I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

28 February 2010

Positioning Problems

If SFUSD's teachers justified themselves with the righteous indignation that our Superintendent and Board do, our students would fail.

Carlos Garcia cannot leave a forum without reminding us that he is not to blame for the budget cuts. I am not to blame for the fact that all of my students live in poverty, or that five have significant mental health issues.

Regardless, I am responsible for their school success - and therefore I must be reflective, crafty, and dedicated to student mastery of material. If I take my blamelessness as an out, my students fail.

Alas, our Superintendent may not be responsible for budget cuts, but he ought to be reflective, crafty, and dedicated to going "Beyond the Talk". Unfortunately, he shows no interest in any solution other than those that are traditionally comfortable and deeply inequitable.

Our Board would like you to know that they are very dedicated to equity. That's why they have made some admirable decisions: increasing ethnic studies offerings, increasing access to AP courses, providing resources for LGBTQ students.

However, their commitment to equity is only for the easy initiatives. Desegregating schools? No. Demanding equity in cuts and layoffs? No.

If teachers took this view, we would be happy to explain our colorblindness to you. We might offer some of that "soft bigotry of low expectations", too. And our students would fail. Instead, we make our philosophy drive our decisions.

I am tired of being the District's moral courage.

27 February 2010

No, Actually: I Blame You.

One board meeting earlier than necessary, the BoE voted affirmatively on the poorly-planned, mendacious layoffs proposed by SFUSD. To evince said claims:

POORLY-PLANNED: The District is unable to state what percentage of teachers would be cut in a worst-case scenario (everyone who gets a 15 March letter is laid off). The District also failed to negotiate a hard-to-staff point for hard-to-staff schools: math and science credentials get an extra point on the seniority list, but the hard-to-staff schools don't. Therefore, schools that are hard to staff and have transient teaching corps, whose teachers are getting an extra thousand bucks on their paychecks this cycle and by the nature of hard-to-staff staffing, have very low seniority...are getting laid off.

SFUSD: Wasting Prop A Money on People It's Laying Off.

MENDACIOUS: The District's layoff list names all of the Associate Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, a mess of Executive Directors, many Directors and a bunch of Program Managers. To some extent, these positions could be reduced and their holders bumped into the teaching pool, and if you think that's going to happen you must actually be Pollyanna.

Also, the District has implied that no permanent teachers will get a 15 March layoff unless they are "consolidated" (their position disappears, so they have to find a new one), but given their numbers this cannot be true. I have been told by District employees as high as Associate Superintendent that permanent teachers cannot be laid off, but that is wrong: in a catastrophic budget situation, there is a mechanism enabling such layoffs. The mechanism's conditions are met. It is disturbing to me that high-level District functionaries do not understand these issues as well as a run-of-the-mill teacher does.

The Superintendent and the Board would like you to know that they are totally blameless and committed to equity, which is why the layoff vote didn't happen until after 11pm. Before that, SFUSD committed to increasing ethnic studies and AP classes and renaming SOTA after Ruth Asawa. For what it's worth, I approve of all of these. I think the self-congratulatory pro-equity bent is compromised by layoffs that are by nature inequitable, though.

The Superintendent keeps repeating that he is absolutely blameless, and this is totally not his fault, and he doesn't want to cut one teacher, which is why his staff cannot come up with a coherent plan to present to the union, keeps increasing class sizes for next year and trying not to get anyone to notice that, and significantly increased District office staffing over the last year.

Also, the Superintendent and BoE are absolutely committed to closing the opportunity gap, which is why they are laying off teachers at high-needs schools, failing to make funding adjustments that will protect schools in poor neighborhoods, and have been threatening to sue the state for three years but...not actually suing the state.

Therefore, they are 100% in favor of 4 March demonstrations, which is why the Superintendent attempted to end same by sending out a threat letter to any school planning any kind of demonstration or organizing even off-hours participation.

Needless to say, SFUSD would prefer that no one discuss equity in budget cuts and have no plan to talk about it themselves (SFUSD: "What? How dare you ask! Don't you know: We're Beyond the Talk! Look at our five-year plan!"). Alas, it ends up that the District unfortunately hired some real radicals, who really believe in equity, and those people keep talking to the press and commenting in public forums. So far, we've managed to place quotes in the Chronicle and the New York Times, and our well-planned, easy to explain take on equity is shaping stories in the Chronicle and SFSU's paper. Seriously: so evident, clear and verifiable are our claims that we are able to change stories from "funding cuts are bad" to "funding cuts are inequitable, and SFUSD's particular cuts go against everything in its five-year plan".

Which isn't too shabby given that we are looking, site-wise, at layoff letters to at least 10 teachers and consolidation or layoff letters to at least two.

