Monday, December 15, 2008


The Republican, after totally mismanaging the economy have decided that it is not their fault it is the unions' fault. The senators screaming the most about the auto bailout are all Republican, they are all from right to work states and most of them have non-union auto plants. It is not enough that their states have subsidized these plants so that Toyata and Mercedes and Honda will have a competitive advantage. They seem to feel that they need to destroy the US auto industry to assure this advantage.

When this happens who will benefit. I imagine the power elite in these states will become rich. The overseas car companies will become rich, and the workers will become poorer. Do these guys realize that if workers keep getting squeezed that no one will be able to afford a car. Then what? As companies become more automated the idea was that workers would share in the increase in productivity. If a worker is 10 times more efficient today than in 1960 than the worker should make more money, this is called sharing the wealth. No one wants to talk about this anymore.

There is still talk of Joel Klein for the department of Education. I saw a great quote in The Times. This guy Fuller said that for Klein “It’s tough love without any love,” a perfect description. Putting someone into the Education department who is as anti-union and anti-teacher as Klein is a very bad idea.

None of this means that unions are perfect. But without them we will be back in the days of the robber barons. If you follow the money you will see this.

I also saw an article in the paper about a doctor who has been one of the main proponents of using psycho-active drugs on kids. This doctor is at Harvard school of medicine. When asked how much the drug companies paid him he said not more than a few hundred thousand dollars. It turns out it was 1.2 million. You have to always follow the money.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Catch 22

I went to see Catch 22 last weekend. The play was not that great. All the lines were taken directly from the book, which meant there were some great lines. It was just that it didn't work as a play. There was a discussion by one of the characters about time passing. He was saying that time passed very quickly when you were having a good time, and slowly when you were not. The conclusion was to have a miserable time if you want to feel like you lived a long time.

Meanwhile there was an old guy (he said he was 107) who sat outside a whore's house in Rome. He gave a whole long speech about why Italy would win the war. His premise was that Italians were bad soldiers and therefore less likely to die. He also talked about welcoming the Germans than later welcoming the Americans. Whoever was in power he would welcome them. He was not trying to change the world. He did not want Italy to become the richest most powerful country in the world. He just wanted to be happy. He thought that that was winning.

This guy was very appealing some how. When I think about myself, I think I am not working that hard. I am teaching a class which I love doing. I am playing with technology with an expectation of whatever I do is great because no one expects much. I have no power. Usually a lack of power comes with a lack of control over your own life. In my case this is not true.

Maybe I should think like this old Roman. Whoever takes over, I should welcome them. Just relax and enjoy myself. I think I keep writing about this. The idea of slowing down and just letting life happen. If only I could sit outside a whore house in Rome drinking wine and giving fatherly advice to the whores.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday he expects the OPEC nation will vote in late February on a constitutional amendment letting him stay in office as long as he keeps winning elections.

"In February, at the end of February, I think we should be ready for the referendum ... on the constitutional amendment," Chavez said during a televised speech.

Chavez, a socialist, lost a similar bid to amend the constitution last year and will have to leave office in 2013 if he loses the upcoming vote.

Thank god I don't live in a country that lets it's elected leader change the constitution to meet their own agenda and desire for power.

Oh wait I live in a city that does this. Never mind.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another Reason to Hate Republicans

Mitt Romney was on TV the other day. He was talking about the auto companies. (Mitt should know something about them, his dad ran American Motors and was governor or Michigan)( I owned an AMC car when I was young. It got great gas mileage and the front seat went all the way back. A great feature when you were young and into parking with girls.) Mitt feels that GM and the rest should be allowed to go bankrupt. The reason he thinks they should is that it would allow them to get rid of legacy costs. To Mitt legacy costs include real estate and pension costs.

If you live in a town such as Lansing this is going to be awful. What Mitt's plan does is it means that all these people in your community with GM pensions are going to make less. It also means that all of the GM plants that have closed or been torn down in Lansing can be abandoned. GM will not be responsible for paying taxes and probably not responsible for cleaning up the brown fields they have left behind. The net effect of Mitt's plan is to shift many social welfare costs from corporate America to the government. Of course when the government steps in and says that they should help people or local government Mitt will yell "socialism".

I am not sure where Mitt thinks this will all end up. I am sure it will make real estate cheaper, which will be good for people with Mitt's kind of money. It will probably also lower the wages of servants. All in all a win-win for Mitt.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Civil War

For some reason I have lately become interested in the Civil War. I have read a bunch of books about the revolutionary war over the years but I was never that interested in the Civil War. It seemed something only southerners were interested in. Years ago I had read a book on John Brown by Arthur Penn Warren. I did this after I visited Harper's Ferry. A few months ago I picked up another book at the Strand on John Brown. This one is by David S. Reynolds. This led me to reading some Walt Whitman and then going to a lecture on him at the Tenement Museum where I bought a biography of Whitman.

Yesterday in the Times on line I saw a review of "The Grapes of Wrath". The reason this movie is getting press at this time is that people are drawing parallels between today and The Great Depression. Many commentators are saying that Barack Obama is going to need to be the next FDR. But Obama really understands who he needs to be. Obama is reading about Lincoln not FDR.

What the Republicans have done to this country is create a social situation more like what existed before the Civil War. The levels of rumors and false stories that surrounded John Brown and Abraham Lincoln in the southern press is not that different than listening to Limbaugh and Hannity and reading some of the blogs from the right wing. These people are going nuts with all of the awful things they say are going to happen. Karl Rove and company have created an us vs them mentality in this country. This has led to incidents such as the group of 3rd and 4th graders in Idaho chanting assassinate Obama. Or the white kids beating up a black teenager in Staten Island while chanting Obama. These are similar to the ruffians that existed on the Missouri Kansas border in the 1850's.

Obama is right to think that he needs to lower this type of partisan howling. This country can not thrive as long as this continues. Lincoln was elected on a platform of compromise and inclusion. Unfortunately it didn't work. The south became increasing set in their thinking. Lincoln was unable to change them and eventually this led to a war. Lets hope the politicians in Idaho or Texas or Louisiana decide that it is time to work together before we have a civil war of some sort.

