I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

30 May 2012

We All Go Down Together.

California released its updated list of districts that cannot meet financial obligations in 11-12 or 12-13 and districts may not meet financial obligations in those years or 13-14.  Needless to say, even more districts are falling into the red.

One hundred and eighty eight school districts are on the latter list, which includes some heavy hitters like LAUSD and Sacramento.  Also included are some districts the state was supposed to have fixed (OUSD and Compton - I guess austerity doesn't work in school funding, either) and some local poor districts (Alum Rock and Ravenswood).  (It also includes Portola, which I assume will have an auction or something to take care of the problem.)

SFUSD is on neither list.  This is positive, particularly for Superintendents who like their paychecks and Boards that like their power.  (I don't say state takeover is good - I think the state bankrupted OUSD permanently, actually - but I think we need to remember that its immediate impacts may affect how one views it.)

On the other hand, barring tax increases passing in November, a whole bunch of these districts will fall into receivership (some will anyway; heck, some of the districts on the list already are).

SFUSD is fond of ruminating on how if its teachers do not agree to big paycuts and ten pencils for the year's supplies, it may end up on one of these lists.  It didn't.  Perhaps it should come up with some other apocalyptic threats for its unions.

It's also worth mentioning that USAF - the administrators' union - has been cheerfully trumpeting its the lack of cuts to its members for quite awhile now.  Apparently state takeover is only a threat for teachers.

29 May 2012

And the cash winner is...

"School Reform Consultants", at $2.6 million dollars.

The whole post is a great (and important) read.  I'm not entirely (ok, at all) swayed by the District's claim that you have to spend money only on proven effective programs/people/services: unless the federal government actually outlined a list of allowed contractors*, you can use research to prove just about anything effective.

Moreover, this whole approach: Whee!  Let's throw money at consultants! - stinks of everything I hate about District spending in general: no institutional memory.  Some of these contractors have been working with the District for years: shouldn't the District be able to go it alone by now, or is there never any exit plan?  Some of these contractors are undoubtedly working on a new version of some program the District has already implemented and abandoned (I personally have collected an archive of FOUR different binders, spanning thirty-plus years, all of which implement the same approach to language variation and teaching codeswitching).

This stuff is far more important than principal follies in the District, I have to say, for all that they get less press.

In other news, this time is the most I've spent upright since Saturday afternoon, when the flu I hadn't caught all year caught me.  Alas, I have not yet "checked out" and sure won't be doing so today, since I'm going back to bed.

In final news, the chicks are at this interim ugly stage between feather and down and visibly larger by day.


*They may have done; Reading First sure did.  The research for the Reading First program is remarkably biased, first by setting study requirements so narrow only very few studies qualified, and then by ignoring anything that the committee chairs didn't like.

24 May 2012

Seeing as how I declined an all-expenses-included invitation to participate in NBC's 2010 Education Deformation, I figured I would never hear from that particular group of eager reformers.

I was wrong - I received an invitation today to apply to their "Education Champions" Fellowship Program, through which I can meet with "thought leaders" and influence their opinions on topics like "technological tools for teachers and principals" and "the development of plans to incorporate teacher leadership roles in school design".

In other words, I can hang out with Joel Klein and his team at Fox and hear from Michelle Rhee and the gang how bubble tests for Kindergartners should be (expensively, by private concerns) created and administered so that my performance as an educator can be assessed.

What excitement!  Needless to say, I'd be jumping right in to that application were it not for the need to find my very oldest, least-to-be-missed yet still school appropriate clothing for today's physics/abstract expressionism lesson.

22 May 2012

Switch

Cory Booker's recent comments on how terrible and unfair it is to criticize private equity firms for doing their job - making money for themselves by gutting companies - irritated me.  I understand that if New Jersey politicians want to run for statewide office, they need to make nice with the financial titans.

