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Saturday, January 24, 2015

NYSUT Fights Back Against Cuomo's Attack on Teachers

Now we know who paid for his re-election.

Betsy Combier

Misinformed, misguided governor shows his true colors

If you harbored any doubts whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo disrespects public education, you can set them adrift, light them on fire and push 'em out to sea. He's flying his true colors now.

Illustration by M. Sharer

State Budget 2015

Cuomo's executive budget proposal is an assault on public education and the teaching profession. It proposes a strings-attached increase of $1.1 billion for school aid, half of the amount recommended by the Regents.
His proposed increase is contingent upon lawmakers approving a vicious "reform" agenda that would gut tenure and collective bargaining, double down on high-stakes testing and shortchange public higher education. (See related story: "NYSUT blisters Cuomo's draconian anti-teacher agenda.").
It also would hold school aid hostage to his "reforms," including a harsh, simplistic and punitive new teacher evaluation system, a back-door voucher tax credit and a permanent tax cap. If legislators don't go along with his plans, he'll cut that increase by two-thirds. Perhaps the ugliest slap in the face to communities, educators, school boards, parents and students - whose worlds revolve around public education - is his petty extortion scheme to withhold proposed district-by-district aid data from local school districts until he gets his way in the Legislature. Districts are on strict timelines to prepare draft budgets, present them to voters and get them approved on May 19. They cannot even begin without those school-aid runs.
Gov. Cuomo knows this. He doesn't care.

Misinformed and misguided

"The governor is misinformed," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "New York has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation and a professional, highly dedicated teaching force. He should be celebrating that excellence. Instead, we get intellectually hollow rhetoric that misrepresents the state of teaching and learning. "Students, parents and teachers, who know better, aren't buying this agenda, which everyone knows is driven by the governor's billionaire hedge-fund friends," she said. NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, who leads the union's legislative and political department, said the governor is misguided and invited him to attend a series of community forums planned for the coming weeks.
"We want him to listen to the aspirations of students who want to excel but don't have art, music, foreign languages or guidance counselors," he said. "We want him to hear from parents who want a greater state and local investment in their public schools, so their sons and daughters can have a full range of services and aren't crammed in classes of 30 or 35 with outdated textbooks.
"And, we want him to listen to the experts - educators and administrators who love their jobsand are dedicated to their students, who know a greater focus on standardized testing is wrong and who know that 'opportunity' is just a word unless it's backed by enough funding that goes to the right places."

Recession era

Nearly 1 million New York schoolchildren - including more than a third of African-American and Latino students - live in poverty. The state's systemic failure to provide enough resources for all of its students and to do so equitably - while giving all teachers the tools and support they need - is "the real crisis and the one our governor is trying to sweep under the rug," Magee said.
Schools are repeatedly being asked to do more with less. Due to aid cuts since the recession hit, more than half - 51 percent - of the state's schools are receiving less state aid in the current year than they did in 2008-09. These gaps in state funding - and the tax cap and tax freeze - are the reason.
During this legislative session, NYSUT activists are advocating strongly and loudly for what students need:
  • equitable school aid so financially starved, high-needs districts receive the resources they need;
  • expansion of Career and Technical Education;
  • investments in the arts and other programs;
  • increased funding for BOCES and Special Act schools; and
  • increased funding for public higher education to relieve the burdens on students and their families.
NYSUT advocates also seek increases in health care spending so SUNY teaching hospitals can continue to provide quality medical services to their communities.
What students and educators don't need is an executive budget proposal that includes numerous onerous plans that must be stopped:
  • Empowering the state to take over "failing" schools, eliminating local control, tenure, seniority and collective bargaining agreements.
  • Creating a back-door voucher tax credit to benefit wealthy donors to private and charter schools, to the tune of $100 million per year.
  • Tying public higher ed funding to campus "performance" rather than enrollment.
  • Destroying teacher prep programs at SUNY and CUNY.
  • Allowing private equity firms to own and operate hospitals, which will set the stage for privatization of SUNY hospitals.
  • Eliminating the $14 million funding for teacher centers.
  • Making the tax cap permanent.
NYSUT and its coalition partners agree that New York state, with its improved fiscal condition, is in a position to help schools turn the corner financially. Statewide education organizations issued a report in January outlining the need for a $2 billion state education aid increase so schools can continue current services and make progress on critical new initiatives.
The Board of Regents proposed a $2.2 billion state aid increase. Even Chancellor Merryl Tisch, whose "reform" agenda is seriously problematic, insists this money is essential. Cuomo asked for half that.
It's simply not enough.
"Far too many school districts are still digging out from budget holes created during the recession," Pallotta said. "A greater commitment of school aid - more resources for vital initiatives such as community schools and for English language learners - is the way to ensure that every child is ready to learn at high levels, graduate and succeed in college or the workplace."

My Life As a NYC Teacher: Chap. 84: ODD OD



Disciplinary Meeting

Can the Danielson classroom management rubric be applied by supervisors to teachers?

