Tag Archives: Danielson Framework

How New York City Can Rid Themselves of the Race to the Top Evaluations

There is no crime against wishful thinking, although it might not be part of Danielson's rubric.

There is no crime against wishful thinking, although it might not be part of Danielson’s rubric.

Teachers at my school keep asking me: “What is the union going to do about this new evaluation system?”

My response is: “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

This new evaluation system is brought to you by our union. It was Michael Mulgrew, president of our beloved UFT, who accompanied Andrew Cuomo to Washington, D.C. when New York State was applying for Race to the Top.

It was Michael Mulgrew, as well as NYSUT president Richard Ianuzzi, who negotiated the framework that mandated 40% of our evaluations be based on standardized test scores. We were assured by UFT leadership, including Leo Casey, that collective bargaining would cushion the blow of this framework at the local level.

When collective bargaining broke down earlier this year over Mulgrew and Pharaoh Bloomberg’s inability to agree on a “sunset clause”, it was Mulgrew who signaled his willingness to abide by any system that State Education Commissioner John King saw fit to foist upon us.

Every step of the way, Mulgrew and Unity leadership were there telling us how great this new system would be. They told us it will be “objective”, thereby preventing abuse by administrators. They said it would give us valuable feedback about our teaching practices.

The bottom line is: our union has been complicit in this evaluation system. They have cast their lot in with this evaluation system. How likely will they be to do a complete 180 and say “sorry, our mistake”?

Not bloody likely at all.

Some teachers in New York City have been heartened by the prospect of a new mayor, one who promises to be more sympathetic to public workers. While all signs point to a Bill de Blasio mayoralty, which would be a major improvement after 12 years of Pharaoh, do not fool yourself into thinking that this new system is going away.

There are two reasons why I say this. First, the evaluation framework is state law, something over which New York City mayors have no say. Second, our union will not fight to get rid of this framework since they helped give birth to it.

Some teachers envision Mulgrew and de Blasio sitting down at contract negotiations next year, exchanging laughs and slapping each other on the back. They envision retro pay, a cost of living increase and an end to this evaluation system. While the former two things might happen (indeed, they might be the only things to come out of negotiations), the latter will not happen.

Michael Mulgrew will never push de Blasio to do away with the system he helped conceive.

If we want a chance to do away with this system, there is only one way to go about it: fight.

The rank and file of the union has to band together and move the Unity leadership of the UFT to change things, at least the things about this system that can be changed at the local level. We can start by signing the petition being passed around by MORE.

This, unfortunately, will not be enough. Even if we push the UFT to fight against this system, it is still state law. That means a bigger grassroots effort will be necessary.

We can start with administrators. Many administrators throughout the city are not happy with the new evaluation regime. Not only does it give them more work, those who are veteran educators generally feel demeaned by the deskilling of their job implied by the so-called “Danielson” rubric. Grassroots teachers must make common cause with administrators, even if it means holding our noses in some cases.

While we engage administrators, we also must engage parents. This will be much more difficult. Many of our parents are disengaged. Some of our parents want more testing. Most importantly, many of our most savvy and vocal parents send their children to charter schools, where this new evaluation system does not affect them. We can at least make common cause with sympathetic parent organizations, like Leonie Haimson’s Class Size Matters and the feisty Change the Stakes group.

Even if we pull all of these things off, an unlikely scenario under the best of circumstances, it still will not get the state law repealed. The reformy money wields too much influence in Albany and Cuomo is too infatuated with his self-image as a dyed-in-the-wool education reformer and a “lobbyist for children.”

So why do all of this?

Recall earlier in the year when Mulgrew and Pharaoh Bloomberg reached their impasse over the sunset clause. It looked like NYC would not have a new evaluation system after all. That is when John King stepped in and threatened to withhold Race to the Top money, as well as Title I money.

Grassroots pressure from teachers, administrators and parents will not work on the Albany crowd but it might just work on Mayor Bill de Blasio. As a public school parent, he might come to oppose all the new testing mandated by this evaluation system. Even if his son, who attends my alma mater at Brooklyn Tech, would be shielded from these tests, he might sympathize with other parents whose children come home from school with testing anxiety. With enough public pressure, he might be the one to pull NYC out of this system.

Predictably, King will huff and puff about withholding funds. Let him huff and puff. Those Race to the Top funds are only enough to pay for new testing anyway, so he can keep it. When he threatens to cut off Title I money, let him be sued by the union and every major civil rights organization with a chapter in the State of New York. Not only will he eventually be forced to fork over that Title I cash, he will ruin his own and Cuomo’s reputation to boot.

As far as I can see, this is the only formula for totally getting rid of this evaluation system. If it seems far-fetched, that is only because it is. The moral of the story is that these evaluations are here to stay until our union or our political landscape change radically.


