Tag Archives: Education deform

THE UFT’S MISSED OPPORTUNITY

One of my favorite historical figures of all time, the great French diplomat Talleyrand. Talleyrand may have been a snake but he had the good sense to know when to do nothing.

One of my favorite historical figures of all time, the great French diplomat Talleyrand. Talleyrand may have been a snake but he had the good sense to know when to do nothing.

New York City is the largest school system in the nation. For the past few weeks the eyes of the education world have been focused on whether or not the city and the union can agree to a new evaluation deal. If they are able to do so, it will be touted as a great “achievement” for public schools and serve as a model for other school districts around the country.

Contrary to what many of us expected, the round-the-clock negotiations between the city and union two weeks ago was not the endgame. New York State Education Commissioner John King has set a new deadline of February 14 so the city can “submit a plan that shows it is prepared to implement large portions of an evaluation system.”

This does not mean the same thing as setting a deadline for the city and union to agree on a plan. King is clearly giving the city a few weeks to turn in a blueprint on what a plan would look like.

It gets confusing right about here:

If the city fails to submit a plan by Feb. 14 that shows it is prepared to implement an evaluation by March 1, King said he has the authority to take over more than $800 million in federal Title I and II funding and withhold more than $300 million in Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants. King said the Title I and II money would still be spent in New York City classrooms, but that he would have control over how it is spent.

Say what? So the blueprint the city must submit by February 14 must show “it is prepared to implement an evaluation by March 1.” Again, this does not seem to mean the same as having an evaluation in place by March 1, only that the city must show it is “prepared” to do so.

If not, King says he has the power to take over 800 million dollars of Title I funding for schools and he can outright withhold 300 million dollars. What King intends to do with the 800 million is not clear, although he says it will “still be spent in New York City classrooms.”

I think they call this “bluster”. In reality, both February 14 and March 1 can come and go without much happening. The amount of money King can actually withhold (which seems to be around $345 million altogether), is not going to kill us. The 800 million in Title I funding does not seem to be very malleable in King’s hands, despite his threats to “take control” of it. What can King actually do if the March 1 deadline is not reached? Not a whole lot it seems, at least not now.

Meanwhile, the union wants an evaluation plan to have a sunset of 2 years and Bloomberg wants a plan that will go on indefinitely. How do the two sides compromise on this?

Bloomberg, never the greatest politician, painted himself into a corner by stating publicly he wanted an indefinite evaluation deal. He cannot now compromise on this because he will look incredibly weak and foolish. That is to say, he cannot compromise on this until the public forgets about it, which would certainly be longer than the March 1 deadline. However, Bloomberg is obsessed with his “legacy” and what better permanent legacy than a putative evaluation system that finally holds these lazy teachers accountable? Bloomberg will not moderate his stance on this anytime soon.

The union’s president, Michael Mulgrew, holds all the cards here. His agreement to a two-year evaluation deal, which would have been the longest-running in the state, makes him look like a conciliator. The interminable school bus strike and Bloomberg’s failed negotiations with the CSA hums in the background as a reminder of Bloomberg’s intractable stance during negotiations in general. King’s comments generally have given Mulgrew cover and corroborated his version of why the negotiations were torpedoed. The mayoral campaign will keep people like Christine Quinn off of his back for the foreseeable future, lest she wants to lose the ever-important UFT endorsement.

Mulgrew holds all of the cards. He holds all of the cards in the largest school district in the nation. If he had any morals, any conscience, if he cared about the teaching profession at all or cared about the type of precedent any type of evaluation deal would set around the country he would do one thing and one thing only: nothing.

Sure, he might “talk” here and there with the district about an evaluation but he would have no intention of agreeing to one. Outside of any nominal negotiations, Mulgrew would do absolutely, positively nothing.

February 14 will come and go. March 1 will come and go. June will come and go. The start of the next school year will come and go. King will continue to threaten, to wave his arms, to talk about “taking control” of funds and he will use every threat in the book to get Mulgrew and Bloomberg to play ball.

And all Mulgrew has to do is nothing.

Bloomberg will not pull back from his demand for a perpetual evaluation regime. He is a lame-duck, a billionaire, a media mogul and he cares not what he does or how he is perceived over the next year. Mulgrew can do nothing with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that Bloomberg will never pull back from the precipice.

So why would Michael Mulgrew, president of the largest teachers’ union in the country, do anything?

Perhaps over the summer, after everyone has forgotten about the failed negotiations of a few weeks ago, Bloomberg might moderate his stance on not having any type of sunset clause. He might moderate about some other things as well. He might be so overly obsessed with his “legacy” that he feels some sort of deal is better than no deal at all. At that point, Mulgrew would be well-served to head back to the negotiating table again with the intention of not coming to an agreement.

After all, how much will Bloomberg moderate his stance? He definitely will want an evaluation system more extreme than anything else in New York State. When negotiations fail, Mulgrew can say again that Bloomberg is being unreasonable by calling for unprecedented and unreasonable reforms. Who is going to call him out? The mayoral candidates? Not likely. King? What can he do? Cuomo? Is Cuomo going to take the side of an increasingly unpopular mayor when he has one eye on the White House?