I ask this question because I found myself in the position of putting my ATR supervisor into a Danielson bind.  According to the Danielson rubric for classroom management, the highly effective teacher need only glance at a misbehaving student for that student to straighten up and fly right.  I quote the Danielson Puppet for “highly effective” classroom management:

In addition to the characteristics of “Effective”:
·   Student behavior is entirely appropriate; no evidence of student misbehavior.
·   The teacher monitors student behavior without speaking – just moving about.
·   Students respectfully intervene as appropriate with classmates to ensure
compliance with standards of conduct.

As noted in chapter 31, of course, this ridiculous rubric doesn’t necessarily translate perfectly to intimate interactions between husband in wife.  (See The Charlotte Danielson Rubric for the Highly Effective Husband.)  Or maybe it does.  Hopefully the Danielson group will be doing some studies on the husband - wife interaction in the near future - double blind studies, of course.  I mean, there’s a reason why we close our eyes ….

But why wouldn’t the Danielson rubric translate within educational circles?  Why wouldn’t my ATR supervisor be held to the same standard that I am held to?  Why wouldn’t an educational supervisor be expected to perform in the same way that the people he/she is supervising are expected to perform?  Just because a student’s behavior is often beyond the control of the teacher, does it follow that a teacher’s behavior should be beyond the control of the supervisor?  Aren’t we all civilized, educated adults here?

Having been U rated in an ATR advisory coverage, it was going to take more than “just moving about”  or monitoring ATR behavior “without speaking” to get me to behave like a highly effective student, or like the highly effective student of the highly effective teacher.  The Danielson bind for my ATR supervisor was that I simply refused to comply with her “plan of assistance” no matter what she didn’t say or what sort of highly effective look she gave me.  What does the highly effective teacher do when a student simply refuses to do the work?  The highly effective teacher magically makes it happen even though by this same rubric such behavior doesn’t exist - “no evidence of student misbehavior.”

More than mere talk was required in order to correct my inappropriate behavior - I didn’t agree with the evaluation or the circumstances of the evaluation and refused to do my homework, i.e., submit lesson plans a week in advance - lengthy lesson plans that primarily assure that I would do as little teaching as possible so that the students could interact with one another as the focus of learning.  As one supervisor put it succinctly in one P.D., “Kids today are going to talk so we have to give them something to talk about.”   Listening is out of the question.  By the Danielson rubric, my ATR supervisor was already struggling to achieve “developing:”  “Teacher attempts to maintain order in the classroom but with uneven success; standards of conduct, if they exist, are not evident.”

I listened but didn’t like what I was hearing.  On Tues., Dec. 2, 2014 I received a notice that there would be a “disciplinary meeting” on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Women’s Academy of Excellence (WAE), which was my current ATR assignment.  The UFT chapter leader at WAE was notified that this meeting would take place.  He met with me the next morning to find out what this was all about.  In Danielson terms this might be considered the equivalent of the parent - teacher - counselor intervention, something the highly effective teacher, of course, never has to resort to.

This meeting took place as scheduled in the office of principal Dr. Crocker, who was present as a silent witness, a very good student.  UFT chapter leader Rick Steckmeister, who proved to be a highly effective (by any rubric) chapter leader, sat by my side as ATR field supervisor Annelisse Falzone recounted the numerous incidents in which I had refused to respond to her more highly evolved monitoring technique by telling her that her original observation was a crock and that in no way could it be considered a reasonable evaluation tool, certainly nothing on which to base an “unsatisfactory” observation.

I might digress here on the topic of “insubordination.”  Teachers use this weapon against students.  If a teacher instructs a student to do something three times and the student refuses to comply, that student is officially guilty of the offense of insubordination.  Disciplinary action can be taken.  When a student refuses to change his seat when instructed by the teacher, for example, and refuses a second and a third time, that student becomes insubordinate.  The teacher can then officially waste 20 minutes of class time to deal with the situation, which is likely to recur the next day.  That less than highly effective teacher has then lost 20 minutes of instruction that might have benefited the majority of students who never are insubordinate and are only there to learn.  Such defiant students are present, however, in every teacher's classroom from the ineffective to the highly effective.  The Danielson rubric is oblivious to this reality. 

In 2012 when I was judged to be “unsatisfactory” in another observation by a supervisor who quoted nonexistent people in the room in her “evaluation” of my teaching, I begged the principal to accuse me of insubordination.  I refused at that time, too, to comply with various directives that resulted from that observation.  I begged my supervisor to charge me with insubordination.  I assumed that there would be some sort of hearing outside of the school in front of an “independent” arbitrator.  My exact words were:

If this is insubordination, Ms. Clarke, then I suggest that you charge me now with 5 counts, Monday through Friday, so that I can get a hearing on this subject beyond you and your principal, Mr. Hoxha.  Your incompetence at JLHS must be exposed….  ( See Chapter 36: Division by Zero in the middle.)

I was never charged with insubordination even though I had put it in writing.  Idealistically I hope that this meant that the principal realized that he would be embarrassed by his A.P.  Realistically I know that no one really gave a damn.