* Limbaugh spell checks OK but not yet Obama.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Stuff

The paper today had an article about how much money the DoE was spending on accountability software. These types of initiatives have a tendency to become their own self fulfilling bureaucracies sucking up huge amounts of money for increasingly less useful results.

I was talking about atomic radius today and a kid asked what the abbreviation "pm" meant when speaking of atomic radius. I did not know the answer but I asked if anyone had access to the internet on their phone. One kid pulled out his Sidekick and looked up pm (it means picometers). I mention this because apparently cell phones have a use. My current school works on a don't ask don't tell policy with almost no bad consequences.

If I want to talk about Bill Clinton I will discover that the name does not get a red line under it. Apparently the spell checker built into Windows XP or Blogger or wherever it is is comfortable with Bill Clinton. If I type in Barack Obama I see red lines under both names. I wonder how long it takes spell checkers to catch up with the world.

I see my old school got its second straight F. This has to do with two things, the moron who used to be principal and the fact that it is a zero tolerance schools. Almost all zero tolerance schools close down within four years of becoming zero tolerance. You could look it up.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Joel Klein for Secretary of Education !

I am not anti Joel Klein. I think he has tried to change a system that is certainly broken. I think in some ways he has focused on the correct thing. Good teachers make a good system. He has failed more than he has succeeded and this is his fault not Randy Weingarten's.

Joel comes from the law world. Big law firms manage large groups of creative people. They are not that different than education. Joel is trying to learn some of the lessons from this world. He supports performance bonuses. Of course performance bonuses in the law world can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, not ten thousand. If he thinks teachers are motivated by ten thousand dollars he is wrong.

In the law world if you really want an employee you wine and dine him/her until you convince him/her to work for you. In the ed. world you offer them a cellophane wrapped "danish" and a bad cup of coffee. You then have them sign a sheet of paper saying they were there so that you can get your money back for the snacks. Finally you tell the applicant you want to hire them but first there are a few hundred hoops they have to jump through. In the end you don't hire the black kid from Columbia University who grew up in a single parent household. Instead you hire the guy with the thick accent who hates American kids but has all the right credentials because he took the test so many times he had memorized all the questions.

Ultimately what hurt Joel Klein is that he became fixated on being able to develop a quantifiable way to measure teacher performance. Joel has spent millions of dollars creating computer systems to do this. I am not really against these types of systems. I think that they often give you a good view of what is happening in a big organization. But, when you use these types of systems as your main evaluation tool you just create a group of managers who are good at manipulating the system. You also become tempted to cheat the system yourself to show how wonderful you are doing.

The feds finally proposed a plan that says all states must determine graduation statistics based on how many kids enter 9th grade vs how many graduate 12th grade in 4 or 5 years. Isn't it amazing that this was not the way it was always done.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Elementary Mis-Education

I am a high school science teacher. My ability to teach science is based to some extent on how much math kids know when they come to me. I also need kids who can read and analyze word problems. I think this is important work because I believe that we need to create a population with the ability to read and analyze complex issues. If we don't we risk creating an electorate that believes that Saddam Hussein attacked the World Trade Center.

Last week my wife went to a staff development day on math for 3rd grade teachers. The word problem was:

If Jane has 24 feet of fence and she wants to build an enclosure for her dogs what are the dimensions of a rectangle she can build with the largest amount of square feet.

The teachers not only could not do this problem, but when my wife said that two sides had to add up to 12 they couldn't follow why that was true. This means that these teachers are not smart enough to teach 3rd grade students. The reason they are not smart enough is that the education schools allowed them through. How can some one get a college degree and not be able to solve this problem by some method. My method might be very sophisticate. But these teachers should have some approach to solving this problem.

The nice thing about a depression is that it gives us the opportunity to recruit smart people to education. It is vital that we do this. We can not have kids coming through elementary school without learning any math or science. We can not afford this.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Is it a new day?

It is Wednesday and I can't help feel that it is a new world. I have to say though that even though 40% of my students think he will not be alive 4 years from now no one seems to want to talk about it on television. My students are not alone in feeling this way. "Yes we can" until someone takes it away from you.

I received this email today from someone I know.

Comments from an Irish-American friend in Chicago:

They started rounding up the white women this morning for “reeducational meetings”. Initially there were calls of death to whitey but first they want to make sure they nationalize the malt liquor industry as well as pork rinds and chitterlins. Once the basic supplies are ensured who knows what will happen.

I am vaguely beginning to feel what it must mean to be a Jew.

Surprisingly no looting or riots yet

This type of anger existed when Kennedy was president. People cheered in a country club outside Dallas when they announced Kennedy was dead. We have made it past race but not hate. People hate Obama in very extreme ways. They make race jokes, but I think they hate the concept of government being for people.

I really want to believe in happy endings. Maybe we have one.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Killing Trees

One of my favorite magazines at this time is Atlantic. I usually read almost all of the articles. This included a very long article this month by Andrew Sullivan on blogging. Of course I would never had read an article this long if the author had written it on his blog. Sullivan correctly states that blogs are meant to be short.

One of the gadgets I have lusted after is an electronic book reader (either a Kindle or a Sony reader, though I think the Sony reader has real advantages). The reason I want this gadget is that it seems cool to carry one around with a lot of books and magazines. In addition I wouldn't have to keep building book shelves. I also would do my part for ecology, not just the trees but also the trucks delivering books, the oil used in ink and the ability to get a book immediately.

Aside from the money the reason I don't get an e book reader is that if I check the last 6 books I have read to see if they are available as e books I usually find at best 1 book is available and usually none are. E books have not caught up with my reading habits. (I like to think this is because I am too smart for the e book world, but actually even some of my pop books don't show up.)

