Monday, December 22, 2014

Chapter 55: Education Reform and the Murder of NYC Cops

My Life as an NYC Teacher

Chapter 55: The Dangers of Political and Personal Agendas

When those in authority have an agenda, those in the trenches get hurt.

Mayor de Blasio has been rightly criticized for helping to create the anti-cop atmosphere that now grips New York City.  De Blasio has positioned himself as the savior of minority America not just for the city of New York but with far greater ambitions in mind.  He’s hoping to ride his interracial family to the D.C. top.  Thus he has sided with the protestors regarding the recent grand jury decisions and clings to con-master "Rev." Al Sharpton's coat tails.  It’s ironic but no less tragic that two minority cops are the first victims of this great leader of minorities.

His agenda is his personal ambition.  In pursuit of this agenda de Blasio has either blinded himself to the realities of the street or he is callously ignoring them.

Police officers understand the realities of the street.  They are fully aware of the fact that there are criminal minded people out there for whom murder is not merely a justifiable means to their criminal ends but in some cases an actual badge of dishonor.  This isn’t to mention the evil people who kill for enjoyment or those with real or self deluded political motives who will also kill (or throw trash cans on people’s heads) to get what they think the people deserve.  Disturbing as it is to acknowledge, there are those who are beyond rehabilitation.  This is the white elephant in the room at City Hall.

Part of the problem is that we live in what I call the post-Tarantino world.  Quentin Tarantino is justly celebrated for his artistic sensibilities.  His particular artistic sensibilities, however, have gone a long way toward desensitizing the American movie going public to the horrors of real life violence.  By turning graphic violence into comedy, Tarantino has helped create generations of people who are immune to the reality of violence.  To them it is all movie screen fun, like seeing the head of a real life dictator blown to bits.  Really funny stuff!  To be sure, Tarantino has had plenty of help from video game makers, the NRA, gangster rap, the marketing of professional sports violence and his own imitators.  I single out Tarantino because of his talent.  The more artistic the violent comedy, the more dehumanizing.

As a teacher I see an analogy between de Blasio and his agenda and the eduction reformers and their various agendas.  As with the cops on the street, when there is an agenda, the people in the trenches get hurt.

Teachers and high functioning students are the people in the trenches of education.  Teachers and students are the ones suffering as a result of the agendas of the reformers.  Education reformers have agendas ranging from Pearson’s quest to monopolize educational publishing profits TO Arne Duncan’s need to satisfy the lobbyists and political cronies who installed him in Washington TO the Danielson Group and like minded parasitic consulting outfits looking to skim big bucks off the top of the public education dole TO state governors’ lust for the federal money that has been dangled in front of them TO private interests longing to cash in on public money through investment in charter schools TO the Michael Bloomberg’s who want to change public education into a free market driven business model TO demagogues hoping to destroy the public education system altogether TO those whose primary goal is to destroy the last remaining labor unions with any clout TO petty bureaucrats trying to hang onto their bloated salaries TO rabble rousing pundits who have never set foot in a classroom but who know a divisive story when they smell it.

All of these agendas blind their proponents to the realities of education.  One of the realities of public education in New York and other large cities is that there are highly dysfunctional students who shouldn’t be graduating from high school for many and varied reasons.  To brazenly proclaim that there should be a 100% graduation rate and that everyone should be “college ready” is to ignore reality.

If you haven’t walked a beat for at least five years, you shouldn’t be talking about policing, let alone setting policy for police departments.  If you haven’t been in the classroom for at least five years, you should not be talking about education reform, let alone setting policy for it.  If you haven’t confronted the day to day problems of disruptive, dysfunctional students who care little for their own education and less for that of others in the room, you don’t understand the reality of teaching in New York City.

Dysfunctional students are another white elephant in de Blasio’s office at City Hall, in Carmen Farina’s office at 65 Court St., in John King’s office in Albany and Merryl Tisch’s office at the Board of Regents and at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  It is politically incorrect to blame students for their own failure.  According to political correctness, since these students often come from impoverished or disadvantaged backgrounds, they are not to blame for their own academic failure in spite of the fact that so many from these same backgrounds succeed against all odds.  As I’ve said elsewhere in these pages, it’s these high functioning “disadvantaged” students who suffer the most from the reformers and their agendas that refuse to track them into groups of their peers.  Instead they are placed with the dysfunctional and sacrificed at the altar of differentiation, heterogeneous grouping, peer-to-peer accountable talk and the like - educational reform drivel, all of it.

It is suicide for a teacher to blame students for their own failures because that teacher opens him/herself up to the easy accusation that the teacher is blaming the student and not accepting the responsibility of his/her job.  Most teachers won’t broach the subject for this reason and for the fear of retribution from above.  But even the most idealistic teacher knows that there are those students that they just cannot and will not reach.  That doesn’t mean they stop trying.  But they understand the reality of the situation.

