Is the UFT selling us another bill of goods?
Over at Edwise today Leo Casey, Vice President of the United Federation of Teachers, addresses the criticisms of Diane Ravitch and Long Island principal Carol Burris of the new teacher evaluations here in New York State. Mr. Casey acknowledges the complexity of the new evaluation regime, then goes on to say:
“Unfortunately, complexity has provided a fertile ground for commentaries on the New York teacher evaluation framework that reach alarmist conclusions, with arguments built on a foundation of misinformation and groundless speculation. A widely circulated piece by Long Island Principal Carol Corbett Burris, published on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog, is in the thrall of this alarmist alchemy. Burris decries the law and last week’s agreement as allowing “test scores… to trump all.” Under its scoring, a teacher could be “effective” in all components of the evaluation and yet still receive an overall rating of “ineffective.” The law, Burris concludes, is creating an evaluation system in which schools and students will “lose great teachers.” At the Bridging Differences blog, Diane Ravitch has now taken up Burris’ argument, repeating her main points as gospel.”
Casey then goes on to explain why their criticisms are unnecessarily alarmist.
“First, Burris incorrectly assumes that the entire 40 points in the measures of student learning will be derived from standardized state exams. But the use of value-added growth measures from state standardized exams need not take up more than 20% of the total teacher evaluation – and then only for a minority of teachers, those teaching English Language Arts and Mathematics, grades 4 through 8. Standardized state exams can only be used as the basis for the local measures of student learning if the union local agrees to their use in collective bargaining. I know of no significant New York district where the local union has agreed to the use of standardized state exams as the basis for the local measures of student learning. In New York City, the UFT has taken the position that under no circumstances would we agree to the use of standardized state exams for the local measures of student learning…”
Now, I still have some respect for Leo Casey. He has written some very good things at Edwise and has had moments of eloquence in defense of teachers. Unfortunately, his counter-argument here seems to be a matter of splitting hairs.
The key word throughout this entire post is state. 40 percent of the new evaluations will be based on “measures of student learning”. Only half of that (20 percent overall) can be based on state standardized exams. The other half will be local assessments which must be agreed to in collective bargaining. In fact, Casey consistently reminds us that most of the details of the new evaluation framework will be filled in by what local unions and school districts agree to in collective bargaining (more on that later).
First, what is a local assessment? Notice how he does not use the word exam. Also notice that he did not mention that any assessment agreed to in collective bargaining must be approved by the State Education Commissioner. In reality, these local assessments will be more tests. They might be different from the state exams but they will be exams nonetheless. And, remember, all local assessments must be approved by the State Education Commissioner.
Local standardized exams do not yet exist in New York City. Furthermore, many grades and subjects do not have established state exams either. What this amounts to for the children of New York City are two exams, one state and one local, for every grade and subject. This is a mouth-watering prospect for companies that make standardized exams; a stream of millions of dollars in state and municipal contracts.
This new testing regime has been the major criticism of Diane Ravitch. In her vision:
All such schemes rely on standardized tests as the ultimate measure of education. This is madness. The tests have some value in measuring basic skills and rote learning, but their overuse distorts education. No standardized test can accurately measure the quality of education. Students can be coached to guess the right answer, but learning this skill does not equate to acquiring facility in complex reasoning and analysis. It is possible to have higher test scores and worse education. The scores tell us nothing about how well students can think, how deeply they understand history or science or literature or philosophy, or how much they love to paint or dance or sing, or how well prepared they are to cast their votes carefully or to be wise jurors.
Leo Casey never really addresses these arguments. He only responds that half of those tests will be agreed to by the union in collective bargaining (but must be approved by the State Education Commissioner.) I do not see how this is supposed to allay Diane Ravitch’s “alarmist” fears.
What is collective bargaining worth anyway, if the State Education Commissioner can give a thumbs down to whatever was bargained?
And what about that other 60%, the one that deals with “teacher performance”?
According to Leo Casey, this entire 60% will be shaped by collective bargaining as well. 31 of those percentage points must be administrative observations based on a research-based framework (i.e. Danielson) that must be agreed to in collective bargaining. The other 29 percent can be anything from peer observations, lesson plans (wait, I thought the contract said that principals cannot judge us based upon lesson plans?) and “artifacts” such as student work (does this mean the bulletin board police will continue to be out in force?) Whatever this 29 percent ends up being for New York City, it must be agreed to in collective bargaining between our own UFT and the DOE.
Therefore, according to Leo Casey
“…80% of the total evaluation – the measures of teacher performance and the measures of student learning based on local assessments – are set through collective bargaining at the district level. This provides teacher union locals with an essential and necessary input into teacher evaluations, allowing us to ensure that they have educational integrity and are fair to teachers.”
That really does seem like a sweet deal for teachers, but it is misleading. We have already dealt with 20 of this 80 percent, so let us look at the remaining 60.
First, this is a disaster for administrators (where is their union, by the way?) They effectively have had all of the power to rate teachers taken out of their hands. The 31% that they are actually guaranteed to be a part of must use a “research-based” rubric to rate teachers. No longer can principals walk into a class, observe what is going on and know whether or not students are learning. Believe or not, there are still a few administrators in the system who have been veteran educators who know when a class is learning and when they are going through the motions. None of that matters anymore. All of them, from the 20-year pro to the Leadership Academy neophyte who would not know good teaching if it was standing in the front of the room conducting a lesson, must refer to some pre-packaged rubric.