Today I was on the bus reading The Atlantic and thinking about reading this magazine on my ebook reader. I could do this. Then I realized that this would cause a large problem. My house is filled with half read magazines. Most of them have one or two articles that I intend to read. I feel guilty about not reading them, but after about six months I will go through the house and throw away all of the magazines I have not gotten too. A few weeks ago I threw away all of the July and August Magazines in my house. By doing this I no longer feel guilty about not getting to that amazing article on "The neurological implications of the sex drive in flat worms". If I had a Kindle I could save these magazines for ever. It is only a small amount of memory in the Kindle, but it is a large amount of guilt in my wetware.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I'm Not Dead Yet!

When I started writing this blog I was sitting in the "Rubber Room" with 8 hours to kill each day. I thought it would pass an hour by, but then I discovered that writing is actually difficult. It some times took hours to write. This year I have been teaching a class so I have had less time. In addition working with kids has made me happier so I don't have as many grouchy things to say. Grouchy is always easier to write than hope.

Today I have hope because I think that there are huge numbers of people in the world who are going to feel a weight lifted from them after Obama wins. It is John Kennedy all over again world wide. Of course 40% of the kids in my school feel he will not be alive 4 years from now. But hope causes a lot of things to change, even before legislation catches up with it.

My sister voted early in Florida. Early voting means that you take a paper ballot an fill out the circles next to who you are voting for. You do this at a table surrounded by curtains so that your ballot is secret. You then take it over to another machine where a poll worker helps you feed it into the scanner. Of course at this point the poll worker gets to look at your ballot. When my sister said that she did not fell that this was right the poll worker said that she should be proud of who she voted for and not want to hide it. Gee, voting irregularities in Florida, who would have thought this would happen.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dunkin Donuts

Hear in New York City we now have a new law that says that restaurants need to post calorie contents on their menus. It would seem to be another example of big brother saving us from ourselves, but the law doesn't tell us what to buy.

Every day I go into Dunkin Donuts and buy a medium black coffee. It is a wonderful experience because everyone there knows me so all I have to do is get to the front of the line, grunt and stick out my two dollars and I get my coffee. My kind of morning communications. Occasionally if I am feeling sorry for myself I will buy a donut. I always feel guilty about this because I am a little chubby. (Actually the Wii fitness says I am obese.) Sometimes I will decide to be healthier and instead of the donut I will get an oatmeal raisin cookie or a poppy seed bagel. (Always poppy seed because of the opium) One of my favorite donuts is a Boston Cream. This is a delightful mixture of gently fried dough injected with a yellow gooey substance and than dipped in chocolate. It is so good it must be evil.

So, I went into Dunkin Donuts, and there on the rack of donuts and other goodies behind the counter is a label with the name of the item and the number of calories:
Boston Cream 280; Poppy Seed Bagel 370; Oatmeal Raisin cookie 470. Wow! Who would have thought that being bad had less calories than being good.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

One Less Vote for Obama

My daughter is going to vote for Barack Obama. Her vote used to count because she lived in Michigan. Everyone wanted her vote. Now she is moving to Massachusetts, no one wants her vote. Both Obama and McCain assume that Massachusetts will go for Obama, and because of the way the electoral college works, this means that Obama will get all of the votes in that state. He doesn't care if he wins by 10 votes or 10 million votes.

The reason the electoral college comes into the news is that it is possible to win the election and lose the popular vote. This happened in 2000 and it was awful. But this is not the worse evil of the electoral college. The worst part of it is that it distorts the campaign. Because of where the swing states are, you will hear a lot about NAFTA and immigration in this election. You will not hear about some of the issues that those of us in New York and Boston care about. The kind of issues that might get Obama 10% more of our votes. He doesn't care about that 10%. This means that we end up with a lot of issues that seem important, but are not as important as they appear.

One of the reasons we can't come up with sensible immigration reform is that the presidential candidates need to pander to the swing state. What if my vote counted and my daughters vote counted. I think that the debate would be seriously changed.

There may be a reason to keep some of the electoral college, but at the very least states should be giving out electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote. When you ask many politicians about this they seem to agree, but they do not protest enough about it. They don't because they are afraid of the difficulty and cost of running a national campaign. They like being able to pick states and figure out how to pitch to them. It's what makes the pros the pros. It is what makes the pundits the pundits. No one wants to lose this edge. No one really seems to care about the inherent distortion to the American political system caused by the electoral college. Those of us in the safely blues states should be mad. Those people in the safely Red states should be mad. We are disenfranchised.

After I wrote this I did some research and found that some states have passed legislation that says all of the state's electoral votes will go to the candidate with the highest popular vote. This legislation only takes effect if enough states also pass similar legislation. An interesting end around.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Principals Riot

Douglas Avella was removed from his classroom at Intermediate School 318 after students handed in blank standardized exams to protest high-stakes tests last week.
This was the lead for a story on Saturday. What happened was that this teacher may have been involved in getting kids to protest a practice test. Here is Thursday's story.
More than 160 students in six different classes at Intermediate School 318 in the South Bronx - virtually the entire eighth grade - refused to take last Wednesday's three-hour practice exam for next month's statewide social studies test.

Instead, the students handed in blank exams.

Then they submitted signed petitions with a list of grievances to school Principal Maria Lopez and the Department of Education.

"We've had a whole bunch of these diagnostic tests all year," Tatiana Nelson, 13, one of the protest leaders, said Tuesday outside the school. "They don't even count toward our grades. The school system's just treating us like test dummies for the companies that make the exams."
There are a couple of things you should notice about the original article. First the teacher was not accused of leading a boycott of a real test just one of the many practice tests that schools think is a good idea, because they believe practice tests up test scores. Second virtually the entire class participated. No one can do this if there is not a clear grievance on the part of these students.

What we have is a teacher who does this amazing thing, he teaches kids how to find their voice. His reward is that he is quickly removed from the school and sent to the rubber room. Apparently he is considered a danger to students. But of course he is not a danger to students he is a danger to a principal. Is there even a pretense any more of the rubber room as anything other that a political gulag.

