Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chris Asch , Former Librarian At Stuyvesant High School, Wins His Article 7511 Petition To Vacate The Decision of Arbitrator David Hyland

Chris, Petitioner Pro Se, is an openly gay man who was victimized by the homophopic comments of Stuyvesant High School's Isamu Fukui, a very troubled student, then sent to the famous "rubber room" to learn to regret actions that he never did, or performed just like the heterosexual librarians (asking students to be quiet while in the library). On June 28, 2011 NYS Supreme Court Judge Manuel Mendez vacated the decision of Arbitrator David Hyland to suspend Chris for six months without pay and to see a psychologist to help him "establish boundaries".. Judge Mendez set a precedent and deserves acclaim for this decision.
From Betsy Combier:

I attended Chris Asch's arbitration hearing, heard all witnesses, and disagreed with the decision of the arbitrator, who was, in my opinion, ordered by the New York City Board of Education's Administrative Trials Unit (which I call "The Gotcha Squad") to find Chris guilty of something in order to validate the time and money spent on the prosecution of Chris to the extent that occurred in this matter.
Full disclosure: two of my four children attended Stuyvesant High School, and I know Stuyvesant Principal Stanley Teitel because not only did I write the newsletter for the Parent's Association, but I also was a member of the Executive Board and involved in the Robotics Club, I helped teachers stay after Stan tried to remove them, and I investigated the theft of PA money. Time for Principal Stanley Teitel to retire/resign/be fired.
A short backstory:

Chris Asch was one of three librarians at one of America's premier high schools, Stuyvesant High School in New York City, when he was suddenly arrested and called a "pervert", removed from his job, and told to go to the rubber room in Washington Heights to sit and await charges. One of the students at Stuy was a person who resented any kind of adult chastisement and focused his hatred of the 'system' on one man, Chris. Isamu Fukui had few friends, and wanted popular Chris to suffer for telling him to be quiet in the library. Stuyvesant Principal Stan Teitel didnt want Chris around either, seemingly because he - Chris - would block Sten's attempt to reduce the size of the Stuy library, as well as make other changes to the schedule. Stan made up that Quiz Bowl, an organized group at Stuyvesant but not a school-funded Club, mentored by Chris, necessitated paperwork for overnight trips that was, indeed, not required at all, then charged Chris with not filling the paperwork out when the Quiz Bowl students were invited to Harvard for a competition.

The decision below is significant, because the Judge refused to go along with different rules for different people, and disparate treatment and discrimination of a gay man. The larger picture is that a petitioner pro se told a court that the arbitration process in NYC is broken, and the decision to suspend for six months under the circumstances was shocking to the Court's conscience. Judge Mendez agreed.

Matter of Asch v New York City Board/ Dept. of Educ.
2011 NY Slip Op 21224
Decided on June 28, 2011
Supreme Court, New York County

Mendez, J.

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the printed Official Reports.

Decided on June 28, 2011
Supreme Court, New York County

In the Matter of Christopher Asch, Petitioner,

against

The New York City Board/ Department of Education, Respondents,

108528/10
Christopher Asch
Petitioner, Pro Se

Michael A. Cardozo
Corporation Counsel of the City of New York
Attorneys for the Respondent
100 Church Street, Room 2-108
New York, NY 10007
James Hallman, of counsel
Manuel J. Mendez, J.

Upon a reading of the foregoing cited papers, it is ordered and adjudged that the petition, seeking to vacate, and set aside the arbitrator's decision pursuant to CPLR §7511, and Education Law §3020-a (5), is granted. The cross-motion made in lieu of an answer, seeking to dismiss the petition pursuant to CPLR §404(a), CPLR §3211(a)(5), CPLR §3211(a)(7), and CPLR §7511, is denied.

Petitioner an openly gay man, is a tenured school librarian/media specialist, with over twenty (20) years of service. He had an unblemished record throughout his career until charges were filed against him in 2008 for the events that were alleged to have taken place between school years 2005/2006, 2006/2007 and 2007/2008. The Department of Education (DOE) brought charges against him after two separate investigations by the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigations, hereinafter referred to as "SCI." The first investigation involved claims of his failure to obtain proper school or parental permission before taking students on a field trip to Boston. The second investigation (*2)involved claims of inappropriate touching of several students, and it was based on a two page "cut and paste" copy of e-mail printouts submitted by a student to the Assistant Principal Eric Grossman. The SCI investigation did not attempt to obtain the full text of the e-mails but relied on interviews of the students that made the accusations, and two students that did not make any accusations and did not think there was inappropriate touching (Cross-Mot. Exh. 3, vol.1 of 2, pps. 340-342, and 355-357). The findings of the SCI investigation resulted in the respondent seeking to have petitioner terminated from employment.

Respondent charged petitioner with engaging in inappropriate conduct with several students, misconduct and neglect of duty. The particulars of the charges were set out in nine specifications brought against him. Seven of the specifications were for inappropriately touching several male students by touching their back, shoulders and spine and whispering into one student's ear. There were specifications alleging that he struck two male students on the buttocks with a rolled up newspaper; ran his fingers through a student's hair; grabbed and squeezed another male student's stomach after being told words to the affect of "Don't touch me," and lifted and rubbed the leg of a male student while saying words to the effect of, "Insert foot. Open mouth." The two remaining specifications against petitioner were for taking seven students on a trip to Boston without proper school or parental permission. He was accused of taking one student on the trip in spite of being explicitly advised by the parents that the student could not attend. (Cross-Mot. Exh. 1)

Petitioner was employed at Stuyvesant High School and on February 12, 2008 was reassigned to the NYC Board of Education "Rubber Room" until June of 2009 at which time criminal charges were brought against him. He was criminally charged with endangering the welfare of a child, two counts of third degree sexual abuse and two counts of second degree harassment, stemming from the investigations at the school. Information concerning the arrest and criminal case was published in the New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post and broadcast on the NBC evening news (Cross-Mot. Exh. 5, vol. 2 of 2). The criminal charges were dismissed in October of 2009 after an investigation by the District Attorney's office. (Cross-Mot. Exh. 3, vol. 2 of 2, pps. 1662-1663).

When charges are filed against a tenured person, Education Law §3020-a (3) requires that a disciplinary hearing be conducted by a hearing officer selected from the American Arbitration Association. The disciplinary hearing is a compulsory arbitration. This hearing took place over a period of approximately twelve days, from November of 2009 through January of 2010, and was concluded by post-hearing submissions on April 28, 2010. At the hearing petitioner was represented by an attorney provided by his union; he produced and cross-examined witnesses, and produced additional evidence. The respondent produced and cross-examined witnesses, introduced evidence from SCI (*3)investigators, school administrators and other documentary evidence.

The hearing officer, David Hyland, found that petitioner was not involved with sexual misconduct, dismissed the specifications that alleged he struck two male students on the buttocks with a rolled up newspaper; and that he grabbed and squeezed another male student's stomach after being told words to the affect of "Don't touch me." The other specifications were sustained except for one specification involving the rubbing of a student's back. The hearing officer determined that although the touching involved was not sexual in nature, some of it was inappropriate. Hearing Officer Hyland found that although the trip to Boston did not involve a school sanctioned club activity the petitioner was a last minute substitution for a parent chaperone, he was still responsible for obtaining proper permission. The hearing officer did not find substantial cause rendering petitioner unfit to perform his obligations of service, but found he had neglected his duty and that some of the charged conduct was unbecoming to his position or was, "...prejudicial to the good order, efficiency or discipline of the service." The determination provided that petitioner was to be suspended without pay for six (6) months, and required to "attend counseling and/or training to understand appropriate professional and physical boundaries between himself and the students, whether in management of student behavior in the library or otherwise." (Cross Mot. Exh. 6)

Petitioner seeks to vacate, and set aside the arbitrator's decision claiming that it was not warranted in the record, excessive, arbitrary and capricious and based on partiality and prejudice. He claims that pursuant to Education Law §3020-a and §2590-j, the decision cannot stand as just and fair, because it violates his constitutional and statutory rights under state law and New York State Executive Law Article 15 (the Human Rights Law). Petitioner, as an openly gay man, claims that the hearing officer's determination, that his manner of touching and addressing the students was inappropriate, in light of testimony that established it was the same as a heterosexual female librarian, is arbitrary and capricious; and the penalty imposed is shocking to one's conscience. Petitioner also claims that allowing the award to stand would have a chilling effect on gay, lesbian and transgender individuals employed in the education system because they would be subject to actions by students based on their sexual preferences and not their actual conduct.

Respondent's cross-motion seeks to dismiss the petition on the grounds that the petition is time-barred, fails to state a cause of action, is prohibited based on the arbitration and decision; and to confirm the arbitration award. Respondent claims that the petitioner fails to allege facts sufficient to vacate or modify the hearing officer's determinations.

The hearing officer's opinion is dated June 8, 2010 and the petitioner claims he received it on June 17, 2010. Respondent claims that this petition is time-barred because the proceeding was commenced on June 28, 2010. Respondent claims that pursuant to Education Law §3020-a(5) the petition was filed one day beyond the ten day (*4)period to appeal the arbitrator's decision.

Pursuant to General Construction Law §25-a (1), "When any period of time, computed from a certain day...which an act is authorized or required to be done, ends on a Saturday, Sunday or a public holiday, such act may be done on the next succeeding business day." The provisions of General Construction Law §25-a (1) have been found to apply to statute of limitations and the provisions of CPLR Article 75 (Rodriguez v. Saal, 43 AD3d 272, 841 N.Y.S. 2d 232 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept. 2007); American Casualty Company v. McCoy, 138 AD2d 485, 525 N.Y.S. 2d 884 (N.Y.A.D. 2nd Dept. 1988) and Matter of Scuderi v. Board of Educ., 49 AD2d 942, 374 N.Y.S. 2d 130, appeal dismissed 38 NY. 2d 848, 382 N.Y.S. 2d 55, 345 N.E. 2d 598).