However, while Mayor Booker seems to think that investment managers - no matter how badly they harm the global economy - should be above reproach, public school teachers are not.  Indeed, so infested are our ranks with lousy educators that we have a crisis!  Mayor Booker is a big supporter of performance bonuses, too.  Bonuses have been so successful in investment and banking pursuits that they're just what education needs to be destroyed beyond repair and turned over to the private market to increase student achievement.

There's such an obvious disconnect here that I do myself blame Mayor Booker's teachers: someone should've pointed out the huge gaps in logic he betrays here.  JP Morgan Chase handed out lavish bonuses in exchange for four billion dollars in losses.  Private equity firms ensure their bottom line by cutting workforces and salaries at the companies they buy.  Given Mayor Booker's comments, I have to assume that this kind of cutthroat behavior that says your loss is my gain is what he wants teachers to pass on to their students.

So we'll stop encouraging sharing, empathy, and problem solving.  Students will battle for the last orange, and push each other down on the yard to get to the playground first.  They will get Unsatisfactory marks for respecting themselves and others unless they cheat, and no one wins unless everyone else loses.

If that's not the world Mayor Booker wants, he should stop acting like it is.

20 May 2012

Is Your School District High Needs? Then Sue the Teachers' Unions!

It was with great interest that I read news stories with screaming headlines about Alum Rock UESD being sued.  As a former employee of Alum Rock Union, I wondered which Alum Rock exploit was about to be brought before a court of law.  Would it be school board members running over other board members in the DO parking lot?  Or the million dollars embezzled from the District and its foundation?  Or the varied and exciting buyouts offered nearly to an endless supply of Superintendents?  Or some civil suit action around the 1992 arrest of an Alum Rock principal for on-campus drug dealing?

No!  Alum Rock is being sued for being Alum Rock.  Well, for seniority and retention rules.  According to the lawsuit, last-hired-first-fired means that Alum Rock students face ineffective, tenured lifers.  Indeed, a student decided to attend one of the many local charter schools rather than continue at a real public school!


This lawsuit naming Alum Rock is ridiculous.  It's clearly the work of badly-informed deformers, unsurprisingly funded by Eli Broad.  It's not the targeted type of suit attacking equal opportunity at hard-to-staff schools in a big district (although LAUSD is also a named defendant).  It's a big anti-union attack.

First off, I have to point out that anyone attending one of the many Alum Rock-schism charters is going to be getting a lightly-trained newbie, almost certainly a Teach for American.  This is a side point, though.

The obvious problem in this lawsuit is that Alum Rock is Alum Rock.  It is an entirely high-need District. Over 80% of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.  Most students are English Language Learners: in my five years, four of my classes were 100% ELL and the other 95%.  Since the District encompasses east San Jose and the surrounding unincorporated area, it has a tiny property tax base (and also gets to spend a lot of money operating the school on Mt. Hamilton).

All of this means Alum Rock is defined by teacher churn.  Five years sent me halfway up the District seniority list (the District being small enough to print one and send a copy to each school).  I got a signing bonus for taking a job there - $4000.  My first classroom was consolidated because there were too few students, so I ended up replacing a teacher who quit two weeks into the year.  Ten days in Alum Rock was too much for many teachers.  In my five years, I met (and interviewed!) many applicants for teaching jobs; few had credentials in hand and few lasted as long as I did (for the record, I left because a year of commuting from San Francisco left me grumpy and shortened from standing in a car-ready crouch).

My Alum Rock classrooms had cockroaches, mice, water beetles, ants, and black widow spiders.  One year, our playground was burnt down (probably by a middle schooler messing around, but the smell of burnt plastic lasted a long time).  Our entire computer lab was stolen within a month of being set up.  I developed a severe health problem due to black mold from a major construction error during school renovation - one so bad my principal filled out the worker's compensation papers for me (in the end, I STILL didn't file: Alum Rock will give you that kind of martyrdom).  I lost over a thousand dollars of personal materials for which I was not compensated when that construction error finally gave way and flooded the Kindergarten storage room.  I once taught during a cold snap in a classroom with no heat and no electricity - for three days.  And all of this was at one of the "cushy" Alum Rock schools.

