Tag Archives: NYS Teacher Evaluations

SEVEN SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE FOR NYC PUBLIC SCHOOLS

New York City teachers come back to work tomorrow after an early Spring Break. Just in time too because rumblings of change are everywhere here in the city. The nation should have its eye on what happens in the New York City school system over the next year or two.

Together, the 7 Seals of the Apocalypse are on the horizon for our education system. This doesn’t mean that I think NYC public schools will disappear. It means that, if they were to disappear, these would be the things that will do us in.

First Seal – False Prophets 

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

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Elections for new leadership in the union will take place shortly after we return to work tomorrow. The Unity Caucus, who has had a stranglehold on power from its inception, is facing a challenge from MORE this year. Don’t be surprised if MORE has some measure of success in this election.

The Unity Caucus has been running a non-campaign: not engaging with or acknowledging MORE in any way and not taking any public actions or stances recently so they don’t risk alienating more teachers. If we hear anything, it will be about how Unity brings us “experienced” and “competent” leadership.

Michael Mulgrew and the rest of Unity are the false prophets upon our land. They will speak about how they did not cave to Pharaoh Bloomberg’s impossible teacher evaluations, then they will cave soon after the elections are over. Unity will play nice with teachers over the next month, then will do a whole bunch of selling out once elections are over. Seeing as how they have three years before they face another election, they will try to get all of their selling out done over the next two years in order to give us a chance to forget before the 2016 elections.

Second Seal – War 

“Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.”

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New Yorkers will be voting for a new mayor this year after 12 years of the Reign of Pharaoh Mike I. The Democratic Party in NYC is locked in a battle over who will win the nomination and, thereby, the Mayoralty. Presumably, the favorite is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the woman responsible for allowing Bloomberg’s illegal third term to sail through the City Council. She is the person who many New Yorkers just assume to be a BloomClone.

The Red Horse of the apocalypse is supposed to be a good guy, but the red warrior in this election is most definitely fighting for the dark side. Quinn is the quintessential political operator who believes in nothing and stands for nothing. Her plan for the schools is Bloomberg Lite. She went out of her way to block the paid sick leave bill and then reversed herself when some of her biggest endorsers threatened to retract.

If Quinn ends up winning the war, our schools will not have proper leadership for the foreseeable future. This is the woman for whom the UFT wants us to wait because she would give us a “fair” contract, unlike Bloomberg. Unity’s entire “wait for the next mayor” approach to contract negotiations under the guise that the next mayor is going to be our Great White Hope is laughable.

Third Seal – Famine

“Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’”

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The “economic crisis” is a term that hangs over us with a sense of permanence. Despite the fact that the federal government and private industry are throwing more money into the education world than ever, the poor state of the economy will continually be used as an excuse as to why less and less money finds its way into our classrooms.

We have seen the deterioration of most after school programs outside of bare sports funded by the Public Schools Athletic League. Art and music have been nixed, foreign languages are starting to feel the pinch and the handwriting is on the wall for Global History. Our curriculum will be streamlined based upon what is tested and the only subjects tested are the subjects that will keep us “competitive” in the 21st century. Everything will be cut away except testing and STEM subjects. The specter of “budget cuts” will be the handmaiden facilitating this bare-bones education.

Fourth Seal – Pestilence 

“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

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The plague of standardized testing promises to grow and deepen over the next few years. A vast amount of resources have already been spent on reorienting the entire education system coast-to-coast around standardized exams. The richies who have plunged billions of dollars into the emerging testing economy will not abandon their precious investment without a protracted fight.

For high school teachers here in NYC, the new scoring policy for the Regents Exams will ensure chaos. Most importantly, it will lead to an across-the-board dip in all test scores. In his final year as the “Education Mayor”, Pharaoh Bloomberg will once again be embarrassed when the test scores by which he used to measure his own “progress” end up showing exactly the opposite. It will be a fitting kick in the pants for Bloomberg on his way out of the door.

On the other hand, it will be a sad development for the teachers who remain in the system because the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse is:

Fifth Seal – Martyrdom 

“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of The Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’”

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Once UFT elections are over, you can be assured that a deal for a new evaluation system for teachers will be squared away. Although we can’t know the details, we do know for sure that it will cause an unspeakable amount of suffering everywhere in the city.

Teachers will be judged by their students’ test scores or, more accurately, by how much “value” they “add” to the learning of their students. We will also be forced to conform to the “Danielson” rubric, named for its inventor who has a questionable education background and questionable motives for pushing her rubric. Combined with the dictate that two “ineffective” ratings in a row is grounds for termination, many good and dedicated teachers in New York City will lose their jobs.

These are not even the things that concern me the most about the evaluation system to which our union leaders agreed. The most disturbing part is how it weakens an already anemic system of due process for teachers. Restoring the integrity of due process (making it harder for principals to trump up charges against teachers, making teacher investigations open and fair and having a rational standard for handing out penalties as decided by fair labor arbitrators) should be among the highest priorities of our union leadership. Instead, they have proven willing to allow due process to rot away until we are as protected as teachers in “right to work” states.

