Tag Archives: value added

A THINK PIECE IN THE NY POST (SAY WHAT?)

It's not everyday that the New York Post gets philosoraptor thinking.

It’s not everyday that the New York Post gets philosoraptor thinking.

Proving the old adage that even a blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time, the NY Post ran an editorial last week that wasn’t complete trash.

The article is titled Race, the UFT & NYC’s Top Schools and the author, Mark Schulte, is a retired NYC public school teacher. Schulte criticizes the UFT for voting to support the NAACP’s lawsuit, which aims to scrap the specialized high school exam, against the NYC Department of Education.

New York City has three specialized high schools (what other districts might deem “magnet schools”) with a long tradition of serving some of NYC’s brightest teenagers. Over the past 10 years, 5 more specialized high schools have been added to the group. The sole basis of admission to any one of these schools is an exam.

The NAACP contends that the exam discriminates against minority students. Black and Hispanic enrollment in the original “big three” specialized high schools has fallen off since the 1990s. However, according to Schulte, the problem is not the exam itself but rather the lack of preparation many bright minority students receive. Instead of scrapping the exam, the city should provide extra tutoring for students to help them prepare.

Schulte’s article got me thinking, but not because I agree with what he says. While he might have a point about providing extra support to bright students who just need that extra little nudge, certain areas of his thesis border on the reformy “no excuses” mantra.

As a graduate of one of the “big three” high schools, I really do not know what the solution is to the problem of declining minority enrollment. Should acceptance to these schools be based on one exam? Probably not. Should minority students receive extra support to help prepare them to apply to these schools? Probably so.

The thing about this that got me thinking is the UFT’s position on the matter. They are adamantly opposed to standardized testing as the sole ticket into one of NYC’s prestigious schools. On the other hand, they are perfectly fine with allowing testing be the measure of teacher effectiveness.

If the standardized high school exams are so discriminatory against minority students that they must be scrapped, what makes the UFT think that standardized exams as a way to judge teachers is perfectly fair? This is compounded by the fact that most of the students of most the teachers who stand to be judged by these exams are Black and Hispanic.

I don’t know. It seems, how should I say, inconsistent of the UFT to take a stand against testing in one instance and totally embrace it in another.

If the NAACP files another lawsuit claiming the these “value added” exams students around the city promise to take in 2013 are discriminatory, will the UFT support that lawsuit as well? That would mean the UFT would oppose something to which it helped birth.

This is the problem with Unity’s defenders who claim that the current environment of education reform makes it difficult for the union to defend teacher rights and public education. That might be so, but that still doesn’t mean the UFT has to rush to embrace so many pieces of the ed reform movement.

At the end of the day, this is my biggest problem with Unity. While their support for the NAACP’s lawsuit might be the correct decision, it is completely out of step with their past support for reformy things like standardized testing.

Why is testing an acceptable measure of teacher effectiveness but not an effective measure of admission to one of NYC’s “big three”?

TWO MORE POORLY DONE MS PAINT JOBS FOR OUR UNION

mulgrew3

And why is the knife not even in Mulgrew’s hand? I stink at Paint.

leocasey

I actually don’t like doing this to Leo’s picture because I like him. He has helped me out of a major jam before and he knows what I mean. But this goes beyond me and affects everyone in NYC. We have to remember what he said last year, what he promised us last year.

ONE STUPID HISTORY TEACHER

duh

About one minute ago this comment was left on my most recent post about this past week’s U.S. History Regents:

denton | January 28, 2013 at 8:31 pm | ReplyEdit

The answer for 14 is 3 slaveholders.

Denton is absolutely correct. The question has to do with the Dred Scott decision:

Which group benefited most directly from the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford?

(1) abolitionists    (3) slave owners

(2) immigrants     (4) enslaved persons

To which I began my response:

They want answer (4) because Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that slavery was legally permitted in all of the territories. He also ruled that “a black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” How can it not be choice (4)?

If you read the rest of my response to the question you can see that I clearly meant to say choice (3), not (4). This was a simple matter of me getting the numbers mixed up.

I will admit, Denton’s simple comment mildly devastated me. Despite the fact that I know the answer to the question and have a strong opinion about why this question is stupid, I myself felt very stupid once Denton made me realize my folly. I am sure that many, if not most, people who read the post picked up on my mistake but did not say anything out of politeness.

The fact that, according to my stats, this is the most-read of my recent posts makes me feel even dumber. Hundreds of people have already read my mistake.

If someone like me who is confident in his understanding of U.S. History to the point of insufferable arrogance can be made to feel stupid for a simple mistake, imagine how a teenager must feel when something similar happens?

How many times have students simply transposed numbers and ended up bubbling in the wrong choice because of it? How many times has a student bubbled in an answer in which they had confidence only to have a machine spit it back at them as “wrong”?

My mistake and Denton’s comment I believe strengthens my point about the folly of standardized testing. As the post clearly demonstrates, even students with a strong understanding of a subject can be screwed over by simple errors, putting their graduation and the careers of their teachers in jeopardy.

For now at least, I am one dumb history teacher.

STUPID QUESTIONS ON LAST WEEK’S U.S. HISTORY REGENTS EXAM

Better fill in the right bubbles  or your teacher gets the axe.

Better fill in the right bubbles or your teacher gets the axe.