There is an atmosphere of anxiety and fear among teachers because they are being blamed for things that are beyond their control.  Yet to speak out about it is to risk losing your job.  The reformers and their agendas are in positions of authority.  But it is a sure road to insanity to be held responsible for something you cannot control.  Expect a rise in the number of teacher suicides, especially among young teachers who have accepted the propaganda that they are responsible for the failure of their students, as a result of teacher “evaluation” systems that rate teachers according to the performance of students, something that is beyond the teacher’s control.

The truth is that the vast majority of students who fail not only should shoulder the blame themselves but know full well that they themselves failed, not the school or the teacher.  On occasion I’ve run into students that I failed years before.  I ask how they’re doing.  They say they are going for a G.E.D. or are still lacking this or that credit.  Sometimes they say that they got their credits or did whatever it took to pass their Regents exams and are now doing well in college or beyond.  If I remind them that I failed them, they just smile and nod their heads.  They don’t blame me for failing them.  They blame themselves.

Only the school reformers blame teachers for the failure of students.

Now there is an uproar about the fact that 91% of NYC teachers were rated as either effective or highly effective for the 2013-14 school year when the graduation rate was only 64%.  See, for example, the New York Post article dated Dec. 17, 2014, “Students can't pass tests, but teachers are 'A' OK.”  Worse still, the percentage that is ready for college hovers around 25%.  But it is disingenuous to suggest that if only 64% of students are graduating, then only 64% of teachers are doing an effective job or that if only 25% of students are ready for college, then only 25% of teachers are doing an effective job.  This is a classic and deliberate distortion of statistics.

Teachers know full well that you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink.  For some students the best teaching and best planned lesson make no difference at all.  We’re faced with that in the trenches in the classroom every day just as cops are faced with the possibility of real life violence in the trenches with every encounter on the street.

Those with the agendas know that data can be mined for whatever conclusion they want to draw.  That’s why today everything in education is data driven even though it’s perfectly obvious  that education does not lend itself to data analysis in the way business models do or assembly line production does or even stop and frisk statistics do.

Cops and teachers deal with people.  The only real statistic, albeit, a nebulous one, is that a certain percentage of people are crazy.  They may be violently insane, in which case the cop cannot be blamed for the consequences of their behavior, or educationally dysfunctional, in which case the teacher cannot be blamed for their academic failure.  These are the same people for whom rehabilitation and restorative justice are nothing more than licenses to continue their criminal and delinquent ways.

What’s needed are agendas that take this reality into account.


If there is an impeachment process for the mayor of New York City, let’s hope someone without an agenda gets it started as soon as possible.

    NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Chapter 83: Restorative Logic: If It Ain’t Broke … Break It