Sixth Seal – Signs from Heaven

“There was a great Earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.”

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It looms on the horizon like a conquering army. Every teacher in New York City knows that “Common Core” is coming in 2014. Everyone inside of every school building in the vast majority of the country will have felt Common Core’s presence by then, if they have not done so already. We did not ask for it. Parents were not necessarily clamoring for it. But, like every seal of the apocalypse, it came despite our wishes.

Some people like the Common Core and others believe it is a tolerable system. No matter what you think of the content of the Common Core, the intention is obvious: to institutionalize the standardized testing regime on a nationwide basis. Imagine a uniform standardized exam that every child in the country has to take every year? Can you imagine the windfall for companies like Pearson and Wireless Generation (whatever it is called now)?

The idea of national standards for public schools has traditionally been a goal of progressives. It was a policy originally devised to motivate states to uplift their worst schools to the level of their best schools. Despite the long-time progressive pressure for national standards, it only became a reality when businessmen realized there was money to be made and a working and consuming population to be dumbed down as a result.

Seventh Seal – Trumpets of the Apocalypse 

First Woe – “And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.”

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Michelle Rhee recently invaded New York with her lobbying firm, “Students First”. Their machinations can be found behind the law empowering the State Education Commissioner to impose a new teacher evaluation system on NYC. They will continue to ravage our land no matter who the mayor or governor happen to be.

Second Woe – “It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breast plates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur.”

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The troops with the multicolored breast plates are obviously a metaphor for computers. 200 million is the amount of computers that stand to be manufactured if the idea of “e-learning” gains any more currency. The horses who blow fire and sulfur are the online classes that purport to “educate” students.

Learning is at risk of being perceived as something that can be done on the fly, at a distance and on the cheap just like “e-shopping” and “e-mailing”. Education is being commodified like cosmetics and fast food. First it was the boutique charter school with the hyperbolic name. Now, it is the online learning program marketed as a replacement for flesh-and-blood teachers.

In NYC, e-learning is the serpent that lays close to the heart. Programs like I-Learn are increasingly being used by schools as a cheap way to give quick credits to students who need to graduate on time. Very soon people will start to say, “if computers can help make up credits, maybe they can do everything else.” The destruction of public schools as a physical place will not be far behind.

Third Woe – “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet (see articles in our Prophecy section). They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day.”

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By the time all of the seals of the Apocalypse have set in, New York City schools will be ripe for the taking. The culprits will be “the Kings from the east… performing miraculous signs…” They will be the richmen who will reduce education to a series of prompts from the internet, a model which stands to make them a lot of money.

Online learning will be said to “perform miracles” with graduation rates and test scores. We will be told that the best way to get bang for our tax bucks is to shut down all brick and mortar schools in favor of online academies. We will also be assured that private firms will run these academies for less cost than the government can run them.

And then the destruction of New York City’s public education system will be complete.

While it is unlikely that all of these things will happen as I say it will, what is not arguable is that all of these forces will greatly reshape our schools over the next two years.

By the end of 2014, our children and our teachers will be operating under a whole new different set of rules than the ones in place today. It is up to us to make these rules as unobjectionable as possible.

More Testing, Please

The New York State Board of Regents will decide next week what to do with the Global History Regents Exam. Judging from the data, this is the toughest of all Regents. Only 69% of the students in the state passed the test last year.

I have taught Global History every year since the start of my teaching career. The Global exam is difficult for a few reasons. First, it tests two years of content. Usually, students take Global History I and II in freshmen year and then take the Regents in sophomore year after taking Global III and IV. Second, students are required to know a little bit about every civilization. It is a very scattered curriculum no matter how a school presents it (chronologically or regionally). Third, the grading scale for the exam is usually unforgiving. Students usually have to write two decent essays because they cannot skate by on the multiple choice part. Last year, the state required us to score the exams in such a way that reduces the chance of scrubbing. All of these things explain why 2011’s pass rates were so low.

My students know my views on the Global Regents. I think the exams are stupid and should not be used to judge their knowledge of history or their high school diploma. If it was up to me, they would not have to take the Global Regents at all.

So, why am I not happy about the fact that New York State is considering reforming the exam?

There seem to be two possibilities on the table. The first involves making the exam voluntary. The second involves splitting it up into two exams: one for Global I and II and another for Global III and IV.

So, why does a person like me, who opposes standardized exams, want the Board of Regents to go with the latter option? Why do I want them to mandate more testing for my students?

Because I know what the implications are of making the exam voluntary. State Education Commissioner John King has already hinted at it:

“There’s certainly going to be a lot of jobs in the future in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and this new pathway will encourage districts and schools to create additional opportunities for their students to pursue those areas.”

Essentially, doing away with the Global Regents means doing away with Global History. See, the future economy is going to revolve around STEM careers, so that is where we need to focus our education resources. History is not STEM, therefore we do not need it.