EDIT 1/28/13: SEE IF YOU CAN FIND THE STUPID MISTAKE I MADE ON ONE OF THE QUESTIONS DISCUSSED BELOW. TRY NOT TO READ THE COMMENTS UNTIL YOU CATCH MY MISTAKE. CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT THE MISTAKE WAS.

Students across New York State sat down to take Regents exams all last week. The January Regents, for most schools, are make-ups for students who did not pass an exam the first time. For many students, last week’s U.S. History Regents could have been the difference between graduating or not.

Which is why it is upsetting to open up a Regents exam for the first time and come across patently ridiculous questions. Last week’s Global History exam was actually worse in this regard but I don’t have a copy of it on hand. The U.S. History exam was bad enough.

There are many types of bad questions on these history exams. In total they make a great case for why the testing craze sweeping this country is destructive, not to mention why judging students and teachers by the results of these exams are just plain lunacy.

Take Question # 11 from the U.S. History exam:

One result of the purchase of the Louisiana Territory (1803) was that the United States

(1) acquired California from Spain

(2) gained control of the port of New Orleans

(3) ended border conflicts with British Canada

(4) annexed Florida

The answer they are looking for is (2). Of course, as I mentioned in my recent Thomas Jefferson post, the United States had been focused on getting New Orleans for a long time. Merchants and farmers out west were constantly frustrated at not having access to New Orleans which is at the mouth of the Mississippi River and, therefore, a major port of trade. Jefferson was fulfilling a long-time American dream by purchasing it and the rest of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon.

But there were other “results” of the Louisiana Purchase. The acquisition of so much western land focused Americans on westward settlement. It continued an entire western momentum that started with the French and Indian War (1754-1761), which is when American colonists started to penetrate beyond the Appalachians into the Ohio River Valley. With the Louisiana Territory in their possession Americans began to believe that it was their “destiny”, their God-given “Manifest Destiny”, to take control of the entire continent to the Pacific Ocean. 44 years after the Purchase, President James Polk instigated a war with Mexico to fulfill this destiny, gaining California in the process. Therefore, it could be argued that one of the “results” of the Louisiana Purchase was that the U.S. “(1) acquired California from Spain”. While the U.S. never acquired California directly from Spain (as we’ve seen, they got it from Mexico), both California and Mexico were colonies of Spain during the time of the Louisiana Purchase.

As you can see in this map, getting the port of New Orleans was the only result of the Louisiana Purchase.

As you can see in this map, getting the port of New Orleans was the only result of the Louisiana Purchase.

What if a teacher had taught this to their students to give them a more complete picture of the Louisiana Purchase in the context of American History? A student could have filled in choice (1), been at least partially correct and received no credit for it. What if a teacher explained to their students that the Louisiana Purchase put the United States on a collision course with Florida  (which was owned by Spain ), necessitating a series of arguments between the two countries over the borders of East and West Florida (which included the Gulf Coast regions of modern-day Mississippi and Alabama)? What if a teacher taught their students that, after the Purchase, several American generals (including Andrew Jackson) raided Florida in attempts to conquer it? Spain was a decaying empire who did not have the stomach for a trans-Atlantic fight with an aggressive and young United States. This led to the Adams-Onis Treaty (1819 – and negotiated by my favorite American ever, John Quincy Adams) where the United States annexed Florida, which is choice (4).

It is best for a teacher not to teach these things to their students so they will not be confused and fill in the “wrong” bubble on the exam. Of course, the only cost of this is a limited, stunted, incomplete curriculum of United States history, leading to a limited, stunted and incomplete understanding of U.S. history by our students.

But that’s alright. We need to show that we “add value” as teachers which, in this case, means debasing the value of the curriculum.

Three questions later, at question 14, we have another such question:

Which group benefited most directly from the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford?

(1) abolitionists    (3) slave owners

(2) immigrants     (4) enslaved persons

They want answer (4) because Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that slavery was legally permitted in all of the territories. He also ruled that “a black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” How can it not be choice (4)?

Well, it could be any of these choices. It can also be none of these choices. It is hard to say that anyone directly benefited from Taney’s decision. Even though he ruled that slave owners could bring their human chattel anywhere in the American territories, there is little evidence to suggest they did so. The country was so divided over the slavery issue in 1857 that it would be unlikely that slave owners would dare to bring slaves to any territory whose population was against slavery, lest the slave owners get a visit from John Brown and his family or similar types of crusaders.  Essentially, slave owners could only bring slaves to those territories whose people and climates were conducive to slavery, which is to say the territories in which slavery was already legal. The net direct benefit to slave owners in reality was negligible.

Remember the mass exodus of slave owners into the Oregon Territory?

Remember the mass exodus of slave owners into the Oregon Territory?

On the other hand, Taney’s decision strengthened the perception in the north that the “Slave Power”, as many abolitionists called it, dominated the federal government. It steeled their resolve to oppose slavery which became one of the big factors that pushed the nation into the Civil War. It would be the war that ended up abolishing slavery, in which case choice (1) makes sense. By extension, it also means choice (4) makes sense.