My Life as an NYC Teacher

Chapter 83: Restorative Logic: If It Ain’t BrokeBreak It

A License to Harass

    I was “U” rated in an observation of a coverage of an advisory period.  I’m not kidding!  See Chap. 82: ATR Advisory.
    Once a teacher is “U” rated in an observation, the supervisor is mandated to assist that teacher in improving his/her teaching.  The supervisor has to cut and paste an individualized “plan of assistance” to address the unsatisfactory issues noted in the observation.  How else are supervisors going to justify their inflated salaries?
    In my case, this meant that I needed help in two areas based on the Oct. 17, 2014 advisory coverage observation at Mott Hall Bronx.  I was observed and “U” rated teaching a lesson on imagery in a coverage of an advisory group, classes noted for their rigorous curricula - to the four students excluded from the class trip, which was where the teacher I was covering for had gone - no doubt gleefully.
    First, I was to implement a “formal” closure rather than the oral closure that I had utilized.  Although the oral assessment is a highly regarded and valuable teaching tool, my ATR field supervisor, Annelisse Falzone, felt that such a tool was not merely inadequate but inadequate to such a degree that it rendered an entire lesson unsatisfactory.  Even if the summation (of any kind) is inadequate, it is impossible for the final 1-2 minutes of a good lesson to render that lesson “unsatisfactory.”  But the oral closing is an excellent way to end a lesson (as well as to monitor progress throughout a class).  Ms. Falzone, however, needed a justification for an “unsatisfactory” rating so she grasped at a straw.
    The other thing I needed to do to improve my teaching was to pace the lesson better.  For my advisory coverage observation I found myself in front of four unknown students - the four who had not been allowed to go on the class trip.  (Actually, three - the fourth walked in fifteen minutes later.)  I didn't even know what grade level they were, let alone what their skill levels and attention spans were.  I knew nothing at all about these students but I had a lesson in hand (Lesson Plan) that was wide open in terms of differentiation.  The fact that these students were used to spending their advisory period chatting and gossiping, as they themselves told me at the outset and as a teacher confirmed, should have had no bearing on the pacing of the lesson.  I guess.
    Add to this the fact that I was expecting to teach a normal ELA class rather than the first period advisory.  The advisory class is eleven minutes shorter - 42 minutes - than the regular class length - 53 minutes - at Mott Hall Bronx.  My lesson plan had to be supple enough to allow for either contingency.  The fact that the lesson plan allowed for such deviation didn’t seem to have merit in the eyes of the beholder, i.e., the one grasping at straws.
    In short, in terms of pacing I had to guess right about a lot of unknowns.
    Nevertheless, I got through the mini-lesson and into the group work, as Ms. Falzone’s own observation report testifies.  The students learned the material.  They did the work, which can be seen linked to Chap. 82.  There was, in fact, no pacing problem at all.  But Ms. Falzone knew that simply saying that the lesson needed a “formal” rather than an oral summation wasn’t enough to justify an “unsatisfactory” rating.  She needed another straw.  So she grabbed for another straw.  But we all know what happened to that first little pig and his straw house.  Straw observations are just as easily blown down.
    Not mentioned in Ms. Falzone’s written report was another reason for my unsatisfactory performance.  I had not sent students to the board.  Yes, she floated this during our post-observation conference as a reason for failure.  I just laughed and she didn’t use it against me in her formal write up.  I guess that straw was so flimsy that it broke even before she could grasp it.
    Although I didn’t note it in my rebuttal to this observation (Chapter 82) because it is purely anecdotal, there is a small epilogue to the story of that advisory coverage observation.  Near the end of the day I was sitting in the Mott Hall atrium, an open area at the center of the school with a sun roof that is surrounded by classrooms.  There are half a dozen small tables in this area where students and teachers can work or conference.
    I was sitting alone in this area during the beginning of 5th period (12:16-1:07) when a math teacher came out of her room, slightly exasperated, with two students.  She asked if they could sit at the table with me to do some math work.  I was happy to take them off her hands, knowing full well how the disruptive behavior of two students can scuttle an entire lesson.  I wasn’t surprised to see that these two were two of the four that I had taught during my advisory coverage observation that morning.  One was student 4, the slacker.  I guess I was doing my part in the “restorative justice” system by monitoring them as they whiled away their math class in the comfort and pleasant environment of the atrium.  Punishment for getting kicked out of class?  This was Mott Hall.
    They had math work in front of them but paid it no mind.  There was far more important gossip at hand, which they shared with every student who came by with a bathroom pass, a virtual stream in that haven of restorative justice.  I urged them several times to do the work but work was the furthest thing from their minds.  In fact, when the math teacher came out near the end of the period to see how they had done, one of them simply told her that she had already failed that course and so she couldn’t be expected to do work that she didn’t understand.  Of course, she had made no effort at all to try to understand it but there was a certain logic to her argument.  Maybe that was restorative logic.
    The reason I mention this at all is not merely to give evidence about why those students had not been allowed to go on the class trip.  I mention it because during this atrium session, while they were restoratively and judicially not doing their math work, I asked them what they remembered about the class I had taught.  I asked if they could recall the 5 academic words for sensory imagery.  They each recalled four of the words, including “gustatory” and “olfactory,” the less familiar words, but omitting “auditory” until I asked them what an “auditorium” was.  But, of course, this was merely an oral assessment and not a formal “closing” and thus would have no meaning in the DOE worldview of my field supervisor.
    My initial “plan of assistance” was delivered on Nov. 12, 2014.  It outlined my urgent need to improve pacing and closure based on the advisory coverage observation.  I was directed to submit lesson plans in advance.  It was made clear that I would have to spend time meeting with the person who was helping me and that I had to follow whatever directives were mandated by this mandated process.  Of course, it was unlikely that I would ever again teach a lesson on sensory imagery while covering for an advisory group teacher on a field trip.  Nevertheless, my plan of assistance is meant, I guess, to prepare me for such a contingency.
    But when the premise is faulty, all that follows is nonsense.  Mandated nonsense is harassment.  The “plan of assistance” is nothing more than a license to harass.  Since I disagreed with both the very idea of doing advisory coverage evaluations and with the rating itself, I refused to submit lesson plans.  I instituted my own “plan of resistance.”
    I was reminded of a comment from a 10th grade student at another high school.  Thirteen years ago I was having trouble teaching an ELA class but it had nothing to do with pacing or closure.  It had to do with the complete lack of interest on the part of the students either in learning the ELA material at hand or in passing the class.  I frequently lectured that they were the ones who needed the grade and the credit, not me.  I had already passed high school.
    Finally one student said to me, “Mr. Haverstock, you keep saying that but this class isn’t for us.  It’s for you.”
    This confounded me.  I believed that the teacher was serving the students by facilitating their education.  But that wasn’t how many of them saw it.  From their point of view, the education that I and the school were providing was of no benefit to them at all.  They saw no connection between learning about literature and getting along in the world after school.  It was the old, “How is math going to help me?” taken to the Nth degree.  How was any of this going to help them in any real way?
    But it was clearly helping me.  I was coming to work every day and collecting a paycheck every two weeks.  That was worth more than all the figurative language you can think of.  If I could have drawn a straight line from “The Monkey’s Paw” to a bi-weekly paycheck, they all would have paid attention.  The school system existed to benefit those who were making a living from it, not those it was pretending to educate.  The students were merely the justification for a system whose real, tangible benefits went not to the students but to those perpetuating it.  When I finally understood this point, it was a revelation.
    In this sense the “career and college readiness” slogan is a fraud and the students know it.  Many of them know they’re not going to college.  Many have no desire to go to college.  Others have no desire to take the risk of going to college.  Why spend years and thousands of dollars to get an education that may or may not raise your standard of living?  A school system that insists on perpetuating this lie is only pretending to be in the best interest of the students when, in fact, it is acting in its own best interest and perpetuating itself.
    Worst of all, the top third who are going to college and who are going on to bigger and better things - they know that they are not getting the preparation they need because these new reform schools place them in classrooms where 40%  of their “peers” are not going to college.  They’re not even going to graduate.  The top third is sacrificed again in the name of education reform.
    “Plan of assistance?”  Plan of resistance.
    I have refused to submit lesson plans according to my plan of assistance just as those students refused to do the work I assigned.  It’s not for me.  It’s for them.  I taught an excellent lesson under difficult circumstances and yet was rated unsatisfactory by a supervisor in need of a reason for being.  Part of the reason that I’m chronicling this episode is in the hope that other ATRs won't be put in the same situation - improperly and unethical evaluated.  (Of course, mostly, like most bloggers and novelists, I'm just a compulsive writer.)
    Field supervisors have a job to do and they are going to do it.  There are real benefits to them and if there isn’t enough work, then all that’s needed is a few more “U” ratings and you’ve got all the work you want.  And if you can create your work by “U” rating an ATR, there is the added benefit of possibly running a few of us out of the system altogether and earning your pay by saving some DOE money.  ATRs beware.
    Here’s another piece of restorative logic.  These supervisors claim that their goal is to help the teacher - but the teacher they are helping only needs help because they have decided that the teacher needs help.  It’s a scam not far removed from the scam run by Charlie Chaplin in his famous movie “The Kid” wherein the kid breaks the window so that the Tramp can happen along at the right moment and fix it.  Observe a teacher in an advisory coverage, declare him/her unsatisfactory and then earn your bi-weekly paycheck by fixing what you’ve declared to be broken.
    As restorative logic dictates - if it ain’t broke … break it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chap. 63: Taking Education Out of the Classroom