Thanks to Danielson, we can all judge for ourselves as to whether or not we are good teachers. Those who discover that they are not should turn in their resignations post haste.

Thanks to Danielson, we can all judge for ourselves whether or not we are good teachers. Those who discover that they are not should turn in their resignations post haste.

Shortly after I started my teaching career a word I had never learned in college or heard in high school came into vogue: rubric.

I think I first heard the term at one of those professional development meetings that we teachers love attending. At this particular meeting it was our “assessment” skills that were being developed.

The point the developer was making was that we should articulate clearly, preferably in writing, what we as teachers were looking for in our students’ written assessments. This person was really big on the idea of handing out a checklist of requirements to our students before the assessment so they know exactly what would be required of them. This checklist was called a “rubric”.

I had never heard the term before, which is not saying much since I was never the brightest bulb in the batch. Admittedly, the idea that students should know in no uncertain terms what is expected of them is sound teaching advice. As far as professional developments go, this meeting on “rubrics” turned out to be pretty useful for me.

This was around 12 years ago, well before the high tide of education “reform” had broken over the system. Back then it was assumed that us teachers were knowledgeable enough to craft our own rubrics and assess our students accordingly.

I was used to these professional development buzz words fading away just as quickly as they had appeared. After all, we had been trained in “accountable talk”, “backwards planning”, “inquiry-based learning”, “balanced literacy” and a litany of other education fads with no staying power. Yet, the term “rubric” just would not go away. As the years went on it was clear that educational rubrics were here to stay.

Once accepted as conventional pedagogical wisdom, however, it is rare for a particular practice or idea to remain static. Other people come along and add to the idea, reinterpret it and apply it in different ways. So it happened with the simple idea of a rubric. Over the years it has taken on a life of its own.

Somewhere along the way we reached a point where the concept of the rubric went from a simple checklist of expectations to an objective measure of quality. The rise of standardized testing certainly had something to do with this. Indeed, the word “standardized” implies something objective, cold, logical and equally applicable to all students at all times. Teachers who grade these tests have to be trained in how to apply a supposedly objective measure of what quality student work looks like and judge each individual piece of work by that standard.

But the rubric really started running amok when it was applied to teachers. Thanks to the so-called “accountability” movement, it was assumed that there was an objective standard by which all teachers could be measured.

Here in NYC, some defenders of our union have said that the new evaluation system will be good for teachers because it will be “objective”. Principals will no longer give “Us” or “Ss” as they see fit, using some arbitrary standard of whether or not they like your smile and the way you dress. Instead, principals will have to follow the “Danielson” rubric. The assumption, if not the faith, on the part of Danielson’s defenders is that it cannot be gamed by principals.

Unfortunately, it is my view that Danielson and any other teacher rubric can certainly be gamed. Here are some of the standards by which Danielson measures teachers: Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy, Establishing a Culture for Learning, Reflecting on Teaching and Engaging Students in Learning. To say that these things are objective is to suggest that they look the same to all principals at all times. I mean, come on, we all “know” when students are engaged in learning when we see it, right?

My response is: come on, we all “know” what an “S” or a “U” teacher looks like, right?

There is a danger in calling Danielson, or any other teacher rubric, “objective”. Principals are human beings who can and will interpret every single point in this rubric in their own way. Their judgement will be a subjective one, yet the fact that it is neatly checked off on a list gives it an air of objectivity. When I hear defenders of our current union leadership say that Danielson is “objective”, I cringe. It is no more objective than the current U/S system that can easily be wielded to destroy a teacher’s career. The only difference is that Danielson affords the administrator the privilege of hiding behind objectivity.

No matter how many reformers, educrats and educationists try to dress the act of teaching up in the language of science, it will always remain an art form. Attempting to pound an art into the flat, logical arrows of science will serve no other purpose than to contort the teaching profession itself. Teachers will be forced to contort their styles, their methods and what they know to be good teaching in a mad dash to be rated “effective” by this “objective” rubric.

One of the reasons why this movement we call “education reform” is doomed to fail is because it fights against the true nature of what teaching is. It is like taking a coiled spring and trying to stretch it into a straight pipe cleaner. Sure, as long as your hands are able to grasp the ends and stretch it out, the spring will be straight. But once you let it go, it will snap back into place.

And so it is with teaching. As long as the Billionaire Boys’ Club calls the shots in our education system, they can stretch the teaching profession into an unnatural state. But there will be a time when, either out of satisfaction or frustration, they will lose interest in the education cause. Either they will be satisfied that they have sufficiently reformed our schools or they will throw up their hands at the intractability of doing so.

When they finally let go, the teaching profession will be allowed to snap back into its original form. Our only hope can be that they haven’t held it long enough to do permanent damage to its shape.