Interesting Developments in School Funding

1. The Governor's proposed budget - and it is very important to remember that this budget is his proposal, and the state Legislature is not required to adopt it - requires the federal Secretary of Education handing California a waiver.

California took stimulus funding for education, and doing so required that it agree to maintain school funding at the same levels as four years prior. In the case of massive shortfalls, the state can get a waiver if the same proportional funding is maintained. Through prefunding (budgeting money for next year into the 09-10 budget, so that schools get it now but can't use it until 10-11) and changing gasoline taxes into "fees" (a change in name only that keeps these TAXES from entering the General Fund, thereby making them unavailable to Prop. 98's funding guarantees) the Governor's budget claims to do this.

This is, obviously, a scam - or at best, it uses the letter of the law to beat the hell out of the spirit. If Duncan refuses the waiver, the Governor needs to cut the cuts - $850 million need to come back into the budget.

The state Legislature is trying to come up with a way that will enable the tax/fee reversal to go through but maintain school funding through upping tax revenue; all current proposals have been threatened by veto (even the one that passed). It is a win-win for the Governor and state Dems to get an agreement here: the state Dems look tough and the Governor gets to claim he totally saved education. I do not support these: taxes are taxes are taxes, and this particular renaming also underfunds transportation infrastructure projects.

2. The ACLU is suing LAUSD. They want an injunction against layoffs at three schools in Watts based on the inequitable education created by the 2009 layoffs. Note: they're suing LAUSD, not UTLA. It is the district, not the union, that is required to create ed equity. It is the district, not the union, that decides what impact funding cuts will have. It is the district, not the union, that agrees to contracts that do not protect high-needs schools.

In short: We should be printing mass copies of the complaint, folding same into paper airplanes, and firing them at St. Carlos, the Most Blameless Superintendent Who Ever Gifted SFUSD with His Presence.

20 February 2010

Possible? I suppose. Credible? Not at all.

For the upcoming BoE meeting, SFUSD has quite a layoff/reduction list that lends itself well to claiming that 15 March letters will hit administrative offices and school staff with equally horrible outcomes.

But the idea that SFUSD will really and truly lay off four Associate Superintendents and a veritable gaggle of Directors, EDs, and Supervisors strains belief. It's hard to see this as much more than a PR move - one that I hope fails. I mean, how does the District intend to handle enrollment if the EPC has no Director - especially when planning to roll out a new assignment system?

Cross-checking proposed reductions in staff with incoming Kindergarten projections - numbers prepared by two different arms of the District for two different purposes - suggests that all District administrators are planning on 25:1 or higher next year. This is something of a surprise to me, because there has been a lot of agitation at all levels to create a proposal of furlough days that would enable holding to 20:1. (This is financially possible.)

However, it does appear that SFUSD has a layoff/cuts plan that will enable them to survive inability to come to a contract negotiation agreement with the union (or the membership voting such an agreement down). Not a plan so much maybe as a starting point.

14 February 2010

The problem with private funding and public schools

I am a repeat offender at Donors Choose - over the years, friends, strangers and foundations have chipped in (conservatively) $12,000 toward my classroom. I like Donors Choose because I pick what I want: sensory integration equipment, novel math manipulatives, art supplies, stuff for my students to take home over the summer, and so on. It's all stuff my school cannot purchase itself and mostly stuff I couldn't supply either. (Well, I could in theory blow the two thousand bucks or so I spend every year on, say, twenty backpacks, a rug and some PeaPods, but I'd rather buy ingredients for cooking and sequins and stuff like that.)

Still, the idea that teachers should rely on the good will and pocketbooks of strangers through personal initiative (mine to write a grant, funders to support it) is problematic on all kinds of levels. Aren't we supposed to be a public system, funded through the pocketbooks of strangers in the form of taxes? Is the system equitable? Are the most critical projects being funded? Do teachers have equal access to the process? Of course, these are all concerns that are ameliorated by the promise of cold, hard cash for the stuff I need. And the vast majority of donors - foundations and individuals - are doing what I consider good in the world.

I imagine that the Koret Foundation believes it is doing good by supporting the Hoover Institution's education wing and its recommendations: charter schools, vouchers, Teach for America, boot camp for Black children (quite literally: they support the OMI and figuratively in the form of KIPP), and so on. I believe that they are funding the destruction of public education and supporting racist ideology, but certainly they'd say the same of me (...do teachers count as "poverty pimps"?).