Or if you accept the premise that the Dred Scott case strengthened the institution of slavery, then choice (2) makes sense. Northern immigrants were some of the biggest supporters of slavery and the Democratic Party that defended it (indeed, immigrant support is one of the few things that have remained constant about the Democrats since the Age of Jackson). In their minds, slavery kept potential competition for their jobs chained in bondage far away in the south. One of the worst nightmares of many immigrants was an influx of freed slaves to the north undercutting their wages.

Again, heaven forbid a student has a wide-ranging mind that can take in all of these possibilities or had a teacher that taught this to them. They might fill in the wrong bubble and “prove” that their teacher did not “add value” to their understanding of Dred Scott.

Then, a mere eight questions later, we find this question:

In the early 1900s, the United States proposed the Open Door Policy to

(1) gain new colonies in the Pacific

(2) win support for building the Panama Canal

(3) improve relations with Europe

(4) secure access to markets in China

They obviously want choice (4) here. The United States’ economy exploded after the Civil War, ushering in an era of rapid expansion. The 1890 census showed that the “frontier” out on the western part of the continent was “full”, so Americans cast a covetous glance beyond towards the Pacific. Unfortunately, most of Europe had beaten them to the punch when it came to imperialism. The United States was oftentimes treated as a junior partner by the great powers in the game of geopolitical expansion. In Hawaii, Samoa and many other Pacific Islands, the U.S. asserted its growing influence in an attempt to both gain new markets and gain the respect of the great powers. Therefore, if the U.S. wanted to gain markets in China as choice (4) says, could that not also mean that they wished to “improve relations with Europe”, which is choice (3)?

C'mon Europe, let us get a piece of China. In return, you won't have to respect us or treat us well at all.

C’mon Europe, let us get a piece of China. In return, you won’t have to respect us or treat us well at all.

This, of course, all depends on what you mean by “improve”. As the U.S. expanded its influence the great powers took the growing nation more seriously, causing them to seek alliances, trade agreements and peace with the U.S. Would this not be an “improvement” by most definitions of the word? If the U.S. did not aggressively push its interests like it it did in China and other places, it would have remained a non-entity to the great powers and a country whose shipping was ripe for plunder on the high seas. In the world of geopolitics, might makes right.

An open-minded student could make a good case for choosing (3). Unfortunately, scantron machines do not care about making good cases and critical thought. No value added here Mr./Ms. Open-Minded Student. It is obvious that your teacher did not add any value to you.

A similar thing happens a mere six questions later in question 28:

After World War I, one way in which the Red Scare, the passing of the Quota Acts, and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan were similar is that they all

(1) exploited fears about people who were considered un-American

(2) encourages the assimilation of new immigrants into American society

(3) supported goals of the suffrage movement

(4) exhibited prejudice against African Americans

Granted, the answer that makes the most sense is (1). The question refers to the climate of “nativism” that swept the country after World War I. However, if the country was turning against everything foreign then would it not cause many immigrants to want to assimilate? No immigrant wanted to a visit from the KKK or to be raided by A. Mitchell Palmer in his quest to find communists. One of the best ways to avoid this was to act American, which would be choice (2). Indeed, one of the byproducts of the nativist climate was the drive to assimilate. It was in the 1920s when most children in the United States had been enrolled in public school for the first time. One of the original reasons to have public schools in the first place was to Americanize the children of immigrants. All of the things mentioned in this question certainly helped make up the minds of immigrant parents as to whether or not they wanted to send their children to public schools. Assimilate or suffer could have been a mantra of the Roaring 20s.

What better time to act all "immigranty" than when the Klan is marching on D.C.? To hell with assimilation, bring out the rosary beads and dreidels.

What better time to act all “immigranty” than when the Klan is marching on D.C.? To hell with assimilation, bring out the rosary beads and dreidels.

Too bad for the student who might see things in this way and for the teacher who taught this. There is just no value to be had in an idea that leads to the wrong bubble-in answer.

A mere two questions later it happens again with a very strange question:

As part of the New Deal, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) were created to

(1) allow for a quick recovery of stock prices

(2) provide direct loans to businesses

(3) protect individual investors from stock fraud and bank failure

(4) allow banks and companies to invest in the stock market

Choice (3) makes sense. The SEC attempted to make the stock market transparent so investors would not get fleeced. The FDIC allowed the government to insure bank deposits so that bank runs would not wipe out people’s savings. This is the answer they want.

On the other hand, the transparency that the SEC was designed to bring to the market was also designed to bring back investor confidence, in which case choice (4) makes sense. Now, yes, the FDIC did not affect the stock market but the Glass-Stegall Act, which was the law that created the FDIC, did. Not only did Glass-Stegall create the FDIC, it erected a “firewall” between consumer and investor banks. The former type of bank would only deal with savings and small loans. The latter type of bank would deal with venture capital and stocks. While choice (4) is not technically “correct” it is sort of a gotcha question. A student could read FDIC and think Glass-Stegall and bubble in the wrong choice.

So I suppose it is better for a teacher to avoid mentioning Glass-Stegall altogether. Instead, they should merely focus on the FDIC part of the law and teach it as an isolated event. Clouding a student’s mind with an unnecessarily full view of history will only lead to the wrong bubble getting filled in and a negative “value added” score. I guess the banks should be happy about this. Students would never learn that Glass-Steagall reined in some of the worst abuses of big banks, including using the money of their customers to gamble in the stock market and other risky ventures. Thanks to the Gramm-Leach-Blily Act (1999), the part of Glass-Stegall that prevented banks from doing these things was repealed. Now students will never learn that banks were once regulated in this way and instead assume that the giant casinos the banks have become is the banks’ natural, default way of doing things.

bankers

The banks themselves could not have designed a question better suited to preempt the future generations from understanding how they continue to abuse the economy and put all of us at risk, again.