I again admitted to what I thought was insubordination at this ATR disciplinary meeting on Dec. 5, 2014.  I assumed that by refusing to comply with their “plan of assistance” many more than three times, I was being insubordinate to my ATR supervisor.  As I told my UFT representative, I hoped that I would be accused of insubordination because I don’t believe that anyone in their right mind would agree that an observation of an ELA ATR in a coverage of an advisory class when most of the students were on a class trip is meaningful.  On the other hand I knew I was dealing with the NYC DOE.  But this put Steckmeister in a sticky position given that it is the UFT chapter leader’s role to keep teacher’s out of trouble while I was trying to get into more trouble. 

My ATR supervisor recounted everything that I had refused to do as well as the somewhat acrimonious interactions between us that had already occurred and I didn’t disagree.  She recounted our relationship since that fateful day at restorative justice haven Mott Hall Bronx accurately.  Thus I was hopeful that a charge of insubordination was forthcoming.

Unfortunately, all I got out of it was the charge that I was “out of compliance” with my “plan of assistance.”  That doesn’t have the same ring to it.  “Insubordination” carries some weight.  “Out of compliance” sounds more like the dog ate my homework.

Perhaps my ATR supervisor was giving me the benefit of the doubt, given that she had seen a good lesson in that advisory coverage and given that by this date, Dec. 5, 2012, she had observed a good lesson at my new assignment school on Dec. 1.  At least I thought it was a good lesson, if not “highly” effective, at least effective.  But that was merely an informal observation.  It was an observation of my teaching in a real ELA class with students that I had by that time taught for two days and it was a lesson that ought to have been rated very highly.  But I got nothing about this lesson.  Instead, all I got was feedback based on the advisory coverage observation - more student interaction and better closure.

In any case I was disappointed in my ATR supervisor at this meeting.  She didn’t charge me with insubordination but when questioned by Mr. Steckmeister, she admitted that a letter would be introduced to my file.  My file by now may require its own file cabinet drawer.  Mr. Steckmesiter pursued this line of inquiry.  Ms. Falzone didn’t say what the letter would state but said again that I was “out of compliance” with my plan of assistance.  At this Mr. Steckmeister wisely asked what that actually meant?  Could I still receive at the end of the year an “S” rating if further observations were satisfactory?

My ATR supervisor said that that was a possibility.  My UFT rep then asked for further clarification on what exactly “out of compliance” meant.  My ATR supervisor then said that she had seen cases in which teachers had submitted letters that stated that they refused the assistance offered by the “plan of assistance.”  This was new to both me and my union rep.  Was this true or just a ruse to get me to put my insubordination into writing?  Since I had begged to be charged with insubordination in the past and was now looking to be charged with it again, this admission looked like gold.

Steckmeister brilliantly pursued this line of inquiry but, of course, as my union protector, his job was to keep me out of trouble.  He asked if I could still be rated “S” at the end of the year even if I gave her a letter stating that I was refusing her assistance.  "Yes" was the answer.  That could still happen.  At least, that was the theoretical possibility.  I could still be rated a satisfactory teacher even if I put in writing that I was guilty either of insubordination or being “out of compliance” with directives.

With this the meeting was adjourned.  I left with the suggestion from my ATR supervisor that I had the option of refusing the “plan of assistance” in writing.  Steckmeister too, was of the opinion that my supervisor had made a suggestion that was to my benefit - if it wasn’t purely some sort of confession.  Since I didn’t mind confessing to being insubordinate, I was leaning toward the idea of refusing “assistance” in writing since I’d been refusing it without putting it in writing all along.  Why not just put it on the record?

That was my disciplinary ATR meeting.  I was disappointed in not being charged outright with insubordination but happy to hear that I could put my insubordination on record in writing.  That was clearly the best course of action.

When I started teaching in the Bronx, I had doubts that there really was such a thing as ODD - oppositional defiance disorder.  That sounded to me like just another fake mental disorder created by psychiatric interests looking for more business.  A year or two of teaching in the Bronx, of course, taught me that this disorder is for real.  For real!  Maybe you’ve got to see it to believe it but when you watch enough teenagers refuse to do the simplest things and refusing to do them with streams of obscenities that come as naturally to them as spit to a spittoon and a complete disregard to whom they streaming, you become convinced that ODD does, indeed, exist and that it would be nice if there were some real treatment for it - that is, until one of your best ODD kids curses out an administrator for sticking their nose into something that is none of their business.  Then it becomes nothing short of justice pure and and as simple as an "Equalizer" movie.

Never did I imagine in those days, however, that I might become the educator equivalent of the ODD student.  But I was not yet familiar with the workings of the DOE.  Nor had modern educational reform kicked in.  In the era of modern educational reform, does a real educator have any choice but to become clinically ODD?

Neither did I imagine that the burden of responsibility for a student’s performance would be shifted from the student to the teacher.  Once upon a time the teacher was responsible for teaching and the student responsible for learning.  This is no longer the case.  The teacher is now responsible for both the teaching and the learning while the student is responsible for nothing at all.

I predict that the number of ODD teachers is on the rise.

As for the Danielson rubric applied to administrators … fat chance.