The California Teachers Empowerment Network, though...well, I'm sure that they believe they are doing great good by supporting opting out of unions. Or at least they are "empowering" teachers. Their biggest stated reason for this need to empower teachers is that the CTA put bucks behind the No on 8 Campaign. Evidently teachers were disempowered by this action. Also, they note darkly, state Superintendent Jack O'Connell helped make No on 8 commercials. So clearly, opting out of a union will tell Superintendent O'Connell and the CTA...what, exactly? That they need to get out of the business of educating voters about ballot initiatives? That de facto discrimination isn't empowering enough and we need some de jure too?

So when these guys get into putting up cash on Donors Choose, it certainly shines a rather nasty spotlight. I am still choosing the things I want for my students, but the people paying for them will use their support to shine up their credentials, then use those credentials to destroy public education.

I wish they'd stick to funding their little charter initiatives and whatnot.

School Equity

I have been teaching now for...well, a whole lot of years. Eight in the classroom teaching Kindergarten, a year out of the classroom as a teacher coach/trainer, and two teaching college students. What with all of this experience, I have had an opportunity to view many, but many children, including:

a. a child who entered my classroom in March on his second try in Kindergarten. He did not know the whole alphabet and was under screening for a major speech and language disorder.

b. a child who was born exactly two minutes before the cutoff (1 December at 11:58 pm).

c. several children with major trauma backgrounds including head injuries, all of whom were homeless.

d. children in emergency foster care.

e. children in long-term foster care.

f. children who were the victim of assault or witnessed violence/murder against family members.

g. a child whose caseworker told me, "Essentially, he was raised by the television" - which explained why he had all kinds of old movie quotes in his conversational repetoire.

All of these kids learned something in my Kindergarten. Almost all of them were promoted to first grade (I retained the youngling). I referred several to counseling and exactly one for "testing" - the first child, who had not received a primary language screen but who had an extensive workup on his second language.

I have a stated anti-SST policy. I do not believe it is in the best interest of children to have a paper trail. An IEP does bring legal protection, but I have been teaching long enough to know that those protections are valid and strong only when there is institutional power backing the child. I have been seriously injured by a child in crisis. I kept that child in my classroom and promoted him to first grade. I have explored sensory integration strategies with major improvement on my own initiative to better serve high-needs children rather than IEPing them, and have created extensive case histories for their future teachers so that the same in-room modifications can be used. I have been praised by high-level administrators for "treating emotional disturbance as part of a natural spectrum".

I could go on, but here is my point: after many, many successful years in the classroom, you'd think that when I flag a kid for testing they'd take me seriously, right?

Of course, they don't. But after violence, intervention through district and private specialists (UCSF, Edgewood) and two union grievances, it ended up the child in question had major processing disorders, sensory issues requiring OT and a SIPT screen (for sensory integration disorder), and full-day special education...with or without an ED component.

Let me very clear: I cannot educate this child in a 20:1 environment. The child's sensory needs alone (low light, tactile feedback, low noise) make this impossible - let alone his well-developed strategies for negative attention if I cannot provide immediate positive attention. And despite the many, many strategies I have (even the OT person wrote that in her report), I have not found a strategy leading to the retention of more than 25% of introduced content.

Not to mention: the child is a harm to himself (poor impulse control), others (proprioceptive gaps that lead to collisions and worse) and the emotional states of other children (his presence triggers another kid in my class - one who, at five, is already engaging in self-harm and suicidal ideation - into tantrums).

Therefore, I supported moving this child to a Special Day Class, where he could receive a lowered adult-child ratio (this classroom is apparently about 3:1), pullout OT and in-class modifications (light filters, etc.). The child is bright, confident and interesting. With some modifications, he should be able to learn what he needs to learn. With some therapy, he should be able to integrate sensory information and self-regulate more easily. At his IEP meeting, we predicted he would be mainstreamable within two years.

His new teacher is an uncredentialed, first-year Teach for American. The class is at a high-needs school with strict discipline and lots of yelling - not to mention major physical plant problems (like exposed wires...always a plus for the low impulse control types, no?).

The problem is obvious, but here's my issue: How on earth does Teach for America believe that this teacher, this placement create equity? They can't possibly - or if they do, their Pollyanna ate mine for breakfast (and I'm a notorious Polly). There is no well-meaning best and brightest white kid who can handle such a placement.

This, my friends, is how our system replicates itself whilst claiming reform and change.

07 February 2010

Not really funny.

As part of the Prop A funding, SFUSD and UESF got together and named a list of "hard to staff" schools: schools with high turnover and "challenging" demographics (high poverty, high percentage of English Language Learners, etc.). Teachers at these schools fill out a little form and get an extra $2000 annually. It's a pittance, but it's money.

Anyway, "hard to staff" schools have by nature had heavy recent staff turnover, which means they have a lot of new (overall or to the District) teachers. So their teachers are low seniority.

So their teachers will be laid off this year. So in essence, teachers at hard to staff schools are getting paid to stay and fired all at once. This is counterproductive.