My Life as an NYC Teacher

Chapter 63: Pair Share Snare

One of the latest trends in the new teacher evaluation system is to emphasize student-to-student interaction.  I have been advised by principals and supervisors to take myself out of the learning process in the classroom as much as possible, to make the class student-centered, to forget about the old-fashioned idea that the teacher is in the room so that students can learn from the teacher.

How quaint that idea seems nowadays - that the teacher teaches.  How quaint and yet here we are in a new era of the one-room schoolhouse with students of all levels sitting together and the expectation that the teacher can differentiate a lesson enough to cover them all - although the standardized tests differentiate NOT AT ALL.

When the Danielson evaluator enters a classroom now, the person expects to see two things: 1) high level, "rigorous" DOK questioning from the teacher; 2) the teacher stepping out of the picture while students engage in accountable talk among themselves.

As for the first, "rigorous" is as relative as it is subjective.  What is rigorous for one is too simplistic for some and completely opaque for others.  Which group is being evaluated in a classroom where differentiation is taking place?  Only the classroom teacher who is working with those students day in and day out knows this.  An evaluator cannot make that judgement based on a single observation, much less on a 15 minute learning walk.  (The only thing that can be learned in a "learning walk" is that nothing can be learned in a learning walk.)

As for the second, I'll discuss the absurdity before pointing out the insidiousness of it.  There is one educated person in a room with 20 or 30 students hoping to educate themselves.  The teacher knows what the student needs to know.  The teacher knows how to impart what the students need to learn.  The teacher knows how to stay on task in spite of myriad distractions.

But current wisdom has this one educated person taking him/herself out of the equation.  Current educational reform demands that the teacher stand down, so to speak, in the midst of battle while students talk to each other, something that once might have been called the blind leading the blind.  In most cases the students have only 45 minutes with the expert and yet current wisdom wants to reduce those 45 minutes as much as possible. They are demanding that the educator take education out of the classroom.  What educator can honestly do that?

