<![CDATA[Brian Cohen - Making the Grade Blog]]>Thu, 11 Feb 2016 16:00:40 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Chicago teachers union rallies 3,000 in protest]]>Thu, 11 Feb 2016 23:45:06 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/chicago-teachers-union-rallies-3000-in-protestLots has been happening in Chicago in relation to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) negotiating a new contract with the city's public school system (CPS).

If you remember back in 2010 Karen Lewis was elected president of the CTU as part of the Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators; she beat back the United Progressive Caucus with 60% of the vote in a run-off election. Two years later the CTU authorized and implemented a strike that won a lot of concessions from CPS. Even though Karens Lewis has had some serious health issues recently, she is still on the forefront with the CTU trying to push back against the new contract offerings from CPS and the mayor, Rahm Emanuel.

Protesting potential layoffs, issues with pension benefits, classroom size, and more, the CTU authorized another strike in December 2015 with 96.5% of voting members in favor (92% of the members actually voted - amazing!). Budget cuts have been threatened and made the news recently when principals found out the specifics of what programs or positions they may have to reduce within their schools.

Last Friday there was an amazing rally in downtown Chicago where 3,000 union members and their supporters shut down traffic for quote some time to make their points. There was amazing news coverage of the event.

As a member of a related union I support Chicago Teachers in their fight for better working conditions. As is often said, our working conditions are the student's working conditions. Fight back!]]>
<![CDATA[New insights into the UFT]]>Wed, 10 Feb 2016 02:15:30 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/new-insights-into-the-uftLast Wednesday was my first experience with the Delegate's Assembly (DA) of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). As a new chapter leader I was invited to take part in listening to reports made by the President of the UFT, Michael Mulgrew, then to take part making, debating, and voting on motions put out to the floor. There were at least 500 people at the meeting by my count even though there are enough chapter leaders and delegates (more information on the difference later) for there to be 3000. 
The Delegate Assembly ostensibly starts at 4:15pm, although we really began in earnest around 4:30pm, but does have a firm ending time of 6:00pm, with the option to extend if a majority of voters decided to do so (which rarely, if ever, happens I found out). This DA took a majority of the time to listen to President Mulgrew update the leaders on what is going on in the world of the Union at the city, state, and national levels. While interesting, it is really something that could have been sent over email or in the mail. In my opinion, it was somewhat of a waste of time that could have been spent on others things. In fact, there was an article printed in the UFT newspaper immediately after that I cut out and scanned, saying the same thing that was shared at the DA.
There is one important aspect of the DA that should probably have a majority of time spent in order to endorse our democratic values: motions on the floor. There is a small mention of motions at the end of the article sharing the "wonders" of the DA that two motions were passed, which leaves out a lot of what I saw: some chaos and a lot of undemocratic choices made.

Before the prepared agenda items were voted on (there were around six provided ahead of time and we voted on only one) there was time for floor motions to be made. Many people raised their hands, including Jie Lee of the Movement of Rank-and-file Educators. A person behind her was called on for an interesting motion to add an item to the agenda of next month's meeting and then 10 minutes began of debates on Robert's Rules of Order (it was very reminiscent of debates in the Park Slope Food Coop General Meetings). No more people were called on after that one motion was passed. 

If the UFT wants to be truly democratic in its background, it needs to make sure there is more time for its membership to voice concerns and get things put out onto the floor of the DA. I hope this upcoming election will spur some change.
<![CDATA[Guidance Counselors in Philly get a win]]>Sat, 06 Feb 2016 13:59:15 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/guidance-counselors-in-philly-get-a-winYesterday was a big win for the guidance counselors of Philadelphia: despite being fired and re-hired against seniority rules back in 2013, a judge has ruled in favor of an arbitrator, stating that the School District of Philadelphia was in the wrong when it made those decisions 2.5 years ago and must re-hire all its former counselors. 