The handwriting is on the wall. History in New York State is on the road to extinction.

It seems unlikely that the Board of Regents will chop the Global exam in two. That would require investing more resources in history. John King has already given the signal that this is not where the future lies.

First, the exam will become voluntary. Schools will still provide Global History for a few years. Then the standardized testing regime will kick in. The Board of Regents will decide that 4 semesters dedicated to a course that ends with a voluntary Regents exam is a waste of resources. It will collapse into a one-year course. Everything from the dawn of man until the end of the Cold War will have to be studied in two semesters. The second year of Global will be given over to perhaps another year of science, or maybe an engineering class.

After a few more years, people will look at this strange Global History course and ask themselves “what’s the point?” It is not a STEM subject and its Regents is voluntary. Just axe it. Fill the void with some more math or maybe extend the engineering course into a two-year curriculum. In the not too distant future, Global History will be a memory. History teachers will be laid off by the thousands.

It will not be too long after this that American History will also be gone. We can look back on the day that art and music were done away with in NYC as the beginning of the end of all humanities-related subjects in our schools.

English and Foreign Language will also probably go the same way. School systems across the country will be nothing more than training grounds for the low-wage workers and low-end consumers of tomorrow’s economy. Thanks to the elimination of the humanities, the next generation will have no idea how we got this economy of the future (which will then be the present) and no way to imagine a better alternative.

The New Civil Disobedience

As I have said before, teachers, parents and students who care about  preserving public education have been backed into a corner where the only weapon they have left is their bodies.

A quality education has come to be seen as a human right. Despite the fact it is not written into the Bill of Rights, we have learned that education is a hallmark of a functioning and healthy democracy. As citizens, we have come to expect a quality education as our due.

This is why the corporate education reformers have been winning the public debate. They have clothed their privatization schemes in righteous rhetoric about our children being entitled to great schools. They have used their wealth and political power to beat teachers and their unions into submission. In New York, as well as in many other states, they have created a new regime that forces all children to be nothing but test-takers focused on short-term goals. It is no coincidence that the hedge-fund managers and Wall Street bankers were lauded for their short-term thinking of turning fabulous profits overnight.

That was until the economy crashed.

Yet,  they want students to spend 13 years of their lives doing little more than preparing for the next exam. The only number that will matter is the next number they receive on the next bubble-in test. Sounds just like Goldman-Sachs or AIG executives who see no further than the next financial quarter.

Parents across the country are making the connection between the push for more education “data” and the push for ever-higher quarterly earnings on Wall Street. Much like the data of quarterly earnings, the data of testing does not reflect much real value at all. They are arbitrary, incomplete and, sometimes, out-and-out fudged numbers that fuel a myopic system where only a few reap any real benefits.

That is why a National Opt-Out movement is developing. Parents who are involved in their children’s educations, as well as teachers who are aware of what education reform really means, are pushing to keep their kids home on test days. At the very least, they are calling for students to hand in blank exams so the private education data companies (Like Joel Klein’s Wireless Generation), have no data to mine.

National Opt-Out is the new incarnation of civil disobedience. Much like the Civil Rights protestors of the 50s and 60s, National Opt-Out seeks to disobey an unjust regime by using their bodies to bring that regime to a halt. They are defending one of our most cherished civil rights: the right to an education.

A recent article on the New York City Public School Parents website examines the problems with measuring kids by data and gives a sense of the growing frustration that is fueling National Opt-Out.

Also, do not forget to show up to the discussion surrounding the New York State teacher evaluation deal and the role of standardized testing therein. It will take place this Tuesday at 5:30 pm at Murry Bergtraum High School.

From NYC Public School Parents:

As wehavespokenout against high-stakes testing this year, after our family was first directly affected by it through our third-grade son, we have had the wonderful experience of connecting with like-minded parents in New York and across the country who are also determined to put education back into the hands of educators.

We have also heard from many teachers who, unlike parents, are often under the direct threat of being fired for speaking out against run-away testing in our schools. We would like to put forward, with her permission, the thoughts of one such teacher working in Brooklyn. What follows are her words, taken from our recent correspondence with her, with comments from us interspersed in italics.
We wish this teacher’s experiences were unusual. But increasingly this is the norm in our public schools. Professional educators across the country are being prevented from exercising their best professional judgment and are actually punished for responding to children as individuals –all in the name of “standards” and “accountability.”
Our position is simple: we want our children to be educated by teachers like this one, who care about children and learning, who recognize and protest counterproductive teaching methods that are forced on them by the state. We will not rest until parents and teachers are once again in charge of education policy, and teachers are free to use their knowledge and expertise to make learning the joyous experience it should be for all our children.
If you are interested in this issue, please attend the forum Tuesday night, April 17, at 5:30 pm, on the new teacher evaluation system and high-stakes testing at Murry Bergtraum HS; moreinfoattheChangestheStakeswebsite. – Anne Stone and Jeff Nichols
Read the article here.

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.