Current wisdom justifies this absurd state of affairs by claiming that students today simply cannot learn by traditional methods.  They must be engaged and the way to engage them is to get them talking about the subject whether or not they know anything about it.  How much, after all, can be gleaned from a 10 or 15 minute mini-lesson even by the best and brightest?  Yet better that students engage in their own conversation than that the instructor insert his/her wisdom, learning, knowledge, experience, expertise.  Full group discussion with the teacher?  Sure fire ineffective.

But there is, after all, a rationale for this absurd approach, an insidious one and insidious in two ways.  First is that the hope for these student conversations is that the top third will elevate the bottom third.  Like everything else in current education reform, the new evaluation system is aimed directly at the bottom third.  In order to increase graduation rates, the bottom third must be brought up.  In order to show "progress" in the data, the bottom third must be brought up.  In other words, in order for education reform to appear to be successful, the bottom third must show progress.

But this happens only at the expense of the top third.  The top third are those high functioning students who desperately need and want to learn from their teacher, not from their peers.  They have little to gain academically from their peers.  These are the best and the brightest and these are the very children who are being sacrificed in the name of educational reform.  They're being used by the educational reformers.  Administrators who insist that their teachers remove themselves from their classroom activities are doing a great disservice to those very students who can and should be college ready.  Teachers who go along with it in order to keep their jobs are doing the same.

Second, this is insidious because it pretends that the teacher is not the vital cog in the classroom that he/she has always been.  If the students can learn with a minimum of interference from the educator, what is the point of having an educator in the room at all?  Education reform now denigrates and devalues the teacher and, of course, the reason for that is obvious.  They want to reduce the teaching profession to low level, minimum wage work.  They want to "disappear" the influence and inspiration of the teacher like a dictator who drops his enemies from helicopters into the ocean.  Teachers who go along with this pair share snare are helping put the stake through their own hearts.

And so what we now have as a result of billions of dollars spent on education reform is an educational system in which administrators are just petty bureaucrats doing their jobs and earning their inflated salaries.  Teachers write lengthy lesson plans to ensure that they do very little teaching, but spend valuable class time making sure kids are talking about whatever they know and mediating classroom disputes through "restorative justice."  Meanwhile among those wanting to be educated the blind go on leading the blind and those who can see have nothing to look at.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chap. 82: ATR Advisory Coverage Observation

My Life as an NYC Teacher

Chapter 82: ATR Life

Advisory Coverage Observation Advisory:

When the Premise Is Faulty, All That Follows Is Nonsense

Response to Observation

To:    Annelisse Falzone
From:    Walter David Haverstock
CC:    Amy Arundell, UFT Representative
Re:    Formal Observation of W.D. Haverstock (file #7-----)
Date:    Nov. 29,  2014

    On Oct. 17, 2014 Annelisse Falzone, an ATR field supervisor, observed me in a classroom at Mott Hall Bronx H.S. and wrote a Formal Observation Report .  This report is entirely arbitrary, subjective and omits key facts about the class in question.


Circumstances of the Observation

    Nowhere does Ms. Falzone’s report state that this observation took place during a coverage.  Although she describes the class as “your class” (1st paragraph), I had never taught these students before.  I did not know any of them.  Although Ms. Falzone’s report states that this class was “Grades: 10 and 11,” I was under the impression that these were 10th grade students.

    Principal Kathryn Malloy refused Ms. Falzone’s attempts to arrange an observation in an ELA class.  On the last day of my assignment at Mott Hall Bronx, this observation took place.  I was covering a first period “advisory” class.  The teacher and most of the students were out of the building on a college trip.  I was not provided a list of the students who were going on the trip.  Therefore I asked the students to sign an Attendance Sheet.

    Three students were in the room at the start of the class (8:55 a.m.).  I informed them that I was there to teach them an English lesson.  They initially objected, saying that this was their “advisory” period during which they didn’t do any work.  I told them that I thought they would enjoy the lesson and asked them to participate.  All three of these students did participate in the lesson although there was no obligation to do so.

    I don’t know if students at Mott Hall Bronx receive grades for their “advisory” period or, if so, what those grades are based on.  It was clear that this lesson from this unknown teacher would not impact any of their grades.  Nevertheless, these 3 students participated although I repeatedly had to refocus their attention, particularly after the 4th student showed up at 9:08 a.m., 12 minutes into the period.  (See Attendance Sheet.)

    Note that a fifth student entered at 9:25 a.m.  This student turned out not to be on the official roster for this “advisory” class although I had no way of knowing that.