One could argue that this is a short-term, single year counterproductivity. In theory, the fired teachers will be replaced with higher-seniority bumpees, who can collect the Prop A money and won't be subject to layoffs for many years to come.

In actuality, there is no reason to believe that bumped teachers will accept an assignment at a hard to staff school in the first place, nor stay any longer than necessary before transferring. Given these circumstances, SFUSD may resort to TFA teachers. Of course, most of these teachers leave after two years, so the "hard to staff" problem is ongoing.

So the district is throwing several hundred thousand dollars in salary away. We know that staff stability strongly correlates to positive student outcomes, and that trained, experienced teachers get better student achievement results by any measure. The purpose of the "hard to staff" funding stream was to increase teacher retention. So much for that.

In other SFUSD news, the BoE agenda is up and Garcia's merry band of budget cutters remains unwilling to let much sun shine on their financial proposals. They are asking for the union to agree to the District having total freedom over class sizes, which brings the 25:1 ratio into doubt. It also is decent evidence that SFUSD has no intention of ever reducing class size if we give that away (there's nothing in the proposal that puts in writing Garcia's claim that class sizes will be reduced as soon as possible).

Whatever the case, SFUSD is dragging its feet on specifying how and what they plan to cut other than union concessions. Given how quickly they want a union vote and a budget vote by the Board, their pace suggests (to me, at least) that speed is necessary to obscure inequity in cuts: agree to SFUSD's lifeboat now or we all drown.

There appears to be decent support within UESF for an option of 20:1 retention through furlough (it's possible; Garcia said it would be either seven or nine days over two years depending on whether or not he was counting the two days' furlough already in the pipeline. The funding actually works out for it to be no more than six days, but I haven't looked into this so I can't accuse Garcia of trying to throw a potential pro-CSR vote. Yet.) I don't think SFUSD plans to offer this option, though; it doesn't show up on the agenda. What they do want is so sketchily outlined it's hard to tell.

Still, there is a good argument for voting down any contract revision that does not protect students. SFUSD is threatening apocalypse if this happens: no budget, no reserve, state takeover, consultants from Sacramento bearing pitchforks and Open Court, etc.

That's apocalypse for Garcia et al, though, not for the teaching staff. The state is not required to take over districts that fall within the possibility of takeover, and I don't think Sacramento really wants to deal with what they have wrought on school budgets. And even if they did? Garcia's out of a job, but I'm not. Consultants would get the big bucks for stupid programs, but that happens already. Privatization and Eli Broad would come in bearing big bucks for big cuts and corporate philosophy, but again: already happening. San Francisco isn't such a good market for boot camp schooling, anyway: why add another market when it's possible to get more done in Los Angeles and Oakland?

I think the state takeover gambit is a threat of very little interest. Barring a good proposal, UESF should vote it down.

06 February 2010

Teacher Pack Rat Disease

Packratitis is an understandable side effect of the constant spectre of budget cuts, newbie colleagues who need stuff, purchased curricula that call for unpurchased manipulatives, students who like to chew on things, and the MacGuyverism of any urban school teacher ("The microwave in the staff room blew out all the power in the school and maintenance gave us "top priority" status, so we've got at least 72 hours without heat? NO PROBLEM - with this gum wrapper, dust bunny and...").

When I started teaching and had nothing I used to go bug-eyed at the supplies others had stockpiled - several thousand dinosaur counters stored in an overflowing 40 gallon container, shelves full of used pencils, paint last used in French caves, etc. Teaching in a portable classroom kept me from indulging too much for a couple of years. Now I look back upon the shelving options in the portables with fondness, since my current classroom is huge but lacks storage.

And I have so much stuff, because I might throw this copy out and not be able to find the original (the last major reorginization job I have is this one, but it's been in the pipeline for three years and barring a cure for ADHD I don't think it's happening). And then there have been a couple of dream world Donors Choose projects that actually got funded. Plus, once I got rid of all the garbage that was left behind by the person who taught in this room before me I had some extra cabinets. I couldn't have known that when my dear friend's mom retired, she'd give me so much awesome stuff (half of which I still have to pick up, since the first half overwhelmed my car). The last three years have all been budget cut years, too, and nothing makes one pack rat it up more than that. Also, my superpower is finding. I hope one day to discover something truly excellent, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, tucked inside an old discounted teaching manual published by the Department of Health. I will use it to fund the classroom of my dreams. Until then, I am the queen of the mysterious drawer at SCRAP or RAFT, the miner of the Children's Book Project, and the superstar of sales.

This is why I am the proud owner of six raccoon-in-garbage-can handpuppets. Hey, they were a buck apiece (marked down from $25). I'm sure they'll come in handy.