Today I heard a story of another principal sending the chapter chair and the UFT delegates to the rubber room on the same day. Another obvious political move. When I first started in the system this type of thing did not happen. People in the rubber room were usually pretty crazy, or had done something bad. I remember defending a teacher when I was chapter chair who was crazy, but who was never sent to the rubber room. The rubber room was small. I think that the local superintendents were hesitant to send people there. This acted as a restraint. Something has changed, and I am not sure what. I am guessing that the chancellor has been pushing this tool and that principals have been trying to prove to their bosses that they are tough. Sending people to the rubber room is a good way to prove how tough you are in today's environment.

The UFT is upset about the chapter chair and delegates being sent to the rubber room. When most of the teachers were sent their the UFT didn't care, but now they care. They have put themselves into this position now they need to suffer the consequences.

When I first joined the UFT it was an organization that was dominated by one party, but that had some dissidents on the executive board. The UFT is as undemocratic as the DoE so it drove them craze that dissidents were on the board. In a move that would make Joel Klein proud the UFT changed its constitution to make it virtually impossible for anyone to win an election to the board except the approved slates.

The problem the UFT has with the rubber room is that it thinks the same as the DoE. An organization built on power politics and undemocratic principals finds it hard to fight these same principals in the DoE. They are hoisted by their own petard.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Joe Stalin where are you now

I appreciate some really well thought out comments on my last post. It has kept me thinking about the issue. When Stalin ran Russia he just killed people he didn't like or people who got in his way. After he died the leadership became more subtle. Instead of death they sentenced people to Gulags or another great Soviet institution the mental institute. If you disagreed with the leadership, you must be crazy. This approach to justice is one of the major things that separates the Soviets from the United States.

When this country was founded the leaders realized that people in power inevitably used their power to suppress dissent. This is why they created Habeas Corpus and the right to a speedy trial. In the United States you can not be held in jail for two or three months without being formally charged. If you give leaders the ability to do this you create a create temptation for leaders to say someone did something but not really charge them. With out the right to a speedy trial it becomes too easy for powerful leaders to keep someone out of the public debate indefinitely. No matter how much Bush-Cheney may argue that we are in a crisis and should suspend these rights most Americans realize that this is a dangerous thing to do.

Somehow when it comes to labor law we forget the constitution. The parallels are inescapable. The chancellor says we are in a crisis, he needs to suspend Habeas Corpus. He then gives principals almost unlimited power to send people to a gulag. Once there the prisoners are not charged in a timely manner and when they are charged they are not given a speedy trial. The justification for this is protecting the students and empowering principals to rid themselves of bad teachers.

The result of course is almost identical to the result of all other dictatorships. This power is used to rid the system of people who challenge the leaders or threaten the power of a leader. It is sometimes used to get rid of bad people but it is also used to get rid of good people who are a threat. This is a failure of some leaders, but more importantly it is a failure of a system with no constitutional guarantees. The drafters of the constitution knew that men would use power badly if not restrained by law.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

All the News That's Fit to Print

Lately the rubber room has become a hot news story. The big part of the story has been over the amount of money being spent to pay teachers who are not doing anything. Everyone is finally admitting that it is a broken system. Joel Klein feels the union is causing this problem, the UFT feels it is Klein and the principals who are using the system to get rid of people they can't get rid of legally. The Daily News seems to feel that most of the people in the rubber room are guilty so they should be gotten rid of. No one reports on how many people in the rubber room are ultimately found innocent. If they did there would probably be a bunch of statements to the effect that so few people are guilty because of UFT trickery and a bad contract that makes it impossible to get rid of bad people.

In general politicians blame evil lawyers for their own shortcomings. If police can't convict someone it is the defense lawyers fault. If corporations are forced to pay large claims for injured people, it is the lawyers fault. If doctors are convicted of malpractice, it is the lawyers fault. Of course cops plant evidence to quickly close cases, innocent people are sentenced to the death penalty, corporations hide bad things about their products to increase profits and almost no doctor is ever removed for being incompetent. Yet it is all the lawyers fault that these people are held accountable.

Government has deep pockets and can therefore often wins just because it can outlast individuals. It often doesn't matter that a person is found innocent if they are financially or psychologically devastated by defending them self. Teachers appear to be screened from the financial part because they have the UFT to defend them. Unless the UFT does a bad job.

The reason that the rubber room is in the news is that there are a group of people who have decided to sue the UFT for not defending them. These same people have reached out to NPR and have helped create a documentary about the rubber room. This is ultimately the only power that people have against government or large unions.

The part that no one seems to want to talk about is the decision to devote so little resources to solving the issues around the rubber room teachers. It takes months before you are even charged and then it takes months or years before a trial is even set. While you are waiting you go through a series of grievance steps that are a joke and that I would suggest should be eliminated except they do give you an opportunity to get out of the room for a day.

Most rubber room cases could be solved quickly if someone would actually investigate. No one is suggesting that teachers who endanger kids should be in a classroom, but in many cases this is not the issue. The first woman I met in the rubber room had been accused of falsifying a doctors note. This did not endanger kids and should not have been a reason to remove her from a classroom. On the surface this would seem to be a pretty easy case to investigate. You call the doctor and find out if the note was forged. If he/she says it wasn't the case is over. This took eighteen months to solve. In all of that time this teacher was kept out of the classroom. And yet it is the teacher that is blamed not the systemic failure of the DoE to resolve cases quickly.

I am outraged by the waste of money that is used to support the rubber room. But I know who is to blame, the Klein-Weingarten deal that created the absurd system now in place. Lets hold the people who created this system responsible for this waste of money.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Black like Me

A few years ago there was a controversial study of heart patients that seemed to indicate that the type of medicine suitable for white patients was different than what was suitable for blacks. Specifically, beta blockers did not work well in many patients with black skin. This disturbed a lot of people. The idea of race based medicine seemed contrary to a lot of what we knew about genetics. In particular the extremely small differences between people based on skin color. No one was comfortable with this.