Petitioner claims that the ten day statute of limitations expired on Sunday, June 27, 2010, and this proceeding was commenced on Monday, June 28, 2010. This Court takes judicial notice of the fact that June 27, 2010 was a Sunday. This proceeding commenced on Monday, June 28, 2010, is timely.

Pursuant to Education Law §3020-a (5), a petition to vacate the determination of a hearing officer, requires that the Court apply the standard set forth in CPLR §7511. The standard for granting a petition pursuant to CPLR §7511 is to, "show misconduct, bias, excess of power, or procedural defects." An arbitrator's award can be set aside if it violates strong public policy or is totally irrational (Austin v. Board of Education of the City School Dist. Of City of New York, 280 AD2d 365, 720 N.Y.S. 2d 344 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept., 2001); Hegarty v. Board of Education of the City of New York, 5 AD3d 771, 773 N.Y.S. 2d 611 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept., 2004), Matter of Pell v. Board of Education, 34 NY2d 222, 356 N.Y.S. 2d 833, 313 N.E. 2d 321 (1974), In re Gregg v. The Dept. of Educ. of the City of New York, 22 AD3d 254, 801 N.Y.S. 2d 529 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept., 2005), In re Stephanie Cherry v. The New York State Insurance Fund, 83 AD3d 446, 920 N.Y.S. 2d 342 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept., 2011), and Matter of Sprinzen (Nomberg), 46 NY2d 623, 389 N.E. 2d 456, 415 N.Y.S. 2d 974 (1979)). There is an additional standard applied and judicial scrutiny is stricter when the parties have submitted to compulsory arbitration rather than a determination rendered after voluntary arbitration. After compulsory arbitration the determination, "must be in accord with due process and supported by adequate evidence, and must also be rational and satisfy the arbitrary and capricious standards of CPLR article 78" ( Lackow v. Dept. of Education (or "Board") of City of New York, 51 AD3d 563, 859 N.Y.S. 2d 52 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept., 2008); City School Dist. of the City of New York v. McGraham, 75 AD3d 445, 905 N.Y.S. 2d 86 [N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept., 2010]). The burden of proof is on the party challenging the determination to show that it is invalid. A hearing officer's finding that the testimony was inconsistent or lacked credibility is not a basis to vacate the determination (Lackow v. Dept. of Educ. (or "Board") of City of New York, 51 AD3d 563, supra; Austin v. Board of Educ. of the City School Dist. of City of New York, 280 AD2d 365, supra). A claim of actual bias or misconduct by a hearing officer requires clear and convincing evidence, inference of partiality is not enough to vacate the award (Zrake v. New York City Dept. of Educ., 41 AD3d 118, 838 N.Y.S. 2d 31 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept., 2007) and Rose v. J.J. Lowrey & Co., 181 (*5)AD2d 418, 580 N.Y.S. 2d 745 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept., 1992)).

Petitioner claims that the hearing officer allowed respondent to validate homophobic statements made by three students as directed by a fourth and found inappropriate conduct where there was none. He claims that there was testimony provided at the hearing by SCI investigator Ravello, that whispering and touching students on the shoulder was generally acceptable to get their attention in the library (Cross-Mot. Exh. 3, vol. 1 of 2, SCI Ravelo pps. 350-351). There was also testimony that another librarian, a heterosexual female, approached the students physically in the same manner as petitioner did, including touching arms, whispering and standing silently next to the students. Delisa Brown-Guc testified that touching was used to calm down an individual that was agitated and that the petitioner was the least confrontational with the students of the three librarians at Stuyvesant (Cross-Mot. Exh. 3, vol. 2 of 2, pps. 1467-1476).

Petitioner claims the hearing officer did not sufficiently take into account testimony that false rumors were being spread amongst the students in 2007, prior to the investigation, that he was a member of NAMBLA (North American Man Boy Love Association). One of the students that accused him of inappropriate touching spoke to him in a menacing manner in the Fall of 2007, that "...some people are feeling pretty creepy about the way you touch people..." petitioner was considering reporting the statement but then decided to let it go because the student was "a jerk" (Cross-Mot. Exh. 3, vol. 2 of 2, Asch at pps. 1653-1654,1664 and Brown-Guc, Exh. 3 vol. 1 of 2 pp. 1487-1488). There was testimony that the same student that spoke to him in a menacing manner, said in a loud manner "get away from me faggot" when petitioner passed his table in the library (Cross-Mot. Exh. 3, vol. 1 of 2, Brown-Guc pp. 1496-1499). The same menacing student, organized, cut and pasted the e-mails which were provided to Assistant Principal Grossman, and used by the SCI to formulate the charges and specifications. The hearing officer rejected one of two specifications related to the menacing student concerning inappropriate touching because the testimony was not credible. Hearing Officer Hyland found the menacing student's testimony that his back was rubbed credible, but only as to touching and determined that this was a failure to respect boundaries because petitioner should have known that this student did not like to be touched (Cross-Mot. Exh. 6).

Petitioner claims that the hearing officer failed to credit testimony concerning permissible touching. He states that by refusing to allow testimony concerning a student conspiracy or the mental health and behavioral concerns regarding one of the accusing students, and relying on testimony by students that were only witnesses to one of the specifications, the hearing officer applied a different standard to him as an openly gay man. He claims that the resulting determination was biased, discriminatory and violated his constitutional and statutory rights under state law and New York State Executive Law Article 15 (the Human Rights Law).

Petitioner claims that the hearing officer did not take into account the school's policy concerning weekend trips involving unofficial clubs where parents were (*6)chaperones. Permission was not sought from the school for the Quiz Bowl activities that occurred on prior weekends because the parents chaperoned the activities and the petitioner was a last minute replacement for a parent chaperone.

Respondent claims that the petitioner has not met his burden of proof to vacate the determination because the hearing officer is permitted to weigh credibility and rely on hearsay. Respondent states that it would be improper for this Court to credit petitioner's evidence to the exclusion of others. The cross-motion seeks to dismiss for failure of petitioner to state a cause of action and meet his burden of proof concerning the claims of corruption, bias, fraud and misconduct by the hearing officer. Respondent claims that petitioner has not produced the required clear and convincing evidence and relies on inferences which are not in the record. Respondent also claims that petitioner's due process rights were protected because he was represented by an attorney that was permitted to produce evidence and cross-examine all the witnesses that appeared at the hearing. Respondent seeks to dismiss petitioner's claims that Education Law §2590-j was violated because the charges of engaging in inappropriate conduct with several students, misconduct, neglect of duty, and violating the by-laws rules and regulations of the Chancellor were confirmed and accepted by the arbitrator. Respondent claims that any objections to its compliance with the Education Law § 3020-a process must be denied because it was waived by proceeding with the arbitration without objection. Respondent claims that hearing officer Hyland was lenient in the decision, given the seriousness of the charges, since there could have been a determination that petitioner be terminated from employment.

The authority to overturn an arbitration award based on a violation of public policy requires that the Court find, "without engaging in any extended fact finding or legal analysis" that public policy considerations, "embodied in either statute or decisional law, prohibit (1) arbitration of the particular matters to be decided or (2) the relief granted." An arbitrator cannot issue an award that violates a well defined "constitutional, statutory or the common law of this state" (United Federation of Teachers, Local 2, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Board of Educ. of City School Dist. Of City of New York, 1 NY3d 72, 801 N.E. 2d 827, 769 N.Y.S. 2d 451 (2003) citing to Matter of New York City Tr. Auth. v. Transport Workers Union of Am., Local 100, AFL-CIO, 99 NY2d 1, 780 N.E. 2d 490, 750 N.Y.S. 2d 805 (2002), The Board of Education of the City of New York v. Hershkowitz, 308 AD2d 334, 764 N.Y.S. 2d 254(N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept. 2003)). Whatever the applicable standard of review in a compulsory arbitration, an award may be vacated if there is no rational basis for the determination based on the evidence adduced at the hearing (Weinstein v. Department of Education of the City of New York, 19 AD3d 165, 798 N.Y.S. 2d 383 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept. 2005)).

Pursuant to Executive Law Article 15, §296(1), it is unlawful to discriminate against an individual based on, "age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation...to bar or to discharge from employment or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment. " (*7)

Hearing Officer Hyland stated in the concluding paragraphs of his opinion:

"I note that these are Respondent's first charged offenses. I am persuaded that Mr. Asch now understands that library management, even under the most difficult circumstances, cannot and will not include inappropriate touching of students or whispering in a manner that a reasonable student would consider a violation of his/her space. I am also persuaded that in the future, if he has any questions about school policies related to trips, he will make appropriate inquiries to his superiors. Having reviewed all of the eviden ce and based on the proven misconduct, Respondent's long service with the Department and principles of progressive discipline, I believe that the appropriate penalty in the instant case is a suspension without pay for six ( 6) months. Additionally, Respondent Asch shall be required to attend counseling and/or training in understanding appropriate and professional boundaries between himself and students whether in the management of student behavior in the library or otherwise."(Cross-Mot. Exh. 6, p. 53)

The public policy considerations embodied in Executive Law Article 15 were violated by the finding that petitioner, an openly gay man, engaged in inappropriate touching when his actions, i.e. touching, whispering and standing silently next to the students, were the same as the heterosexual female librarian. Petitioner was suspended for six months without pay and reassigned to another school. He was also required to, "attend counseling and/or training to understand appropriate professional and physical boundaries between himself and the students, whether in management of student behavior in the library or otherwise." No charges were brought against the female librarian, and she was not required to attend counseling or training. Hearing Officer Hyland may not have intended to discriminate against the petitioner, but the opinion and award has that effect. Petitioner has the right not to be discriminated against or abused by students based on his sexual orientation. SCI investigator Ravello testified that whispering and touching students on the shoulder was generally acceptable to get their attention in the library. Touching students and whispering in their ear are acceptable practices to maintain order in the library and there is no rational basis for a finding that his touching of students, which was done in the same manner as a heterosexual librarian, constitutes an inappropriate touching; especially given his history of 20 years of exemplary service.