These are not all of the stupid, vague, incomplete or just plain inane questions that can be found on the January 2013 U.S. History regents. However, this post is already longer than common internet decency will allow.

What these questions show us is that teachers are encouraged to teach a narrow American History curriculum. Any teacher who attempts otherwise runs the risk of “confusing” their students, leading to wrong answers, negative value added and, eventually, a pink slip.

This is the New York State’s version of newspeak. A small curriculum leads to large “value added” for the teacher. A vast curriculum leads to negative “value added”. The freedom students and teachers receive, freedom from being left back or freedom from being fired, is actually slavery in the form of a shallow, ignorant understanding of history.

Finally, The Event I’ve Been Waiting For

From the Grassroots Education Movement blog:

Teacher Evaluation Nightmare !
          a forum on testing, teacher evaluations and our schools Tuesday, April 17 at 5:30 PM
Murry Bergtaum High School Auditorium
411 Pearl Street, Manhattan
(Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall Station 4,5,6 -Fulton Street Station 2,3 – Chambers Street Station J)

Come to a Meeting to Discuss:
Why are the new teacher evaluations bad for teachers, students, and families?
How can we organize to change them?
Speakers:
Carol Burris:
L.I. Principal, one of the co-authors of the principals’ letter against evaluating teachers by       student test scores, which has been signed by nearly 1,400 New York principals.

Leonie Haimson:

parent activist and  Exec. Director of Class Size Matters
Gary Rubinstein:
Math teacher at Stuyvesant High School and critical analyst of the Teacher Data Reports
Arthur Goldstein:
E.S.L. teacher and  chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School in Queens
Come hear speakers  explain how the new evaluations will work and the implications for students, teachers, families, and education.  Join the discussion of how we can organize to change the final outcome.

On February 16th an agreement was reached on a new teacher evaluation system.
A teacher’s rating with be based upon:

  • 40% student learning (state and local test results)
  • 60% teacher performance (administration evaluation)
  • The NYC DOE and UFT must still negotiate a local assessment piece (half of the “student learning” component) with the state education department giving final approval.

I would love to be here for this one and will make every effort to go, although it has been impossible for me to tell what my schedule will be from week to week.

This will go in the sidebar soon.

Teachers and Principals and NY’s Teacher Evaluations

An exchange between NYC principal Phil Weinberg and UFT Vice President Leo Casey raises some interesting questions about New York State’s new teacher evaluations.

Weinberg decries the fact that the rating of teachers has effectively been taken out of the principal’s hands. No longer can a principal walk into a teacher’s classroom for a few minutes, get a sense of the wind and know whether or not real learning is taking place. Instead, they must use an observation rubric like Danielson for 31% of the observation. Another 40% will be based on some sort of student assessment score. No doubt, Weinberg is correct that a great share of teacher ratings have been taken out of the principal’s hands.

On the other hand, Leo Casey is correct to draw attention to some of the more ominous parts of Weinberg’s article. Weinberg supports Bloomberg’s position that the principal’s evaluation should be final. Bloomberg made that assertion in support of nixing any idea of an appeals process for a “U” rating. As Leo Casey says, as it stands now, a principal can say “l’evaluation, c’est moi” and that is the end of that.

Weinberg states that the whole deskilling of the evaluation process speaks to a lack of public confidence for principals. I do not know how true this is. Bloomberg’s regime has notoriously put near absolute power in principals’ hands. Principals who have been found guilty of gross misconduct have been able to retain their positions. If anything, the establishment has put too much confidence in the principals’ hands.

Weinberg is onto something later when he points to how principals have contributed to their own lack of public confidence:

But we principals, too, are part of the problem. Not because we have promoted the use of bad data to rate teachers, but because we may have allowed our attention to stray from our chief job of promoting professional growth, training staff, documenting teacher performance, creating community and defining what quality teaching and learning look like in our schools. Newly necessary distractions like marketing and fund-raising and data analysis may have seemed more important than getting into classrooms and working with teachers on how to plan lessons and ask questions. But if we let our attention waiver from those things which we know should be our primary focus, if we asked “How can we help students earn more credits?” instead of “How can we help students learn more?” then some of the distrust we see driving this new agreement is our fault, even if we believe that is what the school system and the general public wanted us to do. We may have felt less incentive to concentrate on the quality of classroom instruction in our schools because we are rated on other things, but we know our jobs. If we chose to focus on tasks outside of instruction, it makes sense that the void such a choice created was filled by psychometricians.

This is certainly true. However, rather than let principals off the hook so easily, I will say that many principals in NYC have made satisfying Tweed their primary concern. They have allowed themselves to be driven by data instead of using their nearly unlimited power to buck the system and support students and teachers.

Weinberg seems like he is speaking from the position of an experienced educator. He might be one of those principals, very rare to find nowadays, who knows good teaching when they see it, observes his teachers often and supports his teachers when necessary. Sure, principals like this do not need the Danielson Framework and it is a shame that the all-important 40% of teacher evaluations have been taken out of their hands.