Mulgrew holds all of the cards and he needs to do nothing. He needs to do nothing to set the first positive precedent to come out of New York City in decades. He needs to do nothing because the backlash to education reform is afoot all across the country, as the Movement of Rank and File Educators has illustrated. He needs to do nothing because it is the right and righteous thing to do. Doing nothing will ensure that the schools of NYC will not become testing factories and the teachers in NYC will not be subject to endless harassment thanks to “value added” and “Danielson”. On a nationwide scale, the failure of Race to the Top here in the country’s largest school district would be a black eye on Arne Duncan and his entire effort to “reform” education.

Unfortunately, teachers here in New York City know that he will eventually do something. He has done something at every stage of this process so far. He was willing to consent to an evaluation framework that made tests the vital part of a teacher’s yearly evaluation. He was willing to agree to an evaluation framework that would see thousands of teachers hauled into 3020a hearings to prove that they are not incompetent. He was willing to accept an evaluation that went on for two years, which is about twice as long as most other school districts in NY State have. He was willing to do these things despite the fact that his teachers’ union has no contract. He was willing to do these things despite the fact that what he agreed to was essentially an end-run around tenure rules that his very same union had won for us many moons ago.

In short, us teachers in NYC are too jaded to believe that Mulgrew will not end up caving to the dictates of education deform. This has been his and the rest of UFT leadership’s “strategy” for many years. There is no sense in believing that anything will change now.

Despite the fact that Mulgrew holds the cards. This despite the fact that he has a long track record to prove that he is not some intractable union hack out to protect “incompetent” teachers. Despite the fact that doing nothing is the right thing to do in this case, he will end up doing something and something means disaster.

If the House of Mulgrew does not eventually fall, then the rest of us surely will.

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20%: The Difference Between Sucking and Really Sucking

What a difference 20% makes.

So many things being said about our new teacher evaluations here in NYC.

Let us start with what we know:

I. 60% will be based on teacher performance.

A. 31% on principal observations wherein the principal must use a “research-based” rubric like Danielson. Particular rubric to be negotiated in collective bargaining and approved by the State Education Department (SED).

B. 29% will be based on other, non-principal-related evidence of teacher performance. Whatever this will be must be worked out in collective bargaining. Some suggestions that have been floated are peer observations and artifacts of student work.

II. 40% will be based on student learning.

A. 20% will use state-wide standardized exams for every subject and every grade. The teacher will be assigned a grade based upon a value added model.

B. 20% will be based on a local assessment to be worked out in collective bargaining.

A teacher found ineffective on the 40% part will be found ineffective overall.

This has led teachers to wonder what in the world that other 20% will be.

People like me, Arthur Goldstein, Peter Lamphere and others believe it will be a city-wide exam.

Yet, Leo Casey has stated here on this blog that it will not be an exam. Last night on Mind of a Bronx Teacher (which you can still listen to here.), Leo Casey stated unequivocally that it will not be an exam and will not be value-added.

Instead, he was confident that alternative forms of assessment will be used on the local level. Furthermore, he made the claim that, whatever these assessments turn out to be, teachers will be grading it themselves. No outside agency will put a number on it.

Obviously, those of us who fear a citywide exam and Leo Casey who is adamant about having no citywide exam cannot both be correct. Something has to give here.

Everything seems to hinge on this last 20%.

If people on my side are correct, our children will be given over to King Test. The most important part of our evaluations will hinge upon very arbitrary numbers that have proven time and again to be unreliable.

If Leo Casey is correct, it is a whole different ballgame.

Imagine that other 20% being an assessment that we administer and grade ourselves. These assessments would make up an important portion of our evaluations. It could mean the difference between keeping our livelihoods or “selling pencils” as Arthur Goldstein says.

If that is the case, what teacher would ever fail their students? It would institutionalize cheating across the city.

Think about it. The publication of the Teacher Data Reports this past weekend exposed how unreliable and wild value added data is. We know for a fact that this unreliable value-added crap will make up 20% of our evaluations.

If we have so much control over that other 20%, teachers are going to do their darndest to make sure students do not fail it. This includes everything up to and including blatant cheating. After all, if we have no control over the outcome of one 20% chunk (value added), then we will compensate by taking as much control as possible over the other 20% (local assessment).

So we have two visions of what the future of education in NYC will look like. One is all testing all the time. The other is a lot of testing along with incentives to cheat.

I am still inclined to believe that it will be all testing. The only reason we have to believe otherwise is the words of Leo Casey and the UFT. After the 2005 contract debacle (among many other things), rank-and-file teachers have reason to lack faith in what their union leadership tells them.

One thing is for certain: no matter what ends up happening, it is going to suck.

The Myth of Tenure: A Discussion with Education Lawyers

How most people view teacher tenure.

I came across this video a while ago about the 3020a process here in NYC. This is the process that a teacher accused of wrongdoing has to go through that decides whether or not they keep their license.

Among the members of this discussion is Betsy Combier who runs the NYC Rubber Room Reporter blog that can be found on my blogroll.

I found myself paying particular attention to Michael Mazzariello (Judge Mazz of Street Court), who was a former prosecutor for the old Board of Education.

This means he was the guy that went after teacher licenses. Not only that, he did his work back in those days when tenure supposedly meant a job for life. Listen to what this man says and how easy it was for him to remove incompetent teachers. He is rational and makes perfect sense in this discussion.

They all bring up interesting points about the pros and cons about the teacher termination process. Much has changed about 3020a since this discussion took place but it is still relevant.

Tenure means a guaranteed job? No. It means due process. While there were always problems with it, the answer is not to get rid of it.