The other day there was a report that they discovered a genetic variation in people of African descent that accounted for this difference. It was not because of their skin color. It was because of some evolutionary quirk that gave people with this variation a better chance of surviving in Africa. This has always been the argument for why sickle cell exists in people of African descent.

The thing is, this genetic variation exists in only forty percent of people with black skin, and it exists in two percent of people with white skin. Skin color turns out to be predictor but not a perfect predictor. If you were trying to help people with heart problems you could use skin color and play the odds, or you could do a genetic test and really help someone. Don't forget two percent of whites also have this genetic variation. Those white folks are getting short changed if doctors are using skin color to predict who should take take beta blockers.

When you read a lot of education research you see a lot of discussion about why black students don't do as well as white kids. If you are using skin color to make decisions about students you are being lazy and creating a false system. There is no way that the small genetic variation that accounts for skin coloring accounts for intellectual variation.

Educators need to start figuring out what is going on with actual students and stop playing the odds. The odds are bad policy in medicine and in education. It hurts way to many people.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Vision Thing

As I think more about Joel Klein I get more upset. Klein has been a very long running chancellor. The longest I can remember. He has certainly put his mark on the DoE. When he was first appointed there was an issue with him not having an education license. (Notice that the same issue is happening with the search for a new building commissioner.) The mayor got an exception from the state legislature so that Klein could be chancellor. I do not think that the licensing requirements always point you to the best candidate, but I think that the person you choose needs to have a passion for the area and not just be a manager. Bloomberg succeed with his company because he knew what financial people needed. He was a good manager and an expert in his field.

The decision that Klein made early on was to create a group of managers who would approach schools as managers not as educators. The feeling was that schools were poorly managed. People with philosophy's of education were not recruited. The new DoE saw this as some how contrary to good management. Management people tend to like other managers. They want a certain uniformity to how things happen. They are not comfortable with having a group of great school leaders who lead based on the strength of their personality. These leaders are not easy to duplicate. Managers are easy to duplicate. People such as Klein are willing to sacrifice brilliance for easy duplication. They feel this makes a better overall system.

This seems to be the constant problem we all deal with today. It is the problem of the presidential election. Inspiration versus management. It may be that the best approach to the DoE is to find an inspirational leader who is smart enough to hire a good manager as second in command. There are a lot of people working in the schools who are just waiting for this inspirational leader. I hope the next mayor finds him or her.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Joel; Whats Up?

I have never been a Joel Klein hater. I think that there was a lot wrong with the Board Of Education when he took it over and changed it to the DoE. HSST and ARIS are exactly the types of things that should have been done years earlier. They are not perfect. ARIS seems to be a semi-disaster. But it needed to be done.

I have recently been dealing with HR connect. And they are terrific. This is the type of thing that did not exist before Klein. The level of service was not even conceived of before him. Everyone always assumed that things did not work well, and that employees at 65 Court Street would be at best difficult to deal with. HR connect proves this does not have to be.

Last week Klein did something so awful that I have joined the ranks of those thinking it is time for him to go. One of the places I visited when I thought that my school was really going to break into houses, was Urban Academy. Urban Academy is a terrific school, that generally succeeds. The school is housed in the Julia Richmond complex. There are schools in this building that are very different from each other. The complex has figured out how to work. It is a model of how to do this. It is well known, and it should be celebrated for its success. Like all such combinations of competing visions it works based on a delicate compromise.

Hunter college decided it wanted the building and Klein decided to give it to them. He showed no concern for the schools, the students or the vision of this institution. He just saw real estate. It proves that he is a lawyer and not a visionary. It shows that he does not understand, in a fundamental way, what makes education work. For all of the positive managerial things that Klein has done, he is not capable of leading the DoE because he does not really understand education.

This is particularly sad, because we have a mayor who is a great businessman with a limited vision, a chancellor who is a lawyer and understands management, but has no vision and a head of the UFT who is also a lawyer and understands power, but also has no vision. We need at least one of these three key players to have a vision, maybe some day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I have been dragging my feet about submitting an online principal's application for the DoE. I finally realized in the middle of the night that rather than write an application designed to get me a job, I should write an application designed to get me a job I would want. I decided to just say what I wanted to say. Here are the questions and my answers.

Question: Please describe one instructional initiative that you undertook that was intended to improve student achievement. Select an initiative where you were responsible for the results and had a significant leadership role. The endeavor could range in scope from a school-wide program to an initiative that you implemented in your classroom. Specifically address:

* The purpose and scale of the initiative
* The steps you took to start and implement the initiative
* Measurable student outcomes that resulted from the initiative
* How, during the course of the initiative, you overcame any unexpected obstacles
* How your leadership skills were further developed
* What you learned through implementing the initiative

In 2001 I was asked to be on the committee that would form small learning communities at Washington Irving High School. The purpose of this initiative was to divide a 2700 student school into small learning communities of approximately 500 students each. The feeling was that students would be held more accountable and that student outcome would improve.

By September 2003 I was the instructional leader of a 500 student community called Yalow house. This community had approximately 100 screened students and 400 unscreened students. Our mission was to increase the scores of our students and to stabilize the attendance data.

The great thing about running a small community is that you can program teachers to do the most good. To this end I put my most successful English teacher in the 11th grade and increased the number of students who passed the ELA regents. I created a strong 9th grade science program with the goal of increasing the number of students passing the Living Environment regents and I worked hard on the 9th to 10th grade math curriculum to increase the student’s success.

The first surprise I had was how difficult it was to program teachers. Programming is the key to a successful school. Developing master schedules is easy if you are not worried about having the right teachers in the right classes. But if you are it becomes very difficult. The mathematics of it is difficult and the politics is even more difficult. You want your best teachers in your toughest classes, but you also have to give them at least one great class that allows them to shine. This also keeps them happy and motivated. What I finally did was to bring in all of the teachers from each department, one department at a time and tell them what classes we needed to offer and then discussing how to break up the load. I found that good teachers were more willing to take on tough classes when saw the issues facing the house at large.