Unfortunately, teachers in NYC know exactly the type of person who becomes a school administrator in NYC nowadays. It is usually someone with less than 5 years in the classroom, someone who always had an eye on an administrative job and someone who strives to do nothing but satisfy Tweed. These are the types of administrators who, under the current system, have been given unlimited power to rate teachers.

If public confidence in principals is declining, it is because Bloomberg has lowered the bar for the type of person who is able to become an administrator. This is the result of shutting down big schools and opening up small schools. The pool of talent to choose from becomes shallower as the system needs more and more principals.

Before Bloomberg came to office, between 10 and 15 percent of “U” ratings by principals were overturned by appeals. This is the basis for the UFT only being able to appeal 13% of the “ineffective” ratings under the new system. Leo Casey supports this provision as fair. It is certainly fairer than the absolutist ratings principals currently enjoy. However, entitling only 13% of the membership to any sort of due process is not fair in any absolute sense.

Here is where I disagree with both Weinberg and Casey. Weinberg said that rating teachers has been taken out of principal’s hands. Sure, but the power of destroying teachers has not been taken out of their hands. In fact, it is just as easy for principals to destroy teachers under the new system as it is under the current one. Leo Casey says the “Danielson Framework represents the best professional thinking in the field of education on the essential components of teaching.” Those of us who have read Danielson’s Framework probably would not agree with this either. It might be halfway decent, and even preferable to the arbitrary measures inexperienced principals use now, but it certainly leaves much to be desired.

The fact is that principals will be able to fill in the observation rubric in any way they see fit. They can give a teacher they do not like all the tough classes and give that teacher the worst ratings all the way down the Danielson Framework. They can do this in the confidence that only 13% of all “ineffective” evaluations will be appealed. All of the “data” backing up the “ineffective” rating will give it an undeserved air of objectivity.

And after the appeals process, the independent validator and the new 3020a hearing with the burden of proof on the teacher, there is simply very little for any teacher to hang their hat on. Weinberg expresses the fact that there is little for principals to hang their hats on either.

Teachers and experienced administrators need to make common cause against these evaluations. While there might be disagreements between us, they should not blur the broader points over which there is consensus.

Leo Casey Sets the “Record Straight” on the Appeals Process

Leo Casey finally released his long awaited explanation of the appeals process under the new New York State teacher evaluation agreement. The process is certainly as convoluted as the rating system itself. There are some serious concerns we all have about the process that will, hopefully, begin to be fleshed out in this post.

First, Leo Casey is confident that the appeals procedure secures “the educational integrity and fairness of the teacher evaluation process.”

He summarizes the protections we had before the Bloomberg regime. There were essentially two processes available to teachers. The first was the ability of all teachers, tenured or not, to appeal an end-of-year “U” rating to a hearing officer within the DOE. Before Bloomberg, 10-15 percent of these ratings were overturned through this process. After Bloomberg, around .5% of appealed “U” ratings were overturned. Essentially, Bloom-Klein-Walcott indiscriminately upheld the “U” ratings of principals, giving them unprecedented power.

The other process, available only to tenured teachers, is the 3020a hearing. This is the “going after the license” hearing consisting of an “independent” arbitrator who hears arguments from both a DOE and union (NYSUT) lawyer. Just like a trial, the “defendant” (teacher) must be charged with specific misconduct (incompetence, felony, child abuse, etc.). The lawyers present their cases and the arbitrator decides on a binding outcome.

As we know, there are serious problems with the 3020a process, problems that Leo Casey does not touch in his article. First, 3020a arbitrators are appointed to one-year terms and must be agreed upon by both the DOE and UFT. This motivates arbitrators to split the baby in most cases, giving a little to the union and little to the DOE. It must be made clear that arbitrators have a range of decisions they can reach: termination, heavy fines, letters to the file and others. Therefore, in around 96% of 3020a cases, the teacher was found guilty of something. Their punishments can run the gamut, but the fact is that very few of them are ever exonerated.

And these are just the cases that make it to 3020a. Around half of all teachers charged choose to settle instead, where they then incur any of the penalties available to the arbitrator. It is more accurate to say the teacher’s lawyer chooses to settle. When a teacher first learns they are facing a 3020a, they are given a choice between a private and public hearing. Private hearings allow the arbitrator and lawyers to work out settlements in peace. Since lawyers and arbitrators are linked, the fear is that they go over their list of cases and decide who gets fired and does not. We do not really know because these proceedings are, after all, private. There used to be a time when teachers would be able to choose their own arbitrator. Now, they are randomly assigned.

After the 3020a hearing, a teacher can appeal the decision of the arbitrator to a court of law (3020a hearings are not actual courts).  According to former NYSUT attorney Brian Glass, more decisions than ever are being “bounced” (overturned) by the courts. This shows that there is something wrong with the city’s 3020a process. The arbitrators are motivated to find teachers guilty, but stop short of termination in order to split the baby. The private hearing procedure allows lawyers to decide who gets terminated and who does not. This means that an individual teacher’s case might not be decided strictly on its merits, but on the relative severity of the infraction compared to other cases on the docket. Ever since the Bloomberg regime began, and especially after the 2005 contract, the 3020a process has been skewed more and more against teachers.