Judicial review of administratively imposed sanctions is limited. An administrative sanction may only be revised in those circumstances where it is, "so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the conscience of the court." The Court would have to find that the determination is "shocking to one's sense of fairness." A result is, "shocking to one's sense of fairness," if the sanction imposed is so grave in its impact on the individual subjected to it that it is disproportionate to the misconduct, incompetence, failure or (*8)turpitude of the individual, or to the harm or risk of harm to the public generally visited or threatened by the derelictions of the individual." Additional factors would include deterrence or the reasonable prospect of recurrence, and "the standards of society to be applied to the offense involved" (Matter of Pell v. Board of Education, 34 NY2d 222, supra ; Harris v. Mechanicville Central School District, 45 NY2d 279, 380 N.E. 2d 213, 408 N.Y.S. 2d 384 (1978)).

The nonexistence of a prior disciplinary record in twenty years and the financial impact of the six month suspension without his salary, is clearly disproportionate to petitioner's conduct. He was forced to defend himself against criminal charges and was exposed to the stigma of being described as a "pervert" in the press. It is shocking to one's sense of fairness that petitioner is required to attend counseling or training to understand appropriate professional or physical boundaries, when touching and whispering is acceptable practice, and was done in the same manner that was permissible if performed by the heterosexual female librarian.

Upon review of all the papers submitted this Court finds that petitioner has met his burden of proof as to the determination based on public policy considerations. The sanctions imposed, while lesser than termination, are shocking to this Court's sense of fairness. A legally recognizable cause of action can be identified even if it is not skillfully prepared, therefore respondent's cross-motion to dismiss the petition is denied.

Accordingly, it is ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the petition seeking to vacate, and set aside the arbitrator's decision pursuant to CPLR § 7511, and Education Law §3020-a (5), is granted, and it is further

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the hearing officer's opinion and award dated June 8, 2010, is vacated, and it is further

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that petitioner is restored to employment status with back pay and without any need for counseling or training, and it is further

ORDERED and ADJUDGED, that the cross-motion to dismiss the petition pursuant to CPLR §404(a), CPLR §3211(a)(5), CPLR §3211(a)(7), and CPLR §7511, is denied.

This constitutes the decision and judgment of this court.

June 28, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dennis Walcott's "Gentler" Chancellorship Doesn't Fool Anyone

OMG, this article is sooo annoying. What I read in Ms. Otterman's article below is that Mr. Dennis Walcott, NYC's new "not" chancellor (no contract, does not have any meaningful evaluations or performance reviews by anyone, etc), simply by being the anti-Cathie Black brings people around to support him.

 “He is doing the job that Black was meant to serve, which is putting a kinder, gentler face on the administration’s point of view,” said David C. Bloomfield.

Oh, really David?

A kinder, gentler way of putting the most cruel, legally invalid and harmful education policies in the history of public education in America -  once again looking at the general public as fooled by deception and evil intent. We in NYC have, I think, the largest number of parents and teachers in the country who now see the results of Mike Bloomberg's privitization of education.

And we are not fooled by Dennis Walcott. Not for one minute.

Oh, by the way, someone made an error in naming the seniority policy that Bloomberg wanted - "LIFO" - so that tenured teachers would be forced out rather than newbies. Didnt anyone do some thinking/research about this term? LIFO and FIFO ("first in, first out") refer to inventory left on a shelf that companies want moved for tax advantages.

No matter how nice you are, people are not products, Mr. Mayor. And I say this on the show "Lawline" that was taped last week and will be shown July 17, 2011. Check your channel guides. I was on a panel with lawyers Michael Mazzariello and Brian Glass.

Betsy Combier

June 28, 2011

For New Schools Chief, a Policy Statement in Tones of Harmony
By SHARON OTTERMAN, NY TIMES

Dennis M. Walcott, New York City’s schools chancellor, hates prepared texts for speeches and wears a pedometer to count his daily steps. So it stands to reason that during a 14-stop marathon of graduations over the past week, he frequently abandoned his seat and improvised.

As hundreds of seniors from his alma mater, Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens, crossed a stage at Hofstra University to collect diplomas on Tuesday morning, Mr. Walcott stood up, found a roll of brown tape and knelt to secure a wire that had come loose in their path. At a ceremony for disabled students last Tuesday, he leapt off the stage to hand out awards. And at the cavernous New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Queens on Sunday, he nodded and swayed to the choir and the clashing of tambourines.

“A lot of you came up to me and said, ‘My prayers are with you,’ ” he said, warming up into a preacher’s cadence. “And you shook your head this way,” he said (side to side as if in despair), “instead of this way” (nodding enthusiastically).

“But you can shake your head this way,” he continued, responding to the building laughter, “because I love this job.”

Three months after his surprise ascension to head the nation’s largest school system amid its worst leadership crisis in recent memory, Mr. Walcott, 59, has worked hard to improve the administration’s relationships with key constituencies through frequent, sometimes unannounced, school visits and constant contact with the teachers’ union. But even after a tumultuous year in which parents, educators and advocates were shocked by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s appointment of a publishing executive with no education experience — and her subsequent implosion and ouster — Mr. Walcott still sees his role as building support for, and tweaking — not changing — policies.

His biggest achievement, he said in an interview Tuesday, was helping to avert teacher layoffs in a deal with the United Federation of Teachers. The deal came Friday after he personally went to union headquarters, the city school system’s equivalent of the Hatfields’ visiting the McCoys.

But principals are still smarting from the third year in a row of significant budget cuts. Heated opposition continues over the rapid expansion of charter schools, many of them fighting for space with traditional schools — the subject of a divisive lawsuit. And recent data from the state show fewer than a quarter of the city’s graduates are ready for college work.

Yet, after eight years of Joel I. Klein, who as schools chancellor had a confrontational style and favored rapid, radical change, and four months of Cathleen P. Black, the publisher whose learning curve and frequent gaffes made her untenable, many see Mr. Walcott’s style of smoothing feathers, nurturing relationships and promoting stability as its own kind of policy statement.

A month after a Quinnipiac poll found the public’s opinion of the mayor’s handling of education profoundly negative, the warm applause that Mr. Walcott, who attended city schools and sent his children to them, received at graduation ceremonies in all five boroughs signaled that a more approachable messenger might be nearly as important as the content of the message. The question, observers said, is whether he will be satisfied in the coming years with being a competent caretaker or use the growing good will to further a controversial agenda of school closings and high-stakes standardized testing.

“That’s a debate that is taking place all over the country,” said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “Can you make real change without offending people? We are about to see.”

In an interview en route to the Francis Lewis graduation on Tuesday, Mr. Walcott said the shift to actually running the school system and its 143,000 workers after nearly a decade of overseeing it as deputy mayor felt profound, even though his new office is a three-minute walk from the old one and he has the same boss. He laughingly calls himself “the wandering chancellor,” and noted that the morning after Osama bin Laden was reported killed, he “popped by” three downtown schools just to get a feel for what was going on.

“The difference is that I am directly on the line; the issue is directly with me now,” he said. “If people are complaining about something, I can get a firsthand view rather than what people are telling me. That way, people can show me, rather than sugarcoating it.”

Following on the heels of a bitter relationship between the teachers’ union and Mr. Klein, Mr. Walcott is on the phone with Michael Mulgrew, the president of the union, “a minimum of once a day,” Mr. Mulgrew said, adding that the chancellor “was instrumental” in cementing the budget deal.

“Dennis is actually concerned about the schools and how the schools run,” he said.

Howard Wolfson, the deputy mayor who spent significant time this winter trying to block Ms. Black from embarrassing their boss, said that Mr. Walcott still attended the daily morning meeting of top mayoral aides — the only person outside City Hall to do so — and that Mr. Bloomberg “is thrilled with his performance.”

Mr. Wolfson said that Mr. Walcott had been an important voice in the budget negotiations “in favor of doing everything we could do to save teachers,” and that his relationship with Mr. Mulgrew, strengthened several years ago when the two collaborated to start four high schools, “was helpful in encouraging the union to come to the table with concessions.”

“When I walk with him on the street,” Mr. Wolfson added, “he is stopped by an enormous number of people, more than anyone but the mayor, and all of it positive.”

But while Mr. Klein ran the schools under a powerful mayor at the height of his popularity, Mr. Walcott is working for a third-term lame duck with low poll numbers. There are continuing concerns about the role of test preparation in the curriculum, the failure of the enrollment system to match all kindergartners to a local school, overcrowding, swelling class sizes and ever-shrinking budgets forcing hard choices.

“In the last three years we have lost $750,000, and we have nothing left to give,” said Frank A. Cimino, the principal of Public School 193 in Midwood, Brooklyn. “And yet they keep saying do more with less. It’s a very demoralizing message.”

Given the climate, “they need to give him a certain amount of independence to move things in a way that allows him to develop some support among constituents,” Joseph P. Viteritti, a professor of public policy at Hunter College and a longtime expert on the schools, said of Mr. Walcott. “And I don’t mean a charm offensive. You really need to listen to people and take their concerns into account and work with them. And that’s his strength.”