The purpose of our community was to create a school that respected teachers and students. This seems to be contrary to the current thinking of the DoE. What I see all over the city is principals being trained to manipulate teachers and students to achieve a "statistically significant result". I think statistics are important. The goal is not to create a student who loves school and has no skills that will help him/her succeed in collage or work. But the alternative of creating a school with out respect also fails at helping a student achieve his/her maximum potential. I sent a student to collage in Albany who did not think she wanted to go. I had dinner with her a year later and she told me she just came back from South America. She had gone there because she had received a journalism internship to go there. She had also been asked to write a column for the Albany city paper I know that she has succeed partially because I respected her and because I cared about her. If you go through my school you will find that there are those kinds of connections between most students and at least one staff member. Without these connections you are running an education factory, but not a school.

It is hard to measure what we did in Yalow. I recently started connecting with students from 4 or 5 years ago using Facebook. I am connecting with kids, who graduated college, are often going to grad school or have good jobs and generally seem to have blown by all of the immense obstacles put in their way because they were poor and often did not have very supportive families. These kids have succeeded in the ways that ultimately count. They are leading lives of hope. I am most proud of this.

Monday, April 7, 2008


I think I have a different view of Rashomon. I think that the story often defines the past more than the truth. I think many people (particularly PBS intellectuals) find this hard to accept. In the world of photography there are photographs or bodies of work that define a time and a place. For example, turn of the century New York was defined by Steiglitz's photograph of the Flatiron building in winter, Brassai is 1930's Paris, Bill Brandt defined England in the 30's and 40's. Even people who are unfamiliar with these works are still influenced by them because other artists use them.

These are photographs that defined a time. Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan created this view of small town America that does not have a lot to do with reality. But their view has become reality for may people (Is this truthiness).

As a photographer I always was looking for the picture that would define a truth. What I see today when I look at people's pictures on line, now that cameras are digital, is that people will put 80 pictures of a party on line. 80 pictures do not get you closer to the truth, they get you farther away.

Since I started looking at kid's accounts on Facebook I see a lot of this random uploading of pictures. I would love to teach these kids how to edit to define what they want to say. I once had an argument with an English teacher about music. I felt that it was less than literature and he pointed out to me that music was a language as powerful as prose. He changed my mind. The same is true about visual language. Photography seems easy but without editing it is noise.

The photograph is by Bill Brandt, an amazing artist.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I'm read this interesting book by Gunter Grass. It is called "Pealing the Onion". The book is about Grass' past. The idea is that looking at the past is like peeling an onion, where do you stop to get at the truth. The book is filled with lots of stories that may or may not be true, but that add up to who you are. When I talk to Alex about our first trip to Disney World, he doesn't really remember it. He has seen the photographs, but this is not enough. Disney World is part of his truth but not really a part of his personal story.

I have been scanning a lot of old pictures of my family into my computer. I am going to make a short video of my family history. Some pictures I look at and the scene is vivid. I remember the little girl who wanted to be my wife. She lived on the steep hill (not that steep when I saw it as an adult). I remember the back porch of our house, I remember sledding and riding my large tricycle very fast down the sidewalk until I hit a crack and went flying, cutting myself in many places.(Not the first time and certainly not the last time I did something like this.)

Of course not having clear memories of being 5 is not surprising. The problem is that I try to remember my years in San Francisco, and they are not that clear. I was 22 when I moved there. I am even having a difficult time creating a clear picture of my first marriage.

Maybe the idea is not to care about the facts of your past, the only thing that really matters is the story you tell yourself and others. This is really what defines you.

There used to be a group of photographers called the f64 group. These guys believed that photographs needed to tell the truth and not be manipulated. If they had a beautiful picture of a beach and there was a piece of garbage on the beach, they would never move it, because that would be dishonest. F64 is an f stop that gives you the greatest amount of depth of field. Everything is sharp. The photographer is not manipulating your attention by making some things in focus and some not.

Sounds good until you realize that the photographer pointed the camera at what he/she wanted to see, so that was dishonest. The aspect ratio was defined by the film manufacturer, so in this they were being manipulated by corporate America.

Today the argument is about Photoshop. Are you being dishonest when you manipulate a picture. I have seen many Photoshoped pictures that I thought were dishonest. They were manipulated to make a point about a subject with out regard to the subject. I took a photograph of two girls on the beach in Coney Island. There was a fire plug in the middle of the photo. I removed it. I also enhanced the colors to make them brighter. I do not consider this to be dishonest. I was trying to capture what Coney Island felt like that day and the mood of the girls. The colors as shot were not necessarily more correct. They were just a digital representation of what was there, not the truth of what colors were there. I was not trying to make a statement about girls on the beach. I saw two girls and I wanted to try and tell their story. Filtered through me of course. But I was trying to tell their story, not mine.

What can someone do. Give up on truth, because it doesn't really exist. That seems like a bad idea. Authors who make up parts of their autobiographies are reviled. We do not want people to go out of their way to lie to us. What happens if I tell you my life story and parts of it I believe in, but turn out not to be true. Maybe the little 5 year old girl did not want to marry me. Maybe I wasn't that great of a football player in high school. If you are a public figure every time you make a statement someone is checking out if it is factually correct. It makes it difficult to have your own personal story.

I am definitely not talking about people who create a myth around themselves for their own self aggrandizement. These are the people we are all mad at when they are exposed. My image of what I did in San Francisco forty years ago is part of my story. I am sometimes disturbed that I don't remember it with enough detail. But I am also willing to accept the fact that it is my story. What I remember defines me. Truth does not.

I am reposting the picture I am talking about.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The House that Ruth Built

This is a picture of the House that Ruth Built. I have been there and it looks nothing like what is today called Yankee Stadium. Look out in right field. You will see a very short line (294 ft.) and a low right field fence. This is why it was the house that Ruth built. It was designed for a left handed pull hitter like Ruth and latter Roger Maris. Anyone who hits straight away was almost never going to get a home run. Center field was a very long way away (not to mention the monuments that were in play). One of the great things about going to Yankee stadium was being friends with someone in the box office who would get you seats that were not behind a poll. Of course when you got there they always were behind a poll (pole), but at least you felt the upper deck was not going to fall on top of you.