Here is the first big point: the new teacher evaluations do nothing to change this 3020a system. This is a shame because, as you will see, the 3020a process will play a crucial role in the new evaluation regime.

Speaking of the new regime, Leo Casey describes “two different procedures which, in combination, guarantee a fair teacher evaluation process with educational integrity:

First, there are those cases where a teacher has been targeted by a principal who abuses his authority, and is given an ineffective rating for reasons entirely unrelated to his/her teaching performance, such as retaliation for advocating for students or engaging in union activism. In these cases, the UFT will be able to challenge the ineffective ratings before a three person board comprised of one UFT member, one DoE member and a third neutral member who serves as chair. Up to 13% of all ineffective ratings in a year may be brought to this board by the UFT.[4] By a majority vote, the board will either overturn or uphold the ineffective rating, and its decision is final and binding.”

If I understand this correctly, this means that the UFT can appeal up to 13% of all ineffective ratings in a single year. These will be the retaliatory ineffective ratings that principals give to teachers for things like “advocating for students or engaging in union activism”. The 13% percent ratio is based upon that 10-15 percent of overturned “U” ratings of the pre-Bloomberg years to which Leo Casey earlier referred. The appeals will be heard by a three-member board: one chosen by the UFT, one chosen by the DOE and one neutral chairperson.

There are two major questions (if not more) that arise from this: first, how will the UFT determine which ratings are retaliatory? It seems that the variegated evaluations procedure gives administrators ample opportunity to fudge and justify ratings based purely numbers. A particularly shifty administrator can make a vindictive ineffective rating look totally objective. They can throw up their hands and say “hey, I am just going by what the numbers say.” I am sure the UFT will need some sort of evidence outside of numbers to determine which ineffective ratings are retaliatory.

My concern with this is that this gives the UFT tremendous power over our careers. Now, if we had to choose between the UFT and DOE having that type of control, I am sure most of us would opt for the former. This does not mean, however, that the UFT will be immune to favoritism in its own right when choosing which cases to appeal. What about members who are outspoken against the Unity caucus? Will the UFT go to bat for them? Will the UFT automatically choose to appeal all ineffective ratings for chapter leaders on the grounds that they must be retaliatory prima facie? Would this not eat up a healthy percentage of that 13, leaving the rest of us to fight over the remaining scraps?

The second major question is: who will choose the third “neutral member” of this panel? Will they be chosen in the same manner as 3020a arbitrators? It seems like a pretty important question, since we can assume how the other two members will decide. If that is the case, I can imagine these all-important “neutral” members splitting the baby once again, voting to overturn ineffective ratings roughly 6.5% of the time. While this is certainly fairer than the automatic denial of all “U” rating appeals currently in place, it does not seem like a fair system by any stretch, let alone one that upholds “the educational integrity and fairness of the teacher evaluation process.”

Leo Casey then describes the second appeals procedure:

“Second, in those cases where a teacher has received an ineffective rating for reasons related to his/her teaching performance, a number of procedures will be in place both to establish that the teacher is truly ineffective in the classroom and to ensure that the teacher receives the support s/he needs to improve. Following a first ineffective rating on an end of year evaluation, the principal will develop with the teacher a TIP (Teacher Improvement Plan) that identifies both the steps to be taken to correct the shortcomings in his/her teaching performance and the supports to be provided to assist in the improvement. Further, in the year following the first ineffective rating, the teacher will be assigned an independent validator, a licensed educator who will be selected through a joint union-management selection process. This independent validator will observe lessons by the teacher at least three times over the course of the year, and at the end of the year, s/he will issue a finding on the effectiveness of the teacher’s classroom instruction. If the independent validator agrees with the principal’s rating of ineffective, the DoE may then proceed to a 3020a hearing before an independent arbitrator to remove the teacher’s license, with the burden of proof falling on the teacher to demonstrate that s/he is not ineffective. If the independent validator disagrees with a principal’s rating of ineffective, the DoE may still proceed to a 3020a hearing before an independent arbitrator, but the report of the independent validator will become part of the proceedings and the burden of proof is now upon the DoE to demonstrate that the teacher is ineffective. It will thus become extraordinarily difficult to dismiss a teacher for poor performance when the independent validator has found him/her effective….”

To pick up where we left off from in the previous paragraph, let us say that you are one of the 87% of teachers who could not get the UFT to appeal your first ineffective rating. Or you might be one of those 6.5% of teachers who got an appeal and lost. You now must develop a Teacher Improvement Plan (TIP) with your principal. Does this mean that you have input into this plan? Is there anything stopping a principal from unilaterally shoving an unreasonable TIP upon you in order to set you up for failure next year?

So you start the next school year under the tutelage of an independent validator, a licensed educator agreed upon by both the UFT and DOE. (Leo, is there a way you can email me with information on how I can become one of these validators?) This validator will observe the teacher at least three times over the course of the year. If the principal rates you ineffective for that year (your second such rating in a row), you will go through the 3020a process. Now, if the validator agrees with the principal’s ineffective rating, then the burden of proof is on you during 3020a. If the validator does not agree with the principal’s ineffective rating, then the burden of proof is on the DOE during the 3020a.