    To further highlight the absurdity of this situation, I would note that principal Malloy entered the classroom at about 9:15 a.m.  I won’t speculate on her purpose or motive but will only make the non-judgmental and low inference observation that she entered the room, looked around, and left after 30-45 seconds.  I will draw the conclusion that she was fully aware of the fact that she had sent me into an “advisory” class with students left off a class trip for my formal observation.

    In spite of the absurdity of the situation to which I was subjected by Ms. Falzone and Ms. Malloy, Ms. Falzone witnessed an effective lesson, as I will detail below.  In spite of the sheen of objectivity implied by Ms. Falzone’s log of events during the class and in spite of the pretense that observations can be non-judgmental and low inference, all of her conclusions are entirely subjective.


Effective Instructional Strategies

    Near the top of page 3 Ms. Falzone devotes one short paragraph to the positive elements of the lesson which include the use of “different modalities” and graphic organizers.  Both of these are clearly evident in the student work, which I will attach below.  She omits much, however, which I will supply in detail here.


Engages Students in Learning

    Ms Falzone states that the lesson “lacked rigor and did not challenge the students to analyze or discuss the poems ….” (p. 3)  She quotes me as admitting that there wasn’t as much analysis as I intended with the lesson.  (She fails to indicate where this quotation ends.)  Common core lessons, of course, are open ended to allow students to probe as deeply as their ability allows.  I would ask Ms. Falzone how she is able to make such a judgement concerning students she had never seen before.  How could anyone make such a judgement in those circumstances?

    The lesson plan included 3 questions meant to engage students in analysis.  These questions span the Depth of Knowledge levels - who, what and why.  The level of rigor is self-evident.

    I have found that copying short poems word for word and paying attention to spelling and punctuation is a useful activity for 10th grade students.  It focuses them on the details of the written language at the same time as they are reading the poem for content.

    Ms. Falzone suggests that I should have read the poem and should have asked the students to “write or draw a description of the images ….”  Such a vague instruction would have been meaningless to the students.

    Instead I attempted to engage them in the idea of sensory images by using their own prior knowledge.  As noted on p. 2 of Ms. Falzone’s report, I asked them to close their eyes and visualize sensory images with which they were all very familiar - the sights and sounds and smells of a deli.  I would argue that this was a far more effective way of engaging students in the aim of the lesson.

    Ms. Falzone’s judgement is entirely subjective.


Promotes Positive Student Learning Outcomes

    Ms. Falzone devotes a lengthy paragraph on page 3 of her report to the alleged lack of a “formative and summative assessment.”  The lesson centered around the academic language of imagery.  The notes taken by Student 1 clearly show the focus on the terms “visual,” “olfactory,” “auditory,” “gustatory,” and “tactile.  He copied the William Carlos Williams poem that I displayed at the start of the lesson as I instructed.  He then made his own drawing of a face.  I instructed the students to sketch a face in order to associate images in the form of words on the page with their actual physical senses.  This they did.  These are the different modalities mentioned earlier, meant to engage students visually.  The relationship between words on a page and physical senses was further reinforced with the graphic organizer I asked them to make.  (See class notes of Student 1, Student 2  and Student 3.)

    Note: Student 4  came in 12 minutes late and spent much of the period distracting the other three students with social conversation.  He only took a few class notes and yet was able to orally recite 4 of the 5 academic terms at the end of the lesson.

    Ms. Falzone felt that asking the students to use the academic terms orally was insufficient as an assessment tool.  She acknowledges that I asked them, “Who thinks they know the five words?” at 9:33 a.m.  She describes this question as “vague.”  In fact, all four students could recite 4 or 5 of the words by the end of the lesson.  Oral assessments are commonly used and are valuable teaching tools.  In fact, in many ways oral assessments are superior to written ones because they force the student to rely on their own learning.

    Ms. Falzone’s judgement is entirely arbitrary and subjective.


Demonstrates Classroom Management Skills

    Ms. Falzone states that the “pace of the lesson was slow and lagging resulting in students not having enough time to complete and review the learning activity.” (p. 3)

    Neither Ms. Falzone nor I had ever seen these students before.  I knew nothing about their work habits, skill levels, or their ability to focus in the classroom.  All I knew about them was that these were the students who were not going on the college trip.  I won’t speculate on the reasons for that.

    The lesson as written and taught was deliberately open ended in order to allow students to work at their own pace.  This is differentiation.  By the end of the class Student 1 was working on the second of the 4 poems on the green handout (“A Drinking Song” by W.B. Yeats).  Student 2 was working on the first (“The Red Wheelbarrow”).  Student 2 was working on the second poem.  Student 4 was working on the first.  This was done during the small group portion of the lesson, which I monitored to see that they were relating the images in written form to their drawings of the physical senses.  They were not meant to finish all four poems.  Part of the homework for the lesson was to complete all four poems in this fashion.