Maybe the account of a principal from Tennessee, where they have already started using some of this research-based stuff, can give a clue to the problem with this:
But under Tennessee’s new teacher-evaluation system, which is similar to systems being adopted around the country, Mr. Ball said he had to give the teacher a one — the lowest rating on a five-point scale — in one of 12 categories: breaking students into groups. Even though Mr. Ball had seen the same teacher, a successful veteran he declined to identify, group students effectively on other occasions, he felt that he had no choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the state’s complicated rubric.
“It’s not an accurate reflection of her as a teacher,” Mr. Ball said.
Ever call for tech support for your computer only to end up talking to someone in another country reading from a script in which there is no place for your individual problem? That is what this 31% percent is. No matter what is agreed to in collective bargaining, the assumption will be that good teaching looks the same in every classroom every day. Maybe you forgot to write the date on the board, maybe the aim is not focused enough, maybe the class gets so into a discussion that the original lesson does not get completed, or maybe you just did not wear a tie (or female equivalent) to work that day. No matter what, it all counts. It can all be used against you if your classroom does not look like every other good classroom as determined by “research” done by people who have not been in a classroom since the term classroom was coined.
The other 29 percent is pretty much up in the air and, chances are, whatever is agreed to in collective bargaining will disaggregate that 29 percent into smaller percentages. However, it does not matter in the end because according to Leo Casey:
“At the behest of Governor Cuomo, the New York State Education Department set overall scoring bands for the teaching evaluation system which are quite stringent: very low scores in both the state and local components of measures of student learning (0, 1 or 2 out of a possible 20 in both components) will lead to an overall ineffective rating, regardless of how a teacher scored on the measures of teacher performance.”
So, as has been said on every blog and news column at this point, that 60 percent is irrelevant because the 40 percent can make or break a teacher’s entire rating.
Leo Casey goes on to make this murky point:
“If both components were based solely on standardized test scores, using unreliable value-added models with high margins of error, as Burris incorrectly claims, these scoring bands would have the potential of producing unfair ratings among outlier cases. But with at least one of these two components being a local assessment that, as it is collectively bargained, should be an authentic assessment of student learning, this objection does not hold. Teachers and their unions have always said that we wanted to be responsible for student learning – our objection was to the idea that standardized exams provided a true measure of that learning. With the inclusion of authentic assessments of student learning, student achievement must be a vital part of our evaluation.”
Wait a minute, what is an “authentic assessment of student learning?” Does this mean that me, Diane Ravitch and the rest of the teaching blogosphere who fear that 40 percent (the vital 40 percent) of our worth as teachers will be judged on test scores are wrong? Has Leo Casey put our fears to rest?
Unfortunately not. What I fear is happening in the paragraph quoted above is a bit of sleight of hand. The term standardized sticks out here. I take this to mean that Leo Casey believes that because each school district will decide on the other 20 percent (in conjunction with the union) on their own, whatever assessment they agree upon is not standardized. It will be an assessment that is tailor-made for that particular district instead of a “one size fits all” approach for children throughout the entire state or nation.
It is difficult to see what can be a district-wide assessment that is not a test. Can it be a portfolio? Are contractors from the DOE going to pour over millions of stacks of portfolios every year in order to assess each individual student? Will the State Education Commissioner approve this?
Not bloody likely.
The only thing that it can be is something that is digestible in numbers. That can mean either: a) a city-wide exam or b) semester grades. Knowing how Bloomberg loves to crow about the rising graduation rate in New York City, it is possible to imagine him pushing for teachers to be assessed by the grades their students receive, which would pretty much end up institutionalizing the “social promotion” to which he claims to be so opposed. After all, if teachers know they can be fired if enough kids do not pass their class, you can bet that kids will end up passing along to the next grade.
But most likely the other 20 percent will be a city-wide exam. Maybe Leo Casey is setting the stage early for the collective bargaining farce to come between the UFT and Bloomberg. Bloomberg wants a city-wide exam and the union puts up one of their fake oppositions. Mulgrew and Bloomberg exchange mutual recriminations in the media to sway the hearts and minds of New Yorkers. The State Education Commissioner signals his support for a city-wide exam, making the UFT look like a roadblock in getting the new evaluation system finalized. Mulgrew goes silent on the issue for a few weeks, and then emerges from a backroom deal with Bloomberg where he reveals he has conceded the point on the city-wide exams. There will be huzzas from education deformers across the country and the UFT will turn to us and say it was the best possible deal under the circumstances.
As much as I would like to believe Leo Casey’s characterization of the foremost historian on American education’s concerns as “alarmist”, I do not see anywhere in his post today where he silences those alarms. All I see is a dark time ahead for the children and teachers of New York City.
This does not even touch on how the new evaluation regime destroys tenure for teachers. According to Leo Casey, his next installment will address this concern. I can only say I hope it goes over better than his latest defense of this horrid new system.