the McGraw Hill tests. This seemed to upset the chancellor and so he decided to pay kids to take the tests and therefore coerce the autonomy schools into giving the tests. (Do you think Joel will be working for McGraw Hill after he leaves the DoE?)

The story is not about assessment, the story is really about using one particular form of assessment. The one you had to buy. It took a mother quoted in the Daily News to really get what the problem with all of this was: "In my mind, kids will cram to do better on a test, but what knowledge will they gain?" she said. "I never say if you get an A on a test I'll give you a reward.... What if maybe you're working really hard and you get a B? I'm trying to reward the learning."

The rule in politics and espionage is always follow the money.
Here are the two Daily News Articles
Empowerment Schools aren't giving the tests.
Quote by Mother

Thursday, June 7, 2007


Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting in on a demo lesson given by a 7th grade science teacher. This lesson was amazingly good. The teacher engaged the kids, varied the activities and made some really good science points. I was impressed and would have hired her in a second.

After the lesson everyone went back to the office to talk. A couple of teachers had sat in on the lesson and some other people. There were a lot of questions or points of the; why did you do this, or do you think it would have been better if you did this, variety. It was the typical discussion that happens when supervisors or people who feel they have input, have with other teachers. There was nothing particularly bad about the conversation and ultimately the teacher was offered the job.

The reason I am writing about this is that I wonder if this same group would have sat with VanGough and told him that maybe he should add a little more blue to his sky. I suspect that they would have. The reason that they would have is that they feel they have to say something and they have to find something wrong. There is a famous story about a commercial illustrator who was hired to paint a picture of 50 couples dancing on a ship's deck. When he turned the painting in and everyone was looking at it someone noticed that one of the women had a hairy arm. The client pointed this out and the illustrator apologized and took the picture back to correct his error. When asked by someone how he could have made that mistake he said that he had done it on purpose. He explained that if he had not done it then the client would have asked him to do some other change, such as rotating all the people 30 degrees.

Of course supervisors do what they think they should do, which is supervise. No one thinks that if they start messing with great teachers that they may make them worse. No supervisor ever thinks that the teacher they are observing is better than they are. We have all been trained to criticize and not praise. This needs to change.

Monday, June 4, 2007

How I Got Here

Some people have asked how I got out. It is not really that pretty. To recap events; my principal and the DoE's lawyer laid out their case against me. As is usual for this principal no matter how hard the lawyer tried the principal was confused and evasive. After they laid out there case then my lawyer had an opportunity to cross exam. My lawyer started cross examining and got the principal to contradict what she had said the day before. At this point the arbitrator asked the lawyers to talk to him outside and suggested we settle. I was very anxious to do this.

I was anxious to settle for two reasons. First, if you let a trial go to the end it is always unpredictable, I would rather control my own destiny. The second reason is that to play it out could take a long time. Both reasons turned out to not be what I thought they would be. The DoE jerked around with my stipulation for so long that I could have gone through the whole trial. I also should have gone longer to provide a record of even more of her lies. Now I don't have this record.

At the time it seemed like the correct thing to do. So the DoE sent me the stipulation that I published as being absurd. We sent it back they spent a couple of weeks sent a new one which was somewhat better and I decided to sign, we sent it back to them and it took over 3 weeks for them to get two signatures. So here I am. When they gave me the letter in the rubber room reassigning me it took me less than 15 minutes to pack up and leave. I loved many of the people I met there, but I did not love there.

The stipulation includes me paying the DoE $7500. This is to show me that I was a bad boy. It seems to be common in these things. The stipulation cleaned up some of the more obvious stupid things but not all of them. I am somewhat worried that if some one is truly out to get me then I have given them the tools to do this. I hope that no one is out to get me that badly.

The bottom line is that I am free now. My principal has cost me and my family over $20,000 in lost income between my penalty and my lost summer school income. She can afford leather skirts, I am saving up to buy a new belt.

I just received the transcripts of my public trial. I will publish some of them as soon as I get a chance.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


I will probably write shorter blogs now that I am actually working. I will probably make more grammatical mistakes because I won't edit as carefully as I did. One of the things I discovered while sitting in the rubber room is that writing takes work and that it often works better when you put it aside and then come back to it hours latter. I still missed some obvious mistakes but I often rewrote things that didn't make sense or were ambiguous when I re-read them. I usually do a better job of explaining what I mean. Time is a good thing.

Klein has made a big deal about tenure lately. I have to say that I agree with him. A big part of why we have too many bad teachers is that tenure has always been something a teacher got unless they were so bad that a principal was willing to make a big stink. The one time I tried to deny someone tenure I discovered that if I had not spent three years carefully documenting how bad this guy was that the superintendents office would not back me or my principal up. I felt that this was absurd policy. Joel Klein wants to blame the UFT for this, and possibly the superintendent was afraid to the union, but it was the failure of administrators to not back up principals and AP's that caused this.

It is not that hard to figure out who is a good teacher and who isn't in three years. I would hope that the new DoE policy will keep the bad and the truly uninspired people out of teaching. After tenure I think the issues change dramatically.