What I'm saying is that LIFO has next to no impact on Alum Rock classrooms.  Alum Rock has low teacher seniority because it's a challenging place to work and teachers leave for the comparatively easy surrounding districts (San Jose Unified, Evergreen, etc.).  Teacher tenure protections have next to no impact on Alum Rock classrooms: starting a third year (and thereby getting tenure) is about two years too many for lots of teachers who begin their careers in Alum Rock.

So suing Alum Rock - naming them as a defendant - is ridiculous.  If Alum Rock struggles with ineffective teachers, it's because few first year teachers are effective.  It's not tenure or LIFO: if Alum Rock is laying off teachers who want to stay, that really is the state's fault for failing to fund a District that needs more than many others.

Suing Alum Rock over these things suggests that the plaintiffs were so eager to strike against the dread forces of teacher seniority and tenure - really, against basic union protections - that they couldn't be bothered to do their homework.  This is nothing like suing LAUSD for equal opportunity violations - LAUSD has a mixed socioeconomic and ethnolinguistic student base, and those schools with higher-needs populations do suffer unfairly from teacher layoffs (the whole tenure attack is so ridiculous it's not worth my time: one of the reasons high-needs schools are low seniority sites is because tenured teachers don't generally want to stay in the hardest schools.  In this, they are joined by all workers nationwide, who prefer manageable jobs to endless difficulties in bad conditions).

The entirety of Alum Rock is high-needs.  The District's existence as a badly-funded one in a poor part of town is the problem: those aren't conditions that attract trained workers in demand.

So Students Matter (In the Fight Against Unions) is suing against teacher tenure and LIFO because Alum Rock is poor.  That's so senseless it can only make sense at the Hoover Institute or somewhere equally attracted to bad research for political ends.

19 May 2012

Five Days Left

For the most part, I think we're set for the end of the year.  The sashes the kids wear ("Future ") are made, and no further career adjustments are allowed.  The paper people are done, sorted with their brainstorms and drafts, and ready for hanging.  The kids mostly know their song ("If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out"...something different this year), report cards are finished, we plotted out all the end of the year massive messy projects, etc.

The current in-class rage is Pikachu, which the kids might enjoy more if they cheated less.  As it is, it's just a massive excuse for cheek-pinching.

The chicks are alright - well, two of them are growing robustly.  I am here to tell you that whoever said Silkie chicks don't fly was inaccurate.  The third chick is not growing as fast; it's the one I hatched.  It seems generally okay (it eats, drinks, isn't picked on by the others, and is growing wing feathers) but it falls down a lot.  Its feet are smaller and the toes are less splayed.  When they move to my house next Friday, we'll probably splint its weaker leg for awhile.

16 May 2012

End of Year Traditions

I've left the chicks to the tender mercies of a guest teacher and my Resident to go to the doctor.  This only became possible when I realized I was prioritizing the chicks over my own health and that's probably a sign of fatal Kindergarten Martyrdom Disease.  (This is the disease that drags feverish, puking teachers out of bed for a field trip they must attend.  Sufferers find themselves skipping sleep to cut out twelve thousand laminated shapes for a one-time activity and becoming woozy and lightheaded from spraying a fixer on oil pastel masterpieces after the kids go home.)

Every school and district has their own end of the year traditions.  For instance, SFUSD traditionally sends out pink slips a couple of weeks before school lets out.

I started a new tradition at my school that is now running on its own: passing out superlative awards at the end of the year party.  The first year I did them myself; the second year I had a helper.  This year I wasn't involved at all, except noting that I was only accepting a superlative if it said "Most Likely to Exchange BFF Necklaces with Kevin Truitt".  (It did, either because I'm scary or because the writers could only come up with a superlative involving my varied and exciting wardrobe and everyone's already heard those.)

I have a personal tradition of splitting a night at a fancy hotel with a colleague and then inviting some of our other colleagues to meet us at the Tonga Room, which is perhaps the only bar in town more kitschy than your average Kindergarten.  This is now finalized and I am very happy.