    Ms. Falzone’s description of the pacing of this lesson is purely speculative.  As I said, neither she nor I knew anything about these students.  This was not an ELA class but an “advisory” period.  To pretend to know how quickly these students might have worked through the activity is at best disingenuous.

    Ms. Falzone’s judgement is entirely arbitrary, subjective and does not accurately reflect what happened in the classroom.


A Curious Question

    During the post-observation discussion that took place that same day, Ms. Falzone asked why I hadn’t left the student work with the students.  I told her that I’d collected it because I thought it would be useful to her in writing her report on the lesson.  This was my last day at Mott Hall Bronx.  I was never going to see these students again.  The lesson was taught in an “advisory” period with no impact on student grades.  Had I been their actual teacher, they would have filed their work in their folder, a system that I use to ensure the creation of a portfolio.  Knowing nothing of how their English class was conducted, I determined that their work was of more value to Ms. Falzone than to them.

    Now it seems to be of most value to me.

    The student work is the best evidence of what actually happened during the lesson.  I include it here as evidence to support my assertion that this was an effective lesson taught under very difficult circumstances and that Ms. Falzone grossly misrepresents the effectiveness of the lesson in her “Formal Observation Report.”

    Could it be that Ms. Falzone didn’t want any evidence to contradict her subjective and arbitrary evaluation of my performance?  Could it be that her “unsatisfactory” rating of my lesson was pre-determined?  Could this be the reason for her lack of objectivity?  I simply ask the questions.  I know as little about these matters as I did about the students I taught for this “observation.”  Nothing at all.

Signed:                                Date: Nov 29, 2014


     When the premise is fauty, all that follows is nonsense.  The various plans for improvement that Ms. Falzone has given me are based on a faulty premise, the rating of an effective lesson as "unsatisfactory."  But when a bureaucrat is handed a formula, that formula has to be followed, no matter how absurd.
     Unlike Ms. Falzone, however, I'm no bureaucrat.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Chap. 91: Where “Restorative Justice” Runs the Asylum

My Life as an NYC Teacher

Chapter 91: Where "Restorative Justice" Rules

Mott Hall Bronx High. School
Kathryn Malloy, Principal

    I spent my first 6 ATR weeks from Sept. 2 to Oct. 17, 2014 at Mott Hall Bronx High School.  If you want to see the natural outcome of applying “restorative justice” as an alternative to conventional discipline to an entire school, Mott Hall is the place to look.  The inmates there have full control of the asylum.
    The original principal of this small high school must have seen the writing on the wall when he took a lucrative contract to administrate a school on the Saudi peninsula.  Maybe he saw restorative justice on the horizon and knew that his odds of survival were better in the Middle East.  Maybe the same applies to his long time A.P., who took a similar deal this year, leaving principal Kathryn Malloy in charge with only one assistant.  The writing on the wall must have been in perfectly legible graffiti.
    I was there for the parent teacher evening that took place on Wed., Sept. 17, 2014.  The faculty gathered for pasta in room 263 between 4 and 5 o’clock to fortify themselves before the parents’ arrival.  Ms. Malloy took this opportunity with most of the teachers present to deliver her message about parent-teacher conferences.  She apologized for not addressing the issue sooner but said that she wanted this message to go out: “We are raising these kids together.”  If anyone objected, it wasn’t vocalized.
    “Restorative justice” is defined as a method of “repairing harm” caused by criminal behavior.  See, for instance, Restorative Justice Online .  This is proposed for public education as an alternative to traditional discipline, which revolved around detention and suspension.  Coincidentally, the number of detentions and suspensions a school reports now adversely affects a school’s rating.  Therefore it is in the interest of the school to lower the number of detentions and suspensions meted out.  Eureka!  A rationale.
    But is it in the interest of education?  Is it in the interest of the students and is it in the interest of the teachers?  Professional development in schools is now being done around this concept.  Of course, it isn’t really anything new.  The first steps in the “ladder of referral” always have been to try to mediate situations by talking them out first as teacher-student, then as teacher-parent-student, and then as teacher-counselor-student.  This was never called “restorative,” although it was certainly justice.
    Now there is a euphemistic name for it that can be implemented as school policy - not as a means of improving the environment in the classroom but as a means of reducing detentions and suspensions in order to raise a school’s rating..  In a New York Times article published April 3, 2013 and titled “Opening Up, Students Transform a Vicious Cycle,” Patricia Leigh Brown discusses the implementation of restorative justice in Oakland schools.  Leigh Brown writes:

A body of research indicates that lost class time due to suspension and expulsion results in alienation and often early involvement with the juvenile justice system, said Nancy Riestenberg, of the Minnesota Department of Education, an early adopter of restorative justice. Being on “high alert” for violence is not conducive to learning, she added.