If you remember back in the summer of 2013 the recently-hired Superintendent Hite made the decision with his team to go against the Philadelphia Federation of Teacher's contract and dismiss all counselors in a budgetary squeeze that ended up shuttering numerous schools and reducing the teaching population immensely. Some were hired back but not in order of seniority and many schools were even left without full-time counselors (explain to me how a roaming counselor works as well as one who is there every day). The counselors started a website/blog that doesn't have an enormous amount of information on it but shares some of the things that are eliminated when you lack a proper counseling department:
  • Crisis intervention for students with suicidal and homicidal ideation.
  • Handle homeless students and families as well as those involved in the DHS system.
  • De-escalation of students with behavior issues.
  • Meet with community partners to develop services for students.
  • Complete the FAFSA, SAT and ACT registrations.
  • Complete transcripts for college admissions and scholarships.
  • Work with truancy agencies around attendance.
  • Intervene when the nurse is unavailable.
  • Classroom guidance activities.
  • Connect families with community based counseling services.
  • Help students complete Individualized Learning Plans.
  • Provide a safe haven for students in need of support.
I suppose it is a wonderful coincidence that this decision is handed down at the close of National School Counseling week. I want to share my support for counselors everywhere - be they in schools or otherwise - as helpful, trained people to make sure everyone has their emotional needs met.
<![CDATA[No snow days in NYC? Well, sort of (a.k.a. why Long Island teachers got the day off)]]>Tue, 26 Jan 2016 01:32:00 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/no-snow-days-in-nyc-well-sort-of-aka-why-long-island-teachers-got-the-day-offOver the past 24 hours I have received two text messages from the UFT on behalf of the Department of Education. The first, came yesterday at 12:14pm:
Even though schools in Philadelphia, DC, and Baltimore got days off school for a similar amount of snow, residents of NYC had to shlep their kids to school (or send them on subways that may or may not be working). Teachers all across the city had to leave earlier or circle their schools for 45 minutes looking for parking (like my co-teacher did this morning). Then, out of the blue, we received this information in the afternoon today:
​According to a few colleagues, apparently the teachers who worked in far east New York City (past the 7 train) were unable to get to work due to challenges with the Long Island Railroad and plowing past the city limits. Therefore, some schools were closed today due to lack of educators being able to come to their buildings. Then, even though it was not truly equitable per se, the rest of teachers in the city receive a "give back" of PD time that we don't have to go to. 

It seems strange that if some teachers cannot get to school that a) the rest of us are expected to, and b) that the 100 minutes we get after school would be equivalent to the day these teachers did not have to use from their sick/personal leave. Weird, huh?
<![CDATA[What exactly is happening in Detroit Public Schools?]]>Sun, 24 Jan 2016 01:42:28 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/what-exactly-is-happening-in-detroit-public-schoolsPicture
If you scroll down to the bottom of this article in the Detroit Free Press, you can see images (like the one to the right) of the despicable conditions that adults and children are forced to endure across their school system. Broken windows, moldy ceilings, uneven floors, and more issues plague their buildings. While my current school in New York City does not have these same issues, I empathize with the situation in Detroit form my days working in older and less maintained buildings in Philadelphia that had similar conditions,

It is for this reason (as well as protests of large class sizes and other issues) that Detroit Public School teachers have been protesting using a means at their disposal: the "sick out." Groups of teachers across the city have been staying at home instead of working in deplorable conditions in order to get more attention to the issues at hand. This past week, the DPS has gone to Facebook to announce the schools that are open because it is a much shorter list than those that are closed.

Even though the DPS has gone to court to ask for an injunction against the sickouts, the judge ruled in favor of the union and its teachers. Some groups are calling for a more extended teacher strike in the near future. Whatever happens, I hope that more attention is paid to whom is running the school district and they supply more support in order to fix the physical and emotional problems plaguing it.
<![CDATA[What is a diploma worth these days?]]>Sat, 16 Jan 2016 20:51:33 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/what-is-a-diploma-worth-these-daysChalkBeat recently reported that the graduation rate for students of New York City has reached 70% for the first time. As these kinds of increases have been political goals for mayor and governors alike, it is obviously treated as an achievement of greatness. On the other hand, what exactly does a diploma represent these days? I have worked in five different public schools over my eight years of being in classrooms and seen some very shady things happen in order to make sure students are graduating. I have also seen such pressure on teachers to make sure their students earn enough credits otherwise their evaluation scores would be reduced significantly. So, it begs the question, What is a diploma really worth these days?