Mr. Walcott has already made some small changes around the edges. He has delayed by several months an education vision statement each principal has to hand in. He postponed the start of school in September by one day to let schools prepare for the Common Core, a new curriculum being adopted by most states.

But there is still no deal with the union on how to conduct newly mandated teacher evaluations, holding up millions of dollars in federal grants for struggling schools, though Mr. Walcott is hopeful one will be reached. The union and the N.A.A.C.P. are suing to stop school closings and charter schools from moving into district school buildings. There is still a feeling among opponents, particularly parent groups, that though Mr. Walcott listens more, he might not be hearing.

Their fear is that his presence at school plays and parent meetings, along with his ability to speak without notes to fence-sitters and friends alike, is more style than substance and will not translate into a more responsive leader, particularly for those who have chafed at the Bloomberg administration’s top-down approach.

“He is doing the job that Black was meant to serve, which is putting a kinder, gentler face on the administration’s point of view,” said David C. Bloomfield, a professor of education at the College of Staten Island, who disagrees with much of the mayor’s program. “From the initial announcement until today, everything he has done has been choreographed, and unlike Cathie Black, it has gone according to plan.”

Jessica Bell and Jessica Campbell contributed reporting.

The "N" Rating

The latest in the re-assignment-rubber-room-fantasy is that Bloomberg and Walcott can give teachers who were forced into substitute positions after being charged with 3020-a, an "N" rating at the end of the year.

This is crazy.

A UFT leader said something to the effect that 'this is the latest c--p that Principals are throwing at ATRs'.

Dont let an "N" sit on your rating sheet!!! Get your chapter leader to help you get a valid rating. I'm collecting information on this, so anyone can email me if he/she received an "N" at: betsy.combier@gmail.com.

This is from Chaz's blog:

"Teacher Reassignment Center" after their cases were settled or completed and sent to a school this year, the geniuses at Tweed have incorrectly labeled them as still being "reassigned" and given a "N" rating (Not rated). It appears the incompetents in the Human Resources Department of Tweed failed, or didn't bother to update their teacher data files to eliminate the "reassignment" designation. How much is Tweed spending on Technology that is supposed to eliminate such simple and stupid errors? Yes, the DOE is spending $900 million dollars and they can't even get the most simple change right.

I know there may be some people who believe that the DOE did this purposefully and to let other principals know that the ATR was a "reassigned teacher". The proverbial "Scarlet Letter"when they apply for the vacant positions in the schools. However, I am not one of them. I believe that the uncaring and incompetent people who work at the DOE didn't bother to update their teacher files, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Technology and have left it up to the teacher and the union to try to correct the problem that should never had to be one in the first place.

If you are an ATR at a school and received a rating sheet of "N" (not rated}, you must meet with the Principal ( I suggest take your Chapter Leader with you). The Principal will need to contact Human Resources for them to remove the automatically generated "N" rating so that the Principal can give the proper rating of "S" (satisfactory). If the Principal fails to follow through, call your District Representative, Borough President, and email Michael Mulgrew at mmulgrew@uft.org to advise him of the lack of resolution on the "N" rating issue.

Things like this should never happen. However, we are talking about the DOE, where Administrative bloat, staff incompetence, and the wasting of hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to consultants who don't even have approved or legal contracts are a common practice. Remember, it is Tweed first, and everybody else last.

Posted by Chaz at 3:41 PM

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

MS 344, the Academy of Collaborative Education in Harlem, is a hellhole

The school from hell

By SUSAN EDELMAN

Last Updated: 2:31 PM, June 26, 2011
Kids hoot and yammer so loudly that their ruckus drowns out the teacher. A trash can is overturned in class and dumped. Grimy floors are littered with sunflower-seed shells, spit out by the hundreds.
Books and supplies fly out the windows. Mouse droppings are everywhere, even on the computers.
MS 344, the Academy of Collaborative Education in Harlem, is a hellhole where teachers should get combat pay -- they are cursed, assaulted and sometimes groped.

See video

"It was literally war," said a teacher who once found a sticky used condom in her purse. "I was pushed, shoved, scratched, thrown against the wall, spit on and pickpocketed. I just wanted peace."
The Department of Education has tried twice since last year to shut MS 344, the city's worst-performing middle school. MS 344 has made the state's list of "persistently dangerous" schools, and just two of 88 eighth-graders last year passed the state math or reading exams.

But the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP went to court to block the closure and 21 others, arguing the DOE did nothing to fix the ailing schools. A Manhattan judge heard arguments last week and is expected to rule soon.

Meanwhile, MS 344 has festered.

Letters from its staff to ex-Chancellor Joel Klein begged for Principal Rashaunda Shaw's removal. They complain she's a tyrant who does nothing to impose discipline and respect. They charge she's always late, barely leaves her office "except for the bathroom," and hired a sister-in-law and her boyfriend's ex-wife, among other cronies.

Shaw, 35, also hired former Staten Island Assistant Principal Odufuyi Jackson, a friend who was busted in 2009 on felony charges that he conspired to steal more than $100,000 in Social Security benefits.

He pleaded guilty last year to attempted fabrication of business records. The DOE demoted Jackson to teacher, but Shaw has him doubling as a dean.

Shaw referred questions to the DOE press office. A spokeswoman said only, "A number of allegations are being investigated."

"It needs to be closed, closed, closed, because it's an unsafe place for children," a teacher said of the school. "It's heartbreaking that the small percentage who want to learn don't get the education they deserve."

Insiders gave The Post a sampling of the crime and lack of punishment.

* A teacher was transferred after a student threatened to rape his wife.
* A math teacher who tried to stop a student from hitting him was accused by Shaw of using "corporal punishment."
* A scrawny boy pulled out his wallet while surrounded by tough kids in the hall. A teacher learned the kid was robbed by the same gang every day for a month. Shaw reprimanded the teacher for phoning the victim's mom.

A UFT spokesman said the union has met with MS 344 staff in the past year on their safety, health
and classroom woes, including "the lack of administrative support" and alleged harassment by Shaw. But the union could cite no results from its effort.


    

Monday, June 27, 2011

PRINCIPAL RICHARD BOST WILL NOT BE BACK IN SEPTEMBER

Richard Bost

I and the rest of the known world have reported on the sexual abuse, harassment,and terrorizing tactics of Fordham Leadership Academy Principal Richard Bost.

This morning he told staff that he was "tired" of the complaints of the teachers and he would not be back in September.

PARTY!!!! I'll bring the brownies.

Betsy Combier

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Mayor and UFT Agree To Avert Teacher Layoffs


The deal made to avert layoffs seems to me (as well as everyone else not currently working for Mulgrew or Bloomberg) to be another UFT "We're not going to fight Mike Bloomberg" concession that did not have to be made. Another give back was the UFT allowing Geoffrey Canada a green light to co-locate his charter school industry in public schools - I think  this undermines the UFT-NAACP lawsuit which opposes this, now for organizations OTHER that Canada's. This makes no sense. But politics often makes no sense unless you know the backstory.

Betsy Combier

June 24, 2011
Deal Will Avert Plan to Lay Off City Teachers
By FERNANDA SANTOS, NY TIMES

The threatened layoffs of 4,100 teachers in New York’s public schools were averted under a deal that the Bloomberg administration, the City Council and the teachers’ union reached on Friday night.

Details were still being worked out, but the agreement calls for concessions from the United Federation of Teachers and money from the Council.

Under the deal, the union would agree to suspend teacher sabbaticals for a year and permit teachers without a permanent assignment to be used more regularly as classroom substitutes. In addition, the Bloomberg administration would concede that 2,600 teachers would be lost to attrition, 600 more than estimated, saving additional jobs. On one hand, the resolution spares Mr. Bloomberg from becoming the first mayor in nearly 40 years to impose mass teacher layoffs. On the other hand, though, it threatens to undermine his credibility, given that he has declared for two consecutive years that layoffs were inevitable, only to see them averted in a budget deal.

The budget plan also allows the Council to keep open 20 fire companies that the mayor had ordered closed, and it may be able to restore at least some of the cuts he planned for day care services and librarians.

Still, it appeared that up to 1,000 city workers — many of them in health care jobs — would be laid off.

In a news conference at the Education Department headquarters in Lower Manhattan on Friday night, Mr. Bloomberg said he was disappointed he could not avoid all layoffs. Still, he said, “this is a budget that will keep our city strong, but it is also a budget that faces fiscal reality.”

Asked whether he thought his credibility had been hurt, the mayor defended his approach, saying the city faced extremely bleak and unpredictable economic circumstances.

The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, standing by the mayor’s side, praised the deal. “New Yorkers can rest easy tonight knowing that our children will still have great teachers,” she said.

Mr. Bloomberg had taken an aggressive posture during the negotiations, emboldened over the past days by the victories scored in Albany and Trenton against public-sector unions and becoming more emphatic about his demands. But in the end, he and the teachers’ union, one of his most vociferous opponents, had to reach an agreement, helping to balance a $66 billion budget that had a $4.6 billion gap.

A different rescue proposal fell apart on Thursday, after the city rejected an offer from the Municipal Labor Committee, a group representing roughly 100 municipal unions, for $262 million to be taken from a health care reserve fund they jointly manage. By then, Ms. Quinn and the teachers’ union president, Michael Mulgrew, had been secretly meeting for days.

Once the other deal collapsed, talks between Ms. Quinn and Mr. Mulgrew moved into overdrive.

On Friday morning, officials of the city’s Education Department made their way to the union’s headquarters to determine what would and would not be on the table. By late afternoon, the two sides had come to an agreement.

Ms. Quinn, meanwhile, worked to sell the plan to Mr. Bloomberg, emerging as the crucial figure in the process.