    Being on “high alert” for violence certainly isn’t conducive to learning but this is the state that well-behaved students find themselves in when the violent offenders are not removed from the classroom.  I wouldn’t disparage a body of research with which I’m not familiar any more than I would question lies, damned lies, statistics and double blind studies.  But no doubt there is a correlation between disciplining misbehaving students and early involvement with the juvenile justice system.  Disciplining misbehaving juveniles is the purpose of the juvenile justice system.  It is not the purpose of the educational system.
    Restorative justice is appropriate within a family group where forgiveness is essential.  That’s why Principal Malloy is trying to create the illusion that teachers are surrogate parents.  Parents don’t suspend their kids although the temptation is often great.  She wants her staff not to educate but to nurture their charges.  These surrogate sons and daughters, by the way, are the very students on whose performance the surrogate parents are now being evaluated. 
    Teachers are not parents.  Teaching is not parenting.  Students should receive the help they need but within the appropriate forum.  Schools exist for the purpose of educating pupils and there are many pupils who are in need of education rather than restorative justice.  These students don’t need surrogate parents.  They need teachers and classroom environments where criminal behavior doesn’t have to be mediated.  That means applying conventional discipline, removing, that is, to those who cannot or will not function in a conventional classroom.
    In another New York Times Article, this one by Paul Tullis and published Jan. 4, 2013, the concept of restorative justice is discussed in relation to the criminal justice system:

Most modern justice systems focus on a crime, a lawbreaker and a punishment. But a concept called “restorative justice” considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned — the victims, the offender and the community — on making amends. And it allows victims, who often feel shut out of the prosecutorial process, a way to be heard and participate.

    What is the purpose of applying “restorative justice,” a concept developed through and for criminal justice, to the public education system?  Is this a tacit admission that the public education system is nothing more than a penal colony?  I’ve often lamented the fact that in many of the large, old public school buildings in the Bronx, room numbers are stenciled on the walls.  Stenciled.  It feels like a prison on many of those buildings.  Maybe there is more to it than symbol.
    It’s time to admit the truth about many urban classrooms: the percentage of dysfunctional students makes them unteachable.  No amount of differentiation, grouping and restorative justice is going to change that.  I’ve spent 14 years in Bronx classrooms in 6 different schools and the story is always the same.  They are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  By focusing on the lower 1/3, the upper 1/3, which is the percentage that deserves to be “career and college ready,” are being neglected and the neglect is blamed on the teacher rather than on a system and a society that won’t admit the truth about itself.
    Teachers are being scapegoated, pure and simple.  The failure of the student is blamed on the teacher’s supposed inability to differentiate or engage or group or plan.  In the vast majority of cases, however, the failure of the student is the result of the student’s inability to perform to standard.  There are as many reasons for this as there are poorly performing students but an ineffective teacher or lesson is rarely the cause.

    Getting back to the Mott Hall Bronx restorative experiment.  During my six weeks there I personally witnessed two students taken out during the school day in handcuffs by NYPD.  (I am aware of a third but didn’t see it personally.)  I witnessed a near riot in the gym when the Phys. Ed. teacher was absent.  Students refused to stop playing sports even when directed to stop by the deans.  A rim was torn from a backboard in front of these deans.  A bench was torn out of the locker room.  Principal Malloy showed up and moved everyone out of the gym and into the cafeteria for the remainder of the period.  There were no consequences, restorative or otherwise, for the blatant insubordination.
    Restorative justice is making many schools an unsafe environments for students and teachers alike.  Applying a concept designed for criminal justice is an insidious and invidious tacit admission that the purpose of public schools in major urban areas is as much to incarcerate and prepare for incarceration as to educate.  But these two goals are mutually exclusive.
    Traditional discipline is meant to facilitate the education of the well-behaved, functioning students by removing from the classroom those who disrupt lessons.  It is meant to be a punishment for those who disrupt class and to be an incentive to change disruptive behave so that those not in need of restorative justice or traditional punishment can learn.
    As bad it is to neglect the education of the top one-third, it is worse to create an environment where misbehaving and criminal-minded students can wreak their own brand of justice on students and teachers alike with no concern for the consequences of their actions.  For many students, this is a license to continue their delinquent antics with nothing to fear other than a cuddly mediation with surrogate parents, i.e., teachers, and misguided principals who have swallowed hook, line and sinker the DOE scam that if they are disciplining their misbehaving students, they are doing something wrong.
    Columnist Thomas Sowell published some cautionary thoughts on this latest trend in educational reform.  Although he looks at the discipline issue from a racial perspective, his comments about education and discipline are relevant.  I give him the last word: Thomas Sowell NY Post