I saw both Mantle and Maris play. Roger Maris hit a lot of home runs that went 3 or 4 rows back over that low 294 foot wall. I do not think he would have hit 61 in the current Yankee stadium. Lucky for him he was playing in the "House That Ruth Built".

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alien Children

One of my pet complaints has always been about the number of teachers I run into who choose to leave NYC because they do not want their children attending public school. I am not talking about those who leave because they can't afford to live in the city. I understand those people. I am talking about the teachers who feel that there is something inherently wrong with the NYC school system. Something that precludes them from sending their kids to a public school in NYC. I would include the people who send their kids to parochial schools or Hebrew schools or private schools to avoid city schools and not for deeply held beliefs. The only one of these three that is probably better educationally is the high end private schools. The rest are usually understaffed and the teachers are usually under paid.

The reason these people bother me so much, is that they often reject the hope that New York could ever create a good school or provide a good education for their kids. If they reject this than whatever they do in a school doesn't really matter. It becomes a job that only matters in how it affects their personal happiness, not in how it affects the students they are supposed to serve. They tend to see anyone who cares about public education as slightly crazy.

I've run into cops that feel that anyone living in the city must be crazy and probably criminal. The views of the alien teachers is that any child who goes to school in NYC is either crazy, a criminal or someone to be pitied for not having the economic clout to get out. What NYC students never are is similar to their children.

Of course the opposite is not necessarily true. Teachers who live in the city and have their kids in public schools are not necessarily good teachers. This is not the sole criteria for being a good teacher. I do think however that anyone doing hiring in the city should ask the person they are interviewing about how they view city schools in general. We have lots of problems in the DoE but we need people who believe in public education to work on solving these problems.

The picture above is of Death Valley in February. Death Valley gets almost no rain and is often above 110 degrees in the summer. In winter it may rain once and all these yellow flowers bloom. Amazing.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Top Down

Education is not alone in dealing with the phenomena of top down vs. bottom up managers. I think that this is endemic in American Business. I do think that it may be more prevalent in government jobs. The reason is that people are often rewarded more for not screwing up than they are for doing something positive. The key to succeeding in government or education is to gather job titles and move on as quickly as possible. The way you do this is to come in push people around and then get out before your staff morale drops to zero.

In order to make it in education most of us start as teachers. Many teachers like to control their class by intimidation. When these people move up they continue to feel that they can control their environment through intimidation. And they are often right in this assumption. My observation of teachers is that many of them make a lot of noise and then are unwilling to stand up and be counted. Tenure was invented to keep teachers from being subjected to the political whims of administrators and politicians. It should have made teachers feel free to express their opinions. It has not done this.

In my tenure at my old school there was two top down administrators. The first one was very bright and had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish. He stayed too long. He accomplished a lot the first few years, but he never created the school wide buy in that a more bottom up manager would have. The second administrator seemed to only care about power. She had no vision of what things should be and she lacked the intellect to actually accomplish anything. She constantly used the word insubordinate to express her dislike of anyone disagreeing with her. The union loved her when she started because they felt they could manipulate her in ways that they could not with the previous principal.

Like many not bright people the principal reacted negatively to any conversation started by the union or most of her AP's She did not react negatively because she disagreed with others. She reacted negatively because she often did not understand what people were saying to her and so she assumed that they were hustling her. The union thought they could manipulate her, instead they discovered an administrator that made random decisions, lurching from one direction to another. This is a hard person to work with. This is why the relationship between the union and the principal is so poor.

The comments about the APO and the Principal being at war are certainly true. In most schools the relationship is strained but not nearly as negative as the one in my old school. I think things started to fall apart when the two of them chose to live in a world of wishful thinking instead of just dealing with the good and the bad. As an example, every APO I have met looked at the average number of sick days their staff had each year and set aside money to cover this. If they could lower the number, great, if not they were covered. The power structure at my old school decided they would lower the number by intimidation and threats. Of course it did not work, and so they blamed each other for the failure of an absurd policy and the resulting budget cris. Neither one of them is capable of looking at the policy and altering it to fit reality. Both of them in their own way want reality to alter to fit them.

I was at my old school to listen to a guy named Will Richardson talk. He writes a blog at Take a look at the March 13th entry in which he talks about what being in the school was like.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Another Principal

I received an article from a friend about a Principal who was suspended by his superintendent because he supposedly did not do enough observations. My friends comment was, "They must have an underground newspaper that tells them how to get people". Actually I think the most interesting part about the article was that the suspended Principal was very bottom up in his management style and the Superintendent was very top down.

So the superintendent gives the Principal a letter on Friday suspending him, the guy even changes the locks on the Principal's office doors to "protect the Principals stuff". The students walk out on Monday and the sup says he can't comment because it is a personnel issue. I've been there and done that.

I figure these guys are around my age. Probably went to college in the late 60's early 70's. My guess is that the Principal was a demonstrator and the superintendent was one of the guys on the other side, either condemning the loud demonstrators or actively throwing rocks at them. This is the way it has always been. These top down management jerks willing to do what ever it takes to suppress the participatory democracy people.

I think that education (particularly high school education) has always attracted two types of men. One guy is in it because they get a thrill out of helping kids achieve something. They love teaching and they love pushing kids to move beyond the world that they seemed to have been born into.

The second guy likes pushing people around and being dominant. Because they don't have enough guts to push adults around so they choose to work with kids. Kids are much easier to push around.


I started reading a book on SDS by Harvey Pekar. The first part of the book is a history of SDS. This was fun and nostalgic because I knew a bunch of the players because many of them went to Michigan. But after this trip down memory lane there were individual stories of what it was like to be in the movement in those days. One of the first stories talked about looking at the people on the other side of the line and seeing hate in their eyes. Wow! Not such a fun image. I remember that.