The budget must be approved by the full Council by Thursday.

Javier C. Hernandez contributed reporting.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Deal To Avert Layoffs
LINK

I wanted to wait a few hours before writing my take on this because as soon as I saw the headline on the Times story last night around 10:45 PM ("Teachers Union Agrees To Concessions To Avoid Layoffs"), I just about wanted to head down to 52 Broadway and break windows.

I had visions of the UFT handing Bloomberg hundreds of millions of dollars from the health care fund, agreeing to salary step freezes and other payroll concessions or opening up the Pandora's Box of health care costs and agreeing to some kind of containment clause.

Those were the kinds of things the mayor wanted in this fight once it became clear that Sheldon Silver and the Assembly were not going to change LIFO for him and allow him to mass lay off the ATR's.

But as I dug into the story a little, I started to see that the "concessions" the mayor claims he got from the deal aren't exactly the kind of sweeping, money-saving concessions he claimed he needed in order to not lay teachers off.

According to Gotham Schools, the two concessions that the UFT granted Bloomberg are canceling sabbaticals for 2012-2013 (supposedly will save $17 million) and allowing ATR's to be used as day-to-day substitutes in their districts (supposedly will save $43 million.)

The total savings from the UFT concessions is $60 million.

The mayor was saying he needed somewhere between $240 million and $377 million in savings in order to avoid layoffs.

Instead he got (at least according to Gotham Schools), $60 million.

Now the city council supposedly agreed to pony up more money for schools too, though I have not seen a number figure on that, so perhaps the "savings" Bloomberg got out of last night's deal is closer to $100 million, but nonetheless it is nowhere near what he claimed he needed in order to avert layoffs.

On the mayor's side, he admits that he lowballed the number of teachers that will be lost to attrition, that schools WILL still take huge cuts to their budgets (while central office at Tweed and the technology consultants will NOT) and will STILL see higher class sizes and fewer teachers next year.

So there is no doubt that the UFT DID concede on issues here that they should have NEVER conceded on.

To review, there is a budget surplus.

Bloomberg was lying about the need to lay teachers off.

He was making a political gambit to get LIFO changed so he could lay off ATR's this year and then lay off senior teachers every year thereafter, dramatically remaking the teaching corps. of NYC into at-will employees.

But he lost that gambit when the Assembly didn't jump when he said "Cash!"

So he was left with a difficult choice - either back down and lose face (and once again be revealed as a lying sack of shit when it comes to layoffs) or continue with the farce and say he needed to do layoffs anyway, despite the surplus.

The UFT had the moral and the political high ground on this.

Public opinion polls show that people despise the mayor, despise his policies, and REALLY despise his education policies.

People KNOW that Bloomberg has been wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on crooked technology projects.

Consultants hired by Bloomberg are being arrested left and right for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the city.

And Bloomberg has budgeted $900 million in additional technology spending for the DOE next year even as he claimed he needed to save $377 million by laying teachers off.

So as I say, the UFT had almost all the cards in this game.

In my opinion, they should have conceded nothing.

They should have gone on the air in mass with CityTime scandal commercials, showing the parade of criminal consultants arrested for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in city funds, played tapes of Bloomberg on his radio show claiming victory on CityTime and saying what a swell project it is and the stolen money just, you know, slipped through the cracks, and then noted that the mayor plans to hand out another $900 million in consultant funds and technology upgrades next year even as he refuses to conduct oversight over these projects, refuses to take responsibility for all the stolen cash so far and insists that he MUST lay teachers off to save the city money.

Seriously, on the face of it, it was absurd for Bloomberg to claim he needed to lay off teachers to save $377 million in the same week that the U.S. attorney announced $600 million had been stolen by crooked consultants in Bloomberg's CityTime project.

So the UFT should not have conceded a thing when they had these kinds of cards.

In addition, the ATR concession is worrisome to me - it is just another sign that ATR's will eventually be sold out by Mulgrew and Company.

It is just a matter of time.

Next year when Bloomberg claims poverty again and starts handing out cash in Albany to get LIFO changed, you can bet that one of the concessions he will want in order to avoid layoffs will be on the ATR's.

And the UFT looks like they are ready to sell them out.

But all things considered, the concessions the UFT made could have been worse.

They could have conceded a couple of hundred million from the health care fund, money Bloomberg would have used to pay outside consultants for his crooked technology contracts.

They could have conceded health care or pension containment costs.

They could have conceded furlough days (or furlough weeks) or agreed to a salary step/longevity freeze.

They didn't do any of that (though on the health care fund front, Mulgrew certainly tried!)

I dunno if it's just that I have gotten cynical about the UFT in my middle age, but when I thought about last night's deal a little, my take was "Sure, the UFT snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but it's not as bad a defeat as I thought it was going to be."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the union.

But given the serious defeats suffered by labor unions in Jersey and other states and given the concessions agreed to by CSEA in contract negotiations with New York's Tea Party Governor Cuomo, I guess it's not as bad as it could have been.

I know that's the official line from the Unity and New Actions parties at the UFT.

In a way they're right.

But it also doesn't bode well for the future that the official line of the UFT is "Sure, we had to give stuff up even though Bloomberg had a surplus and didn't need to do layoffs, but hey, it could have been worse!"

I suspect next year when we do this shit all over again (and make no mistake, unless Bloomberg is arrested, resigns in disgrace or dies suddenly of an ego attack, we will do this all over again next year), it will be worse.

And if you're an ATR next year, they will try and make your life a living hell, worse than they have already made it, in order to get you to quit.

That's the goal - get senior teachers and ATR's off the payroll.

The concessions the UFT agreed to last night will help the mayor do just that on the ATR front.

And there will still be fewer teachers next year, class sizes will still be higher than they were this year and Bloomberg still gets to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on crooked consultants.

Not the worst deal the UFT leadership could have made, but certainly not the good one they're claiming it to be either.

Posted by reality-based educator at 6:43 AM

9 comments:


Pogue said...

To me, they let him off the hook once again. As politicians, and parents, and students, and teachers are banding together more and more, the UFT provided him an out.

I would've preferred he sweat this summer, and all its political heat, out.

We have given so much over the years. I look forward to the day when the UFT says Stop, and then starts getting some things back.

That day was not yesterday.

June 25, 2011 7:55 AM

Anonymous said...

Well said folks!!

June 25, 2011 8:02 AM

ed notes online said...

Perfect analysis. I just shot from the hip last night the minute I heard of the deal. The UFT did have the high ground and let it slip away instead of hammering Bloomberg. But they are not our advocates but mediators.

June 25, 2011 8:31 AM

Anonymous said...

Hey...they gotta protect that double-tenure cushiness at 52 Broadway, no ?

UFT sucks and needs to be overthrown.

June 25, 2011 8:41 AM

Anonymous said...

Do you think sabtaiclas will EVER be reinstated...?

June 25, 2011 8:41 AM

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your opinion however there are a few wrinkles that should be looked into. Currently per diem substitutes are for the most part are denied unemployment insurance for the summer months. In years prior to 2007 most claims for unemployment if denied were won at appeal. Then Joel Klein began the Sub-Central Registry and had the city claim that per diems were ASSURED of finding day to day work via the registry. The administrative law judges bought into this position and since then have interpreted the part of labor law that denied per diem teachers unemployment benefits. Now with the influx of more than 15oo absent teacher reserves to cover day to day substitute assignments it is the responsibility of the uft to inform the per diem members (dues paying members)of their right and urgency to file for July and August. Also the DOE has reorganized districts and schools within the geographic districts now are miles and boroughs apart. If an ATR lives in Brooklyn and is assigned to a coverage in Staten Island when will they be informed? By public transportaion the trip is a minimun of 2 hours. Will the DOE honor pre-2001 district lines or the current reorganized district area?Food for thought.

June 25, 2011 8:42 AM

Anonymous said...

Frankly, the UFT disgusts me. Whatever happened to ORGANIZED labor? It seem to me that the many unions across the country have to work together and support one another's causes. The UFT trying to claim that it did what it took to avoid massive layoffs is a sad, pathetic joke.

June 25, 2011 9:55 AM

Anonymous said...

Read Mulgrew's "victory" statements last night, praising that fat blowhard Quinn, and "Bloomberg-with-a-tan Walcott"...Mulgrew is just another political hack making his way in city politics for his own cushy self interests...what a hack.

There NEVER were going to be layoffs this year, and ANYWAY if there were layoffs, they would have been newbie Teach For Americas, and the like. So instead he dumps on the mostly veteran ATRs...? The hand writing is on the wall people...it's time to overthrow the UFT...they are double agents in this war.

June 25, 2011 10:24 AM

Anonymous said...

i think the deal makes it transparent to the broad public that bloomberg was lying about the need for layoffs.

the sabbatical concession is laughable as a substantial cost reduction--i can't imagine that at any given time there are more than 100 teachers out of 75,000 on sabbatical; please correct me if anyone knows better. while on sabbatical, teachers take a 30 % pay cut and i'm sure are not replaced by new hirings.

the atr deal seems to be more problematic, and as noted previously here, needs to closely monitored as to where it's leading.

here's what needs further watching for me : the fact that bloomberg would withdraw his claws so relatively easily, and look so bad in doing so, while future mayoral candidate quinn , who has promised to continue the crusade against seniority and tenure, emerges as a heroine of sorts. there's more here than meets the eye. to our uft leadership : what's the deal ?