15 May 2012

A Quick and Easy Solution

There is one really simple and fast fix for California's endless budget crisis: repeal (or significantly overhaul) Proposition 13.

Proposition 13 is the force that makes it near-impossible to raise taxes in California.  It's also helping major corporations avoid property taxes, and thanks to 13, homeowners pay more in property taxes than businesses.  So while it may have kept the elderly in their homes, it's helping to ensure that no Californian will be able to get the kind of education necessary to support a salary that can cover a mortgage.

I figure that Jerry Brown's personal recollections of Proposition 13 keep him from bold action, but the same need not apply to other elected officials and District administrators.  Rather than opining on the difficult teachers and their desire to be paid in money, our Superintendent should be observing what a simple repeal vote could do to ensure the state's future.

12 May 2012

Fun with Numbers is Not That Fun.

So all the stick-waving, press-chatting, and negotiation-ending between the District and the teachers' union is getting serious!  The District has declared (and gotten state agreement for) impasse!  The teachers voted to authorize a strike vote!  I tell you, the exclamation points are flying!

Not that it's not all serious business, but some of it just strikes me as posturing (every quote the Superintendent gives) and some of it is just irritating.

To wit: the numbers.  The District is - as always - looking down the barrel of a loaded Sharpie, and the color?  is RED.  Since the District is against state takeover (the Superintendent would lose his job!), all that red doesn't make the District happy.


But the problem is that the District is always seeing red.  It's like one of the Ksters has gotten to the teacher markers again and miscapped them, because in the end the District is always in the black.  Moreover, the reserves grow.

Some of this is the propensity of districts to plan in cycles so that the farthest year out includes some total catastrophe: it's just good (if somewhat paranoid) sense.  But when you get down to the brass tacks of how the District is planning its budget, geeks like myself see that it's not just tax increase passes/tax increase fails.  The District's worst case scenario budget includes every worse case possible: they get nothing from their various unions, ever, every lousy proposal in the Governor's budget resurrected from the old Governor's budgets passes, the state never makes good on its various IOUs, etc.

Given the last negotiations - wherein teachers gave up a lot, and the District promised an equity report but didn't release one - or even write it - and that upper management would give up even more and they sure didn't, it would be exceptionally naive to believe the numbers they present.

It's similarly true that the union's numbers aren't quite right, either.  The District has to maintain a reserve unless it is courting state takeover (although honestly, if the District's worst case scenario numbers are for real, every District in the state is going under).  Certain other new cash streams are restricted, not General Fund.  And so on.

The entire process would be easier if all parties could agree on one set of numbers.  This is of course impossible, given the lack of firm numbers from the state (well, it's firm that the numbers are gloomy and getting gloomier, but still: the Governor's proposal and his May revise is not a budget passed by the Legislature).  But it would be possible for more realistic numbers - no doomsday scenarios, no counting the transportation money - to be shared.

The onus is on the District, though.  Two years ago, teachers single-handedly closed their (theoretic) budget deficit.  I personally took a five thousand dollar pay cut to help the District.  Our thanks from the District is to be asked to give up all that and more, and to agree to permanent contract changes that will forever reduce our compensation.  That is not sharing the burden - it's glorying in the silver lining of a bad budget.  And it's proof that District administrators are completely removed from the actuality of their mandate to educate the children of San Francisco.  What they want is an even shorter school year with more students and fewer materials in each classroom.  Each classroom is to be led by a teacher who will receive less pay and fewer professional development opportunities while being expected to provide an even greater level of service as paraprofessionals, counselors, nurses and the like are laid off.

What the District lacks is courage.  Hiding behind red numbers doesn't make it okay to destroy that for which you are responsible.

11 May 2012

Chicken Impossible II

When I left school last night, I had two chicks and two pipped shells.   I assisted one of these in hatching, but it appears to be fine - it's lively, only a little smaller than the other, and not getting bullied (in fact, it's kind of a little punk).

The kids are extremely impressed by the white puffiness to come if these chicks stay alive and healthy.