Having a high school diploma does not guarantee success in life. If you look at this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, individual will overtake the average salary once they complete a bachelor's degree in college. So, one of the most important things to do is make sure our high school graduates are equipped to stay in the college classroom until college graduation.
Unfortunately, this is not currently taking place. If you believe the statistics mentioned in this NY Times article, we have serious trouble when it comes to college completion and student retention.
The most recent evaluation of 12th graders on a national test of reading and math found that fewer than 40 percent were ready for college level work. College remediation and dropout rates remain stubbornly high, particularly at two-year institutions, where fewer than a third who enroll complete a degree even within three years.
We need to make sure our students are prepared not only with credits but also with the know-how to navigate college systems as well as the determination to make it through the rigorous process of learning more individually than ever before. 

Last Monday, the NY State Board of Regents looked various proposals to to allow more project-based assessments to earn a diploma instead of the Regents Exam itself. This might be a good way to give students more individual accountability with more rigor. They also looked a proposal to allow students to appeal their Regents score if it is between 60-64% (the current appeal level is 62-64%). 

I'm not sure what the right solution is on the state level but I do know that at my school we focus a lot on preparing students to be accountable for themselves, to self-advocate, and be ready for unexpected challenges that lie ahead. We have a college retention rate somewhere in the 80%s after 3 semesters in college - something most schools cannot boast. I hope I learn what is really going on at a school-wide level sometime so I can share that information with others. It's only with methods like this can be make sure diplomas mean something and our students are really prepared for college.
<![CDATA[As the semester ends... grades will rise]]>Sun, 03 Jan 2016 14:05:43 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/as-the-semester-ends-grades-will-riseThe New York Times recently published an article on the increase in graduation rates across the United States but the lack of college readiness by those same students. As a teacher who has seen firsthand what this can mean in five different schools (four in Philadelphia and one in Brooklyn) even the best schools I've experienced are plagued by this issue. There is such an emphasis that test scores and graduation rates increase despite the increasing demand of higher standards that mathematically there would have to be some drop in graduation rates - at least in the short term - to balance that demand. If you read the responses including myriad of teachers there is such corroboration by those actually in the classroom.

​In my opinion, one of the worst things that can happen in a school is the idea of grade inflation, where scores and marks are given and not earned. Despite what is sometimes reported as stricter standards for programs like Credit Recovery (earning class credit for fewer seat-hours and usually less-rigorous work), there are many ways for students to earn credit without having to be in the classroom. On page 37 of this academic policy document it outlines the procedures for using "Targeted Credit Recovery" with many guidelines for use by senior students and their teachers. It requires a certain number of hours (sometimes) of work as well as delineating when this credit recovery should take place and some of the form it should take. One of the limitations that is not always obvious is a student can not earn more than 3 credits in this manner. So students who have performed at such low levels consistently will need alternate methods in order to get their diploma.

We have only three more weeks in the semester before grades are due and credits are awarded. I am hopeful that I have prepared my students in such a way that they understand the grades they will be earning and do not externalize the reason for them. I will do my best to connect with students in need over the coming week to make sure they are prepared and know what is coming up. Good luck to all teachers in this final push for academic focus.]]>
<![CDATA[School Segregation´╗┐]]>Thu, 31 Dec 2015 16:11:16 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/school-segregationAs a former employee of the School District of Philadelphia I am well aware of the segregation issues plaguing neighborhoods across cities. I have written before on issues of racial and ethnic differences between teachers and students (here and here) but not as much about diversity of the student population. During the time I spent teaching in Philadelphia I mostly worked in schools that were 80%+ Black with a smattering of other groups (Latino, Asian, White. African immigrant). At the time I noted this but did not have as personal a stake in it because of lack of neighborhood connections and being shifted around from school to school so frequently.

Fast forward to this year when I am finally in the third year at a school I love to work in and have been elected one of its Union leaders. I have been attending meetings with the administration and Union and learned more about this issue amongst many others. 