June 25, 2011 11:52 AM

Friday, June 24, 2011

Warm and Fuzzy Story of The Week: Bronx UFT Office Gives Awards For Collaborating With School Administrators

Bronx UFT leader Jose Vargas

I felt all warm and fuzzy when I read about the Collaboration Awards celebration given by the Bronx UFT office. Now I dont have to try to answer all the questions I get every day from teachers in Bronx schools asking me why Jose Vargas, Jeff Huart and the rest of the team in the Bronx wont help them when a "principal from hell" goes on a rampage.

Take Principal Richard Bost of Fordham Leadership Academy, for instance, who was found guilty by SCI of sexually abusing his payroll secretary. I wrote an article about him in June 2010. Blogger jd2718 wrote a story about him and about the theft of the $7000 which was to go to the robotics club but was deposited in the personal bank account of Assistant Principal Francine Palmer-Mullings. Meredith Kolodner, Staff writer at the NY Daily News, wrote about him. Blogger friend Chaz wrote about Bost, highlighting the latest NY Teacher (May 26, 2011) article "Bully!" published while one of his teacher victims, Michael Mullen, attended his 3020-a arbitration hearing on charges brought by Bost. Mullen's girlfriend was the secretary that was sexually abused by Bost, so of course he - Mullen - had to go.
Principal Richard Bost has been the subject of several sexual harassment charges and is alleged to have a record of retaliating against critics. Also, DOE officials have pointed to “serious failures in leadership” as a root cause of the Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology’s placement on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving schools.

I was asked to do the suspension hearing of a boy in the same building but at another school and his sister told me that when she came to the school with her mom for the parent-teacher conference Bost followed her
everywhere. She thought he was "creepy".

So, I guess the reason that Guidance Counselor Diane Gallagher, Math Teacher Mike Mullen, and all the other teachers are no longer working in FLA's classrooms is that the UFT awards Collaboration, not dissention.

Wait. Just ocurred to me that Gallagher, Mullen and the teachers terrorized by Bost are UFT members, deserving of help by their reps at the Bronx UFT office....what say you, Jose?

Betsy Combier

Second annual UFT Bronx borough office Collaboration Awards

District 8 Representative Carmen Quinones (left) with PS 69 Principal Sheila Durant and Chapter Leader Helen Efstathiou (right).
Recognizing teamwork
by Micah Landau, published June 23, 2011
LINK

As UFT members well know, teamwork between teachers and administrators is key to a school’s success. When principals refuse to work with teachers, schools — and students — suffer. That’s why the union’s Bronx borough office held its second annual Collaboration Awards on June 9 to recognize Bronx chapter leaders and principals who have forged successful partnerships to support their students.


“If there is not collaboration in a school between the principal, chapter leader, teachers and parents, then we would be working in isolation,” said Jose Vargas, the union’s Bronx borough representative and host for the evening. “And if there is not a good leader steering the ship, that ship is not going anywhere.”

Karen Alford, the union’s vice president for elementary schools, echoed Vargas’ comments.

“We know that when adults work well together, it’s good for children,” she said. “It’s that simple.”

Veteran physical education teacher Manny Lopez, from the South Bronx’s IS 190, was among the many chapter leaders honored at the event.
UFT Bronx Special Representative Jeff Huart with PS 33 Chapter Leader Paulette Patterson (left) and Principal Lynette Santos.

“We collaborate so we can give something more to the students,” Lopez said of his partnership with Principal Dianajade Santiago, herself a former special education teacher who continues to substitute for absent faculty members.

Among their achievements, the pair, which meets every morning before classes begin and remains in communication throughout the day, has worked to introduce French into the school’s curriculum and to implement a school-based option to use the 37.5 minutes of extended time for lesson planning and professional development.

“You rarely hear of principals who protect teachers’ rights. This is one,” Lopez praised Santiago.

Another chapter leader-principal pair, Vicky Figueroa-Vidal and Kenneth Thomas, said they are working together to increase parent involvement at CS 134 in the Morrisania section of the Bronx.

“We want to make the community part of our school,” said Figueroa-Vidal, a 5th-grade teacher. “We want parent involvement, but it’s hard.”

She had only praise for Thomas, a former teacher and chapter leader at CS 61.

“He’s always willing to listen to the concerns of the teachers,” Figueroa-Vidal said. “When it’s possible, we find a solution that works for everyone.”

And the winners are ...

Chapter leaders and principals from the following Bronx schools received awards:

PS 18, PS 30, PS 65, MS 223, MS 203, PS 335, PS 69, PS 55, MS 327, PS 90, CES 126, PS/MS 218, PS 7, PS 33, PS 45, PS 118, PS 159, PS 306, PS 360, IS 390, PS 396, The Globe School for Environmental Studies, PS 169, MS 462, PS 153, PS 112, New Day Academy, CS 92, CS 134, IS 190, CS 196.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

15 NYC Employees Are Busted For Unemployment Fraud

Who is watching the city bank?

15 NYC Employees Busted For Unemployment Fraud
Posted on Tuesday, 21 of June , 2011 at 9:20 pm
northcountrygazette.org/2011/06/21
NEW YORK—Fifteen current and former employees of the City of New York, most of whom were City “seasonal” employees, who fraudulently obtained a total of approximately $79,840 in unemployment insurance payments, have been arrested.

The Department of Investigation’s investigation found these defendants falsely claimed to the New York State Department of Labor they were unemployed, when in actuality they were working for a City agency and receiving City wages.

The individuals are charged with stealing amounts that range from $3,107 to $14,432. The City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (“DCAS”) reimburses DOL for unemployment insurance benefits paid to City employees and did so in these cases.

Since 1998, and including these arrests, DOI has arrested 121 City employees on charges of illegally collecting more than $430,000 in unemployment insurance benefits. The majority of those arrests have been of “seasonal” employees who work for City agencies for part of the year. They are entitled to collect unemployment insurance benefits when not working during the off-season but may not lawfully claim and collect unemployment benefits while actively employed and collecting City wages.

The arrests include individuals who worked for the City Department of Parks and Recreation (“DPR”), Human Resources Administration (“HRA”), Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (“DOITT”), New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), Board of Election (“BOE”), Department of Health and Mental

Hygiene (“DOHMH”), Department of Sanitation (“DSNY”), and the Department of Transportation (“DOT”).

Nine of the individuals arrested currently work for the City and their cases will be referred to the appropriate agency for disciplinary action.

Each of the 15 individuals arrested is charged with third degree grand larceny, a class D felony. Upon conviction, a class D felony is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Following are brief descriptions of the charges. In each case, the defendants falsely claimed to DOL they were unemployed, DOL paid unemployment benefits, and DCAS reimbursed DOL for each amount disbursed:

* • ORQUIDIA WADE, 30, of Brooklyn, is charged with falsely certifying she was unemployed between January and November 2009, when in fact she was working as a DOITT call center representative during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $14,432 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint.

* • EARLEY WATFORD, 45, of Brooklyn, is charged with falsely certifying he was unemployed between May 2009 and July 2010 when in fact he was working as a DPR seasonal aide during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations Watford allegedly illegally collected approximately $8,506 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint. WATFORD has been working as a City seasonal aide since July 2007, currently works at DPR, and receives $14.98 an hour.

* • WILLIAM LENNON, 51, of Manhattan, is charged with falsely certifying he was unemployed between August 2009 and February 2010 when in fact he was working as a DOHMH Public Health Advisor during that period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $6,974 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint. LENNON began working for DOHMH as a Public Health Advisor in November 1993 and currently receives hourly wages of $20.68 in that position.

* • JOHN BLACK, 54, of Manhattan, is charged with certifying he was unemployed between November 2009 and May 2010 when in fact he was working as an HRA Job Training Participant and, then, as a DPR seasonal aide, during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $6,242 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint.

* • CALVIN WARD, 39, of Queens, is charged with falsely certifying he was unemployed between March and December 2010 when in fact he was working as a DOT Assistant City Highway Representative during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $6,075 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint. WARD began working DOT in March 2008 and is an Assistant City Highway Representative receiving an hourly wage of $22.03.

* • TONIA WALKER, 32, of Brooklyn, is charged with certifying she was unemployed between May and September 2010 when in fact she was working as an HRA eligibility specialist during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $5,950 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint. WALKER began working at HRA in May 2010, currently is an eligibility specialist, and receives an annual salary of approximately $36,602.

* • BEVERLY ATKINS, 45, of Brooklyn, is charged with falsely certifying she was unemployed between November 2009 and February 2010 when in fact she was working as a DOITT call center representative during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $4,158 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint. ATKINS began working at DOITT in November 2009, is currently a call center representative, and receives an annual salary of approximately $32,761.

* • MARGARET SCALISCE, 62, of Staten Island, is charged with falsely certifying she was unemployed between May and September 2009 when in fact she was working as a DPR seasonal aide during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $4,108 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint. SCALISCE has been working as a City seasonal aide since June 2000, currently works at DPR, and receives $14.98 an hour.

* • ESTHER CAMACHO, 55, of Manhattan, is charged with falsely certifying she was unemployed between September 2009 and February 2010, when in fact she was working as a NYPD school crossing guard during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $3,798 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint. CAMACHO began working as a school crossing guard in April 2000 and currently receives hourly wages of $12.90 in that position.

* • JOHN MCCLAIN, 53, of Brooklyn, is charged with falsely certifying he was unemployed between January and June 2010 when in fact he was working as a DSNY Job Training Participant during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $3,485 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint.

* • ARTHUR WANNER III, 35, of Queens, is charged with falsely certifying he was unemployed between October 2009 and January 2010 when in fact he was working as a DPR seasonal aide during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $3,366 in
unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint.

WANNER has been working as a City seasonal aide since August 2004, currently works at DPR, and receives $15.78 an hour.

* • DELORES GRAHAM, 55, of the Bronx, is charged with falsely certifying to DOL she was unemployed between May and September 2009 when in fact she was employed as a DPR Job Training Participant during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $3,266 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint.