There was a lot of hate. Beside the obvious cases of police shooting at me or the national guard lobbing tear gas at us, there was the day to day hatred. I remember asking for directions in San Diego and no one being willing to answer me because my hair was too long. I certainly made a decision to drive from San Francisco to NYC through Canada because I had doubts about what would happen to me, my wife and my 4 year old daughter if I tried to drive through the middle of America.

This all made me realize that all of the red state blue state split and the upstate downstate split here in New York are not new and maybe not as bad as we make them out to be. They are certainly there, but are they as mean spirited as they were in the 60's and 70's. It may be that I don't see the hate as much because I am old enough that people don't perceive me as a threat.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I’ve been thinking about survival a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about it because in the past few months I have read three books about survival. One was “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families” and one was “A Long Way Gone” and the last one was “Peeling the Onion”. These books are about wars that overwhelm everything around them. “Peeling the Onion” is about World War II” and seemed to have a level of sophistication about how this “modern” war was fought. Of course we all know how “modern” the Germans were. The Germans did not murder Jews with the kind of passion that the Rwandans or the Sierra Leone’s used in murdering their fellow countrymen, but they still did. Grass was 17 when he was given a gun and told to go and start killing people. He was not 12, but by the end of the war the Germans were pushing the boundaries.

There has been an argument made that Rwanda happened because of famine: that the survival mechanism that was really at play was a desire to eat. This type of war seems to be part of the history of the world. You read the story in “A Long Way Gone” and the kid talks about essentially sitting in a tree in a forest for weeks afraid to move because of the wild animals, and surviving on some type of fruit he could not identify but that he hopped would not kill him. There was nothing noble about what he was doing. He just wanted to stay alive; he wanted to stay alive because his genetic programming demanded it. I don’t believe it was even a conscious choice.

When you read books like this you become horrified by the level of brutality that people are capable of. Ishmael Beah in “A Long Way Gone” never really says what he did. He talks about kids around him but rarely directly about himself. It is hard to admit what we will do to survive. In modern day America no one is feeding cocaine and heroin to large numbers of 12 year old boys and encouraging them to kill whole villages. But we face survival questions every day. Homeless people spend every day figuring out how to survive. Homeless in NYC particularly need to work hard to avoid freezing to death in the winter. For those of us walking by them we must wonder how far we are from this life. It colors everything we do.

I am not sure you can ask yourself how far you would go to survive. I’m not sure you have as much control over the instinct to survive as you think. I would certainly never be a guard in a concentration camp. In “A Long Way Gone” the kid is put in the situation of being asked to cut the throat of a villager he knows will have his throat cut even if he refuses. The only difference is if he doesn’t do it then both he and the villager will die. He chooses to survive. That choice leads to an amazing book.

Monday, February 4, 2008


I like the fact that people have written about what is happening in my old school, even when it has nothing to do with anything I have written. Keep it up, writing is a good outlet and does keep you sane.

I do agree that there are many agendas in the DoE that we find hard to comprehend. I think the corruption that exists is the type of deep cynical corruption that existed in most Soviet countries. This is part of the structure of this type of government. It is caused by the same structural elements in the DoE and it has been exacerbated by the current administration and the UFT. It comes from very centralized power and very little accountability.

Keep up you writing.

Is the story of the bull whips really true?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hard Ball

I am glad that so many have responded to my Bob Durkin post. I want to make some more comments because I think he goes to the core of what leadership is about, a good thing to discuss in a presidential year. Bob went to college with Rudy Guiliani and they seemed to share some similarities.

Bob became principal after a string of people had been at the school for a short time. The UFT became used to having control. There was a hard core group of teachers who liked to control the school. Some of them were excellent teachers and some of them were not.

One teacher in particular became his instant enemy. Bob wanted to make changes and she was one of those people who would talk against almost all change. She was grouchy and she didn't particularly like the kids. One day this teacher, we will call her Ms P, was teaching a class and a student asked to use the bathroom. She refused his request and he then stood up and urinated into a waste basket.

Whether this actual happened is not really relevant. The student did report to the principal that he had been forced to use a waste basket in Ms P's class to urinate because he could not hold it. The principal could have seen it as a troubled youth acting out in class and tried to deal with the student. He did not. He choose to look at it as a teacher who forced a poor student to use a waste basket rather than allowing him the dignity of a public restroom. The teacher was removed to the rubber room and then reassigned to a new school.

I don't know if Bob destroyed her career, but he tried. The question is was he justified in doing this. This was not the only time I ever saw him do something like this. He understood who the bad teachers were, and he understood who is enemies were and he went after both groups by any means necessary.

While Bob and Rudy were in college learning to be tough vindictive people I was sitting in coffee houses in Ann Arbor discussing "Franny and Zooey" and New Morality. New Morality says that the ends can never justify the means, because the ends and the means are indistinguishable. The problem with the New Morality is that you have to deal with times when you must make hard decisions. Sometimes you are forced to do something you are not proud off, or something that bends ethics.

I think really great leaders feel bad when they push against the ethical boundaries. Lincoln seemed to have suffered greatly when he was president. Robert McNamara has come to publicly regret much of what he did in Vietnam while he was Secretary of Defense. It is hard to imagine Richard Nixon or Rudy Guiliani or Bob Durkin loosing sleep over the moral implications of decisions they made. They were more likely to loose sleep because they felt people were after them or they had lost a battle.

I guess the bottom line is that I feel that affective leaders can be Machiavellian people, but great leaders are people with a strong moral sense who are occasionally willing to bend their morals, but always feel bad about it and who always try to find their way back to a moral center. A good quality for a president.

I see that there are a group of people who started a law suit over the rubber room. The UFT does not support the suit, what a surprise! I think Randy is probably lacking a moral center.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

You need to see this.

I have added a link on the side or click here to a documentary on the rubber room. You need to see this. I am trying to decide if I should contact them. This would most likely finish me.