First, we know these validators will be educators, but will they be teachers? We know that there are loads of administrators out there without assignments doing make work in some decrepit DOE office. Will the validator job merely be a sinecure for these administrators? Can teachers like me apply to be validators? It seems like a major concern. We are working in a system where so many administrators are non-teachers, people who entered the DOE to get the required three years out of the way and move on. Do we really want those people working in the instructional side of education? I suppose Leo Casey’s response to this will be “that is why the UFT will have a say in who becomes validators.” But I guess it all depends on the pool of people who are allowed to apply for the job. If they are all non-teachers, then it really does not matter how much say the UFT has in the choosing of these validators. That is why I am offering my services for this important job.

Once at the 3020a level, all of the problems previously discussed with the 3020a process will kick in. If both the principal and the validator agree that you are ineffective, then it seems that you are pretty much gone. All of the thinking has already been done for the arbitrator up until that point. They will have mounds of paperwork and data “proving” the ineffectiveness of the teacher, paperwork that has been rubber stamped by the UFT along the way. The arbitrator can terminate the teacher without fearing the UFT will refuse to reappoint them for the next year.

The other scenario, one where the validator does not agree with the principal’s ineffective rating, seems a little thornier. It seems as if it will be the same splitting the baby game that currently exists in 3020a. A few will probably be terminated, a few will be exonerated and the vast majority will get some other type of outcome. It is tough to see, however, what this other outcome will be. It would be silly to fine or put a letter in the file of someone rated “ineffective”. Instead, the only other outcome I can imagine is a third year with a TIP and a validator. This will merely stagger the termination until next year, or the year after that. In sum, this entire TIP process seems like the pipeline to termination soon or eventually.

I am willing to allow that certain of these concerns are conjectural. We never really know how something so complex will play out in the realm of human interaction and institutions. However, I do see a lot over which to be concerned. It seems as if the TIP and validator process is an end run around tenure as we know it in New York City.

I appreciate Leo Casey taking the time to explain such a rococo system to the membership. In the end, it seems there is more than enough grey area to cast doubt on the idea that the appeals process secures the educational integrity and fairness of the teacher evaluation process.

Good Times and Education Data

Even during the 1970s, people saw how stupid education data can be. This scene from Good Times rings true even today. It is a little funny how the guy behind the desk looks like Bill Gates.

Unfortunately, the education system is run by the guy behind the desk, people who know nothing about the children who are being educated. The only way they can discuss education is through numbers.

The best line of the scene: “how are you going to know where I’m at, if you haven’t been where I’ve been, understand where I’m coming from?”

The Next Teacher Strike

The last NYC teacher strike drove a wedge between teachers and the communities they serve. The next one will bridge the gap.

New York City teachers are due for a strike.

Leo Casey claims (check the comments section) that the union will fight for something other than standardized exams on the local level. He claims that there are other types of assessments the city can use.

Sure there are.

But what happens when Bloomberg and Commissioner King say that they will not hear of anything else except local exams? How far will the UFT be willing to go to prevent our schools from becoming testing factories?

As Diane Ravitch has said, can you imagine a school system that tests kids 3, 4 or 5 times every year not to help them learn anything, but for the sole purpose of holding their teachers “accountable”?

How far is the UFT willing to go to prevent this madness?

The UFT already lost the fight in court to prevent unreliable, less than garbage “value added” data from being released to the public.  Despite the fact that Bill Gates (!) and Dennis Walcott (!) have warned against the unreliability of these numbers, every major media outlet is set to release them tomorrow morning. Even Gotham Schools, despite getting pats on the back (including from themselves) for vowing not release the reports, will still publish them in some form.

This is the result of a ten-year campaign of teacher vilification from the media, politicians and business leaders who have blamed us for urban poverty and an “achievement gap”.

Enough is enough.

The last major teacher strike in 1968 drove a wedge between the city’s (predominantly Jewish) teachers and the predominately black school districts in Brooklyn.

The next major teacher strike will bridge that gap.

The common theme throughout all of these things is testing. It looms over the heads of students and teachers as a weapon used by people who know absolutely nothing about education to destroy public schools.

If teachers strike, the issue of testing must be the centerpiece. Everything else: the lack of funding for inner-city schools, the decline of teacher rights, the chartering wave, can all be tied (if tenuously) back to the central issue of testing.

Do the parents of New York City want their children to do nothing but take tests for 10 months of the year? Do they want the teachers of their students to be so repressed, so ill protected, that they cannot speak out against poor treatment and lack of services for their students?

Do the people who send their children to NYC schools, who are the same people being gentrified out of their homes, want to continue to leave the school system in the hands of the mayor responsible for their displacement? Do the inner city communities of New York City want to leave the school system in the hands of the same mayor who has given them nothing but “stop and frisk”?

Negotiating, compromising and lawsuits, which have been the preferred tactics of the UFT, have failed. They have done nothing but provide a rubber stamp for all of these atrocities perpetrated by the Bloomberg regime.

Yes, I know, without the union, things would have been worse. Yes, the union has cushioned the blow against many of these so-called reforms. Even if that is true, which I am not sure it is, that simply is not good enough anymore. Just like the Democratic Party, their “cushioning” ends in disaster for the people they are supposedly representing.

The only thing left is to opt out of this brutal regime. The only way to opt out is by using the only thing over which we have any control: our bodies.