* • ANTHONY HALL, 25, of the Bronx, is charged with falsely certifying he was unemployed between May and July 2010 when in fact he was working as a BOE clerk during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $3,192 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint.

* • JOYCE BENSON, 46, of the Bronx, is charged with falsely certifying she was unemployed between May and October 2009 when she was in fact working as a DPR Job Training Participant during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $3,179 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint.

* • SANDRA DIAZ, 39, of the Bronx, is charged with falsely certifying she was unemployed between September 2008 and August 2010 when in fact she was working as a DPR seasonal aide during that time period. As a result of those misrepresentations the defendant illegally collected approximately $3,107 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the criminal complaint. DIAZ has been working as a City seasonal aide since July 2007, currently works at DPR, and receives $14.98 an hour. 6-21-11

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Education Next 2005 Asked Sol Stern and Joe Williams To weigh in On Mayoral Control in NYC

Sol Stern
Six years later, my vote goes to Sol Stern. I have written before about Joe, who in my opinion should have helped all the teachers, children and parents who discussed with him their horror stories when he was a reporter for the Daily News by publishing the stories. He did not and then came out with his book. Assistance to those in need must be timely.

my 2 cents

Betsy Combier

Education Next published an article in 2005 on how we should look carefully at exactly what we want in NYC public schools, cause we might get it (i.e. Mayoral control):

In one of the more extreme examples of ancient wisdom proved true, many education reformers are wondering if they should have been more careful about what they wished for in New York City. Please let the mayor run the schools: that was the mantra.

Mired for decades in Byzantine bureaucracy that wasted untold millions of dollars and incalculable numbers of student academic lives, the New York City school system was wrestled to the ground by a billionaire mayor, and almost everyone applauded.

Four years later, where are we? Not far, says Sol Stern, an early supporter of the new regime. Joe Williams, however, is more inclined to give the Bloomberg bunch a pass, at least for now.

A Negative Assessment by Sol Stern

Minority kids soar in reading,” screamed the banner headline on the New York Post’s front page earlier this year. Along with its rival tabloid, the Daily News, the Post supported Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education reforms and now has credited those reforms for a “record setting” 10 percent improvement in the city’s scores on state-administered 4th-grade reading tests.

Actually, it’s anyone’s guess why the 4th-grade scores rose so sharply this year at the same time that the 8th-grade reading and social studies scores went from bad to worse (with only 32.8 percent of city 8th graders meeting state standards in reading and 20 percent in social studies). It could well be due to broader educational forces or to changes in testing procedures. Either could explain why 4th-grade scores were up throughout the state, and student gains in Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers were even more impressive than in Gotham (see Hanushek, “Pseudo-Science”).

In any case, no reputable researcher would rely on a one-year bump in some test scores to judge the efficacy of a new program. In the absence of independent confirmation by testing experts, one should remain highly skeptical of the claims of Mayor Bloomberg and his supporters that his instructional initiatives are working.

Unfortunately, this is also an election year, which means that political spin is likely to drown out reasoned debate about what policies are most likely to work in inner-city classrooms. The premise of mayoral control was that the public would finally be able to hold someone accountable for the schools. But the billionaire mayor has almost unlimited resources to win an electoral spin war, regardless of the reality in the classroom. In addition to dipping into his private fortune for unlimited campaign ads touting his test score gains, he has total control of a $15 billion education empire that doles out jobs and no-bid contracts to potential critics and spends millions on a well-oiled public relations machine, but spends nothing on independent research or evaluation of classroom programs. This has consequences for the national education debate as well. If Bloomberg is reelected, his model of reform through dictatorial mayoral control will surely be urged on other troubled urban school districts.

Before that model is exported anywhere else, however, serious thought ought to be given to what the mayor promised and what he has actually delivered.

City Hall Rules

It once seemed to be a good thing for education reform that Mike Bloomberg was so rich. Having financed his first election campaign completely out of his deep pockets, Bloomberg was unencumbered by debts owed to the system’s entrenched interest groups, including the powerful union representing 80,000 teachers. In this favorable political climate, the new mayor was quickly able to persuade the state legislature to vest him with total control of the schools. Even the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) supported the reform legislation after Mayor Bloomberg gave the teachers a 16 percent across-the-board wage hike (plus an extra 5 percent for beginning teachers).

Crammed with thousands of redundant bureaucrats and patronage appointees, the Board of Education’s labyrinthine headquarters building at 110 Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn was the most notorious symbol of the old regime. The mayor seized control of the building, cleaned out the time-servers and the patronage nests, and then sold off the property to the highest bidder. A few hundred top administrators who survived the purge were relocated to the newly renovated Tweed Courthouse building a few hundred feet from City Hall, where the mayor could keep a close eye on them.

The mayor seemed equally bold in his selection of Joel Klein, former chief of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, as schools’ chancellor. The highlight of Klein’s career to that point was his prosecution of the Microsoft Corporation for antitrust violations. Bringing in a “trust buster” to help reinvent a monopoly public school system was hailed by many education reformers (myself included) as a stroke of genius and more proof of Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to radical change.

Bloomberg and Klein then created what appeared to be a streamlined structure for efficiently managing the city’s 1,300 schools. Instead of overlapping administrative layers operating through 32 separate school districts, there would now be one clear chain of command extending vertically from the mayor’s office to the chancellor, then down through ten regional superintendents, and finally to the principal of every school in the system.

So much for the Management 101 part. What happens in the classroom of the new order?

The mayor presented his master plan, called Children First, in an inspired Martin Luther King Day speech in January 2003. Standing in front of a portrait of Reverend King at the Schomburg cultural center in Harlem, he described the effort to improve the schools as a “civil rights” battle. The administration’s new approach, Bloomberg said, was to allow the chancellor’s office to “dictate the curriculum and pedagogical methods,” including a reading program with “a daily focus on phonics.” The mayor also promised, “Our teachers will all employ strategies proven to work.” A few days later Chancellor Klein announced that the mainstay of the new citywide literacy curriculum would be a program called Month-by-Month Phonics.

The references to phonics and “strategies proven to work” seemed like a calculated hint that the businessman mayor would favor a return to “basics.” This was music to the ears of education traditionalists bemoaning the use of unproven progressive methodologies in inner-city classrooms. Still, Bloomberg also offered plenty of red meat to those reformers pushing for school choice, competition, and incentives in education. Vouchers remain off the table in New York, but Chancellor Klein soon came out for the next best thing: charter schools. He also pressed for reform of the onerous work rules in the teachers’ contract, including eliminating the seniority provisions, making it easier to fire incompetents, and establishing a system of merit pay.

For pushing these market-style initiatives, Klein and Bloomberg have been celebrated in the media and the business community as courageous visionaries, even revolutionaries. Two of the nation’s most influential education philanthropies, the Gates Foundation and the Eli Broad Foundation, are deeply invested in Bloomberg’s structural reforms and see them as national models of reform. The same Bill Gates whose company was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein has given Chancellor Klein at least $70 million for creating hundreds of new small high schools and charter schools. And California billionaire Eli Broad, who helped finance the Children First planning phase, predicted that Bloomberg and Klein would soon succeed in turning around the schools.

Calamity of the Lams

The only reform that ever matters in education is doing whatever it takes to lift student academic achievement and reduce the scandalous racial gap in learning. Unfortunately, somewhere along the road to the brave new world of charter schools and market incentives, Bloomberg and Klein either forgot, or never comprehended in the first place, that all good education, and, even more so, education for disadvantaged children, starts with systematic and explicit instruction in the basic skills of literacy, numeracy, and other foundational academic subjects. By that standard, there is nothing at all revolutionary about the progressive pedagogy that now rules New York’s schools. Even worse, the administration’s authoritarian attempts to impose a single instructional approach throughout the system have so demoralized and frightened rank-and-file teachers that it is now virtually impossible for the city to get much-needed reforms of work rules in the next teachers’ contract.

The selection of Month-by-Month Phonics in January 2003 provided the first clue that there was an instructional void at the heart of the Bloomberg/Klein reforms. Not only has this program never met the “proven to work” standard set by the mayor; it isn’t even a systematic phonics program, despite its name. Even the authors of the program concede the point. Phonics, they argue, is only “one-quarter of a well-balanced literary diet.”

The authors’ invocation of “balance” was a giveaway. Real phonics instruction teaches children about the sounds of spoken language and how letters represent those sounds. “Balanced literacy” is the brand name for an instructional approach that adds a dollop of phonics to an otherwise whole-language reading program in which children are encouraged to “construct” or decipher meaning from so-called authentic texts. It’s a clever marketing ploy that allows school districts to appear to be responding to growing pressure from lawmakers and parents for explicit phonics instruction while doing the opposite.

Mayor Bloomberg likely was never told that Month-by-Month Phonics was part of a stealth whole-language program. The same excuse can’t be made for Chancellor Klein, who chose to surround himself with a palace guard of progressive educators who all hate phonics. The key managerial decision in this regard was Klein’s selection in August 2002 of Diana Lam as deputy chancellor for teaching and learning at $250,000 per year, the same salary as his own, surely one of the most embarrassing hiring decisions in the history of New York City government. Lam flamed out in less than 18 months after she was caught in a nepotism scandal, but the education damage she caused during her brief tenure was incalculable.

As schools’ chief in Providence, Rhode Island, Lam assiduously promoted balanced literacy and “fuzzy” math programs, but the results were nothing to write home about. Fifty-four of the 55 schools in the district were listed by the state as “low performing” when she got there. After she left, three years later, only one of those schools had moved up a notch. Nevertheless, Klein gave her control over curriculum and pedagogical decisions during the planning stages of Children First. It was Lam who convinced Klein that balanced literacy, with its phony phonics component, should be used in virtually all schools.