09 May 2012

Why SFUSD has asked for a declaration of Impasse

ETA: Apparently the budget isn't bad enough that any administrators or central office folk need to be laid off.  Of the one hundred and twenty-three possible layoffs loudly announced back in March, only eight administrative staff members will receive a letter before May 15th.


Also?  Voting for layoffs on the Day of the Teacher?  Stay classy, SFUSD!  Regardless of timelines and judges finding against you, this is just ugly.

Teachers,

We here at the District office do not understand your continued intransigence over your contract.  Really, we're not asking for much: just nine annual furlough days, a few extra kids in each class, and some radical changes to special education.  Why all the complaining?

Besides, we've shown you the numbers!  We are looking toward huge shortfalls and the threat of state takeover!  This is scary, guys!

Okay, okay.  While it's true that classroom teachers and their students took the brunt of the cuts two years ago - the ones you negotiated with us fairly easily, and for which we intend never to thank you - that was two years ago.  And yes, we have in the past shown budget scenarios predicting doom and state takeover.  Indeed, it's true that we tend to do that every year, and yet the apocalypse never occurs.

But this year we're totally serious.  The red numbers are for real this time.  We called a 900 number psychic to be sure.

So anyway, that's why we want impasse and mediation.  Eight meetings is enough.  Your bargaining team is so irritating anyway, refusing to choose cuts for us and wanting all these different scenarios.  Besides, it ends up the court didn't agree that uncredentialed Zone teachers are more important than credentialed senior non-Zone teachers with the same training.  We're still mad at you about that.

Best,

Your employers

...Honestly, the latest letter from our Superintendent was pretty offensive.  I think it was aimed at low-information teachers - the nine furlough day possibility was obscured, some District proposals weren't mentioned at all, and there was a lot of reminding us how good we have it (did you know in other districts they have 30 kids in a class?  The existence of these districts means we should agree to SFUSD moving toward equally problematic class sizes, apparently).

It would help a lot to see what cuts at the District level are going to happen.  I want to know too how many furlough days upper management will take if teachers take nine (the right answer: way more than nine).  How about staff cuts: did any real layoff letters get sent to employees at 555 Franklin?  And if SFUSD wants me to lose another seven thousand dollars this coming year, I want to know what the District will do when (if) the budget is better in future years - and I want that written down and signed.

05 May 2012

There is no respite.

Things that must, will, or are expected to happen next week:

  • field trip to outside the county
  • hatching eggs
  • finishing report cards
  • off-site PD-type meeting
  • class loading for next year
  • staff meeting
  • class load cards and files
  • first week of school book bags prepped
  • PTO meeting
  • send out all promograduation notes
  • complete end of year evaluation of resident teacher
So pretty much, it's a big slog to the end of the year.  The huge event for which I was primarily responsible is, at last, over.  So that's one thing out of the way.

03 May 2012

Negotiations Update

Dear Teaching and Similar Staff,

Your union representatives are meeeeeeaaaaan.  They want us to lay off your colleagues.  We know because they won't accept the awesome, balanced, fair contract we think is best.

Seriously, our offer is even more fair and balanced than Fox News.  Here's what we're offering:

  • bigger class sizes
  • more furlough days
  • pay freezes
  • less prep time
  • fewer substitutes
We're emailing you directly because we know that our teaching staff is smart and will be able to see how great our offer is.  Remember, if you strike you don't get paid at all - so really, losing 10% of your salary is a good deal.  And if you're worried about teaching the same standards to more kids who got less ECE over a shorter year, well, you people always work something out.

So contact your union today and tell them: capitulate!

Best,

SFUSD Labor Relations


02 May 2012

To candle or not to candle?

I've gotten way too into candling eggs.  After last year ("They won't hatch...all I see is a big dark thing and then a clear spot."  "Um, that's the chick.  And the air sac.") I thought I'd given up on it, but this year I have developed some skill (I think) and between looking at ag sci university sites I candle the eggs.

According to Poultry Scientist Me, of 8 eggs 6 seem to show development, one isn't clear and the final egg has a blood ring.  I think.