They can make all the laws and evaluations they want. If people are not there to follow them, then it is all irrelevant.

The only thing left is a strike.

But it has to be more than a strike. It cannot just be one sector of workers or one group out for their own interests hitting the streets. This needs to be a movement. It needs to be teachers, administrators, parents and students. It needs to be an eruption of all of the people Bloomberg has tried to suppress. Veteran educators, oppressed minorities, children and the urban poor must hit back and hit back hard.

How fitting if we could get something like this off the ground when Bloomberg is on his way out? What better repudiation of his tenure, his legacy, his entire school-closing, stop-and-frisking, gentrifying, bike-lane drawing vision for New York than to have everyone victimized by this vision to take the streets and shut the city down?

We know the UFT will not support us. The first words out of their mouths will be “Taylor Law”, followed by all the usual hems and haws about why nothing of substance can be done to resist.

So it must be done by going around the UFT. It must be done by going around the entire Neoliberal apparatus in which the UFT has been complicit.

The only question is how? What strategies and what tactics should be used? How do we sustain this action in the face of court injunctions, jack-booted police and media ridicule that is sure to meet such action?

Those questions are still being debated.

But I am reminded of a quote by Nietzsche: “if one has his why, then he can put up with almost any how.”

Education Reformers Need To Lighten Up

It's not indigestion. It's the trademark education reformer face.

Michelle Rhee has a perpetual scowl. Michael Bloomberg wears a long face. Bill Gates is always berating kids to grow up. I know money doesn’t buy happiness, but you would think it could at least provide the down payment.

Even after their recent victory here in New York City, where they can now publicize each teacher’s “value added” data, it is a sure bet that they will stick to their curmudgeonly ways. Teachers here now can look forward to the same public relations bludgeoning that teachers in Los Angeles have been experiencing.

They are all rubbing their hands together in anticipation of more wholesale firings of veteran teachers. Oy, the firings. All the time with the firings.

Here is a new approach. Instead of blaming teachers for things over which they have little control, like numbers children receive on some test, how about praising teachers for things to which they contribute very little.

Case and point: many years ago a student transferred into my Global History class in the middle of the school year. He was fresh from Bangladesh. At the end of the year, he would be required to take the Global History Regents Exam. Great.

He was a week removed from his arrival in the United States. Not a word of English escaped his lips nor filtered into his brain. All he came to school with was a notebook and a smile. Day in and day out he sat in my class as he struggled to copy the volumes of notes I wrote on the board each day. As time wore on, that smile turned into a distant stare. I was still waiting for a homework assignment or essay from him.

Then one day he raised his hand. He gave the right answer to a simple question and I was sure to praise him for the effort. He did the same the next day, and then the day after that. Then I noticed that the homework folder felt a little bulkier. Once I opened it up, I found a complete homework assignment in what would turn out to be his trademark bumpy writing.

It got to the point where he started answering more and more complex questions in class. Even those killer questions that usually elicited crickets would be met with his lone hand thrust up into the air. His homework assignments became more and more detailed. His essays, while very poor in English, were very full of history. By the time June came around, he received a 98 on the Regents Exam, which meant he even nailed the questions that covered topics we studied while he was still in Bangladesh.

I had him the next near for United States history and he continued his hot streak. When I saw him around school, he was always with a group of friends. He seemed happy and well-adjusted.

About a year ago, I was taking a taxi into Queens, looked at the driver’s identification photo and immediately recognized the face and the name. It was him! Throughout the entire trip, we reminisced about the good old days and he told me many times that I was best teacher he ever had. Once it was time to pay my fare, which was very expensive, he refused to take my money. I pleaded with him, but he would not allow it. Little stories like this are what make it worth being a teacher.

My question for the sour-pussed ed deformers is: do I not get credit for this? He decimated all of the standardized tests and went on to become a functioning member of American society. Can this be shown in the value-added data? Can I get some merit pay for this?

I mean, we all know it was not my doing. He came to school with a motivation to learn. He had many wonderful teachers who helped him with his English and encouraged him to stick with it. His circle of friends made him feel comfortable and accepted in a brand new country. There were a whole host of reasons behind his success.

But as long as we’re in the business of publicly shaming teachers with crappy “value added” data that has very little to do with what goes on in classrooms on a daily basis, why can’t we go to the other side of the spectrum and blame them for all of the happy, well-adjusted and intelligent students that pass through those hallways every day? If the bogus graduation rates are up in NYC, why aren’t the teachers getting a parade down the Canyon of Heroes?

The truth is, stories like the one with this student happen every day all around the country to all types of teachers. It is the reason why the teachers who have remained in the system for so long stay. Even though we know in the front of our minds that we are not the only factors in the success of students like this, we live in the moment and accept heartfelt gratitude when it is shown. All the while, the corporate reformers loom above us, promising to hold us “accountable” for these same things over which we have no control.

The trademark grim face of the average billionaire education deformer is a sign of what is happening behind that face. They assume all teachers are bad and will stop at nothing to destroy the profession. As long as they punish us for results we cannot possibly control, maybe we should start taking credit for the same.

Next time the unemployment data (which is also bogus) improves, teachers everywhere should say “you’re welcome.” Next time war with Iran is averted, the NY Post can run an article praising teachers for their superior statesmanship.