With Klein’s approval, Lam also managed to wipe out one of the few instructional programs that actually met Mayor Bloomberg’s “proven to work” standard. It’s an explicit phonics program called Success for All that was put into 50 of the city’s lowest-performing schools in the late 1990s. Reading scores went up in those schools for four consecutive years. Yet despite the program’s good track record and the $27 million that the city had invested in it, Lam dumped it without even so much as a phone call to the program’s developer, Robert Slavin. “She decided on the first day not to listen to other voices,” Slavin said.

Klein and Lam launched their jihad against phonics at a rather inopportune moment. The National Reading Panel commissioned by Congress had concluded, based on an analysis of 52 randomized scientific studies, that effective reading programs, especially for kids living in poverty, require “systematic and explicit” instruction in phonics. Because of this converging scientific consensus, the No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to demonstrate that they are using reading programs that have been tested for their efficacy through scientific studies in order to qualify for federal reading funds.

Mayor Bloomberg was warned repeatedly by federal and state education officials that Month-by-Month Phonics wouldn’t qualify for the $34 million annually in reading funds available to the city. In a letter to Bloomberg, Klein, and Lam, seven noted reading specialists, including three who had served on the National Reading Panel, said that Month-by-Month Phonics is “woefully inadequate,” “lacks a research base,” and “puts beginning readers at risk of failure in learning to read.” The federal government would be guilty of malpractice if it funded a reading program that its own experts said “puts beginning readers at risk of failure.” That alone should have led Bloomberg and Klein to reverse course immediately in the interests of the children and to fire Diana Lam.

Instead, the Bloomberg administration treated the scientists’ letter as a political and public relations problem. Enter Professor Lucy Calkins of Teachers College, the doyenne of balanced literacy in New York, with $6 million in city contracts to train teachers for the program. Although the experts’ letter was private, Calkins rounded up a posse of 100 ed-school professors, most of whom had nothing to do with reading instruction, to write a counter-letter made public by the administration. It was hardly hot news that education school professors hate phonics. Nevertheless, the administration tried to persuade the public that the letter with 100 signatures outweighed the one from a mere seven reading scientists, as if an educators’ plebiscite could resolve the evidentiary questions about the effectiveness of the reading program.

After stonewalling for almost a year, Chancellor Klein found a way out of the dilemma. He agreed to install a phonics program called Harcourt Trophies in only 49 schools in order to qualify for the federal funds. Klein’s gamesmanship was unnecessary and tragic. It should have been a no-brainer for the city to pick up more than $200 million in federal funds over six years for something it should have been doing all along. So why would an education administration that claims to care only about the interests of kids decide to use a reading program, Month-by-Month Phonics, that does not meet the standard for effectiveness established by a broad consensus of scientists?

The Romance of Progressivism

The answer is that the progressive educators empowered by Chancellor Klein shudder at the thought that science confers validity on the practice of teaching young children to read through heavily scripted lessons in letter/sound correspondence. Their pedagogical starting point is the great Romantic idea, starting with Rousseau, that children learn naturally (including learning to read). Thus the role of the teacher is to facilitate this natural process through hands-on, “constructivist” activity in “child-centered” classrooms. This can be seen vividly in a CD video distributed by the chancellor’s office to all teachers in 2003 and that was still posted on the Department of Education’s (DOE) web site as of May 2005.

As the video opens, Klein announces, “This CD will walk you through the research upon which we based our decisions regarding our program choices.” The implication is that the city’s search for the “best practices” was intellectually serious. Not so. Otherwise, this instructional guide would not be dominated by the pedagogical principles of a radical education guru from Australia named Brian Cambourne, who believes that teachers ought to encourage their students to achieve a “literacy for social equity and social justice.”

Professor Cambourne says he came to his theories when he discovered that many of his poorly performing students were actually quite bright. To his surprise, almost all demonstrated competence at challenging tasks in the real adult world, including poker. This led to the brainstorm that children learn better in natural settings with a minimum amount of adult help. So important does Joel Klein’s education department deem Cambourne’s theories to be that it instructs all city teachers to go through a checklist to make sure their classroom practices meet the down-under education professor’s “Conditions for Learning.” Which of four scenarios most accurately describes how your classroom is set up? teachers are asked. If the teacher can claim “a variety of center-based activities, for purposeful learning using different strategies, and for students to flow as needed,” she can pat herself on the back. But if her classroom is set up “for lecture with rows facing forward,” she must immediately change her practice.

You might ask whether there’s any evidence for such pedagogy. It’s “weak to nonexistent,” according to Reid Lyon, former head of all reading research at the National Institutes of Health. “The philosophical and romantic notion that children learn to read naturally and through incidental exposure to print and literature has no scientific merit whatsoever.”

That hasn’t deterred Chancellor Klein in the least. Constructivist pedagogical guidelines are forced on classroom teachers in weekly “professional development” sessions that are closer to a military boot camp than any serious inquiry into the best classroom practices. No dissent is allowed. Teachers are given lists of “nonnegotiables,” a strange and embarrassing concept for any education enterprise. Thus students must not be sitting in rows. Teachers are forbidden to stand at the head of the class and do “chalk and talk” at the blackboard. There must be a “workshop” (students working in groups) in every single reading period. Teachers are also provided with classroom maps indicating the exact location of the teacher’s desk, the students’ writing stations, and exactly how much of the wall space should be set aside for posting student work. Also nonnegotiable is that every elementary school classroom must have a rug.

Is it surprising then that Chancellor Klein is facing a revolt from teachers like 13-year veteran Jackie Bennett, from a Staten Island high school? Ms. Bennett’s problem is that she believes it’s not a sin to bring her knowledge of great literature to her students, even if she occasionally lectures. After all, Bennett has a master’s in English literature from Columbia University, exactly the kind of academic attainment we supposedly want more of from our teachers.

“DOE administrators talk about balance,” Ms. Bennett recently wrote in an unpublished letter to the New York Times.

What they really want is all-group, all the time. What’s more, the message is clear: when we visit your classes and the kids are not in groups, you have one strike against you.

My recent experience at staff development is illustrative of just how clear that message is intended to be. After spending the morning working with my colleagues on a small group activity that entailed busywork that did nothing to further our development as teachers, we returned to a whole-class discussion to briefly assess what we had learned. I raised my hand and asked if there was any research tying group work to better test scores. The answer was no.

My behavior was reported to the Local Instructional Superintendent, and two days later, my assistant principal asked me to forgo attendance at the remaining meetings. I had, it seems, been kicked out of staff development. Had I made a ruckus? No. But I had asked uncomfortable questions. I had thought critically. Though the City’s Department of Education gives lip service to teaching kids to think critically, it is clear they want those critical thinking skills taught by drones.

Tyranny in the Classroom

Chancellor Klein has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on mandated professional development sessions of the kind that Jackie Bennett describes. Yet there’s no research evaluating the effectiveness of a program that is eating up so much of the city’s budget and its teachers’ precious time. New York City has nothing like the independent research consortium, based at the University of Chicago, which provides objective third-party evaluation and analysis of performance data supplied by the Chicago school system.

What’s indisputable, however, is that the intellectually vacuous nature of these sessions and the central administration’s tyranny over classroom instruction is demoralizing many excellent and successful teachers. The city will surely lose many of them. “There isn’t one teacher I know who doesn’t say they would leave if they could,” says Norman Scott, a 35-year veteran classroom teacher and publisher of an independent newsletter for city teachers. In the meantime thousands of teachers have taken to the streets in union-organized protests over Klein’s instructional dictatorship. “Let teachers teach,” say the placards carried at these demonstrations. At a recent UFT rally, union president Randi Weingarten said: “We knew that a top-down, command and control management and rigid, lockstep teaching mandates would be demoralizing. But I never imagined that guidelines for, say, the workshop model, complete with its limit of ten minutes of direct instruction, would devolve into orders to use it every day, for every lesson and every group of students.”

Klein and Mayor Bloomberg have countered that all the tumult in the street is nothing but posturing over a contract dispute. The UFT wants more money, they say, but no reform of the work rules. They are right that the existing contract is a lousy deal for everyone involved. I have been writing about the contract’s excellence-killing seniority rules, its lockstep pay schedules, and its other inflexible regulations for years (see “Fa├žade of Excellence,” Education Next, Summer 2003). In fact, Joel Klein once told me he had read my critique of the contract, and from time to time he has even borrowed my quip that this is the ultimate “we-don’t-do-windows” labor agreement.

The problem is that, because Chancellor Klein has tyrannized all teachers with mindless directives about their classroom practices, he has forfeited any chance of getting significant work-rule changes. Why would any self-respecting teacher be willing to give Chancellor Klein even more power over his or her professional life? Come to think of it, Chancellor Klein has managed to incorporate one of the worst characteristics of the teachers’ contract into his own professional development regime. It’s the pernicious idea that all teachers are of equal value to a school and should be treated accordingly. Thus the contract mandates that the math teacher with a Ph.D. who teaches AP calculus is on the exact same pay scale as the 7th-grade gym teacher. The teacher who works 60 hours a week, spending extra time with students and parents, is equal to the teacher putting in the contractual minimum of 6 hours and 40 minutes per day.

But consider Chancellor Klein’s professional development program. It is meant to indoctrinate and remold virtually every teacher in the system, regardless of that teacher’s level of academic attainment, years of experience, established record of success, or personal teaching style. All are herded into professional development boot camp, the 13-year veteran with a master’s deg

-Sol Stern is the author of Breaking Free: Public SchoolLessons and the Imperative of School Choice.

On the Positive Side by Joe Williams