What I've learned about our school is that we are incredibly diverse in comparison to some of our neighbors and that other schools are popping up in our district that are less diverse but somehow more desirable (i.e. are placed higher on applications for middle school and high school). Apparently, a school with around 60-70% White students where the rest are of a variety of backgrounds is desired more than our more balanced demographic (something like 40% Latino, 30% Black, and a mixture of the rest). Perhaps if a student population is majority White then middle- to upper-class parents will more likely send there children there?

New maps that recently came out of the Center for NYC Affairs have fanned the flame of a battle being fought across the city. As school diversity debates are raging in NYC many residents are wondering what will Chancellor Fariña do about some schools that do not reflect the diversity of the neighborhood surrounding them.

I, personally, wonder about an elementary school a few blocks away from my house - PS 282. I have good friends who send their son there as a minority White student amongst a majority Black and Latino population. He has a great education and is involved in the Chess club (he is nationally ranked at age 8!) yet the surrounding neighborhood has many more White families that do not send their kids there. If this is a continuing trend, we are well on our way to sustaining segregation and all its pitfalls.]]>
<![CDATA[Paid Family Leave for NYC Employees (including teachers)]]>Sat, 26 Dec 2015 14:02:36 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/paid-family-leave-for-nyc-employees-including-teachersOn Monday, December 21, 2015, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that he will be signing an executive order allowing for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for new parents. This will be a huge boon to newborn and young parents beginning to expand their family with children. As a newly-married individual, I am paying attention to new laws like this since it is possible I will soon benefit from them. I recently learned about the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, a law put into place in 1993 to allow for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical and family-related situations. While the order De Blasio plans to sign would not provide benefits for medical needs other than newborns, it would provide money for those who cannot afford to take off the time otherwise.

While you can see this is not the best in comparison to other countries in the world, it is progress, and so I am glad to see it taking shape. 
The one question now is how will this play out for City Employees that have contracts negotiated through collective bargaining agreements. When I saw the article explaining this new policy I immediately got excited but before I share it with my staff in my new role as Union Representative, I needed to make sure we would benefit from it. Apparently, the De Blasio administration is already in talks with the United Federation of Teachers for how to incorporate this into our contract, since it will last until 2022. We will see how those talks shake out.
<![CDATA[Every Student Succeeds or just a watered-down version of NCLB?]]>Mon, 14 Dec 2015 00:25:16 GMThttp://www.bncohen.com/making-the-grade-blog/every-student-succeeds-or-just-a-watered-down-version-of-nclbAs many of you probably know, last week President Obama signed a new bill into law with the largest ramifications for education since No Child Left Behind. Entitled the "Every Student Succeeds Act", it is currently being hailed as a savior of sorts from the ill-conceived notions of testing sponsored by NCLB under President George W. Bush. With bipartisan support (like NCLB also had), the law sailed through the House of Representatives and the Senate, despite being a 1000-page behemoth that was only truly released a few days before the vote. 

What is most fascinating to me is that the law changes a lot while at the same time changing very little. The main shift that everyone is focusing on is that the federal government no longer mandates teacher evaluation to be tied to standardized test scores. Instead, the states and local governments are left to battle that fight on their own. In New York State Governor Cuomo simultaneously announced a moratorium on test-based teacher evaluations for four years. This seems at odds with his previous positions on incorporating testing so highly into teacher evaluation.

There are some strange things included in this bill, however, that are just coming to light (as people can finally sit down to read it). 

1) States are free to choose their own test-based accountability policies but they must be approved by the secretary of education in order to receive Title 1 funding (Source).

2) The ESSA contains a ban on abortion-funding for school-based clinics. While this is a very low number of clinics, it is interesting that it is included (Source).

3) Possibly the biggest issue is surrounding teacher preparation programs and what constitutes a "high-quality teacher," what credits they should be earning, etc (Source).

While it is a step in the right direction, in my opinion, to reduce the role of the federal government from mandating testing, it is not true that testing will be gone. States are still mandated to test students in grade 3-8 and once in high school for a variety of subjects. We'll see how this plays out.]]>