Tag Archives: Teacher Evaluations

HOW MANY INEFFECTIVE TEACHERS ARE THERE?

teachingmistakes

This is a question we hear being asked with greater frequency. The structure of the question is telling about the climate of teacher bashing in which we currently live. It assumes that there is some sort of numerical answer, either in a percentage or an absolute value. It assumes that we can reliably arrive at this answer. Most importantly, the existence of the question itself assumes that the “ineffective teacher” is a problem, one that presumably has a solution.

Let us say that we can arrive at a numerical answer. What do you do with that information? Do you identify the “ineffective” ones so they can be better trained? Do you merely fire them? A bit of both perhaps?

Assuming there is a core of intractably awful teachers who should be fired, what do you do next? From whence is the next generation of superstar teachers coming? This is the problem. The question of how many ineffective teachers exist is part of a wider discourse that has been inhospitable to teachers. Teacher unions are breaking, if not totally broken. We have a proliferation of new standards, uniform exams and other measures designed to hold teachers “accountable”. And make no mistake about that word “accountable”. It is not being used as a promise to better inform our practice or the quality of service we deliver to our communities. Instead, it is being brandished like a noose by a lynch mob, a mob that has been stirred into an anti-teacher frenzy by a well-funded media campaign orchestrated by so-called “reformers”. We will be held “accountable” right up until the moment our necks snap.

In an environment like this, who in their right mind would want to be a teacher? What kind of person with a 4.0 GPA would want to dedicate their life to a profession accorded so little respect? Where are these great teachers for whom the way will be cleared once we fire all the ineffective ones?

Those today who ask the question “how many ineffective teachers are there” automatically disqualify any plausible solution. It is born out of a teacher-hating environment  that discourages the potentially “effective” teachers of tomorrow from entering the profession. Add to this the rising cost of college and the raising of the bar of entry into the teaching profession (including a teacher “bar exam” here in New York State, an idea that has been supported by Randi Weingarten) and you have an environment perfectly suited towards driving anyone in their right minds away from the profession.

The foregoing assumes that there is a way to identify ineffective teachers to begin with. Reformers like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan assume they have found a way: teacher evaluation schemes that rely on student growth on test scores. Despite the fact that this has been tried in major cities like Washington, D.C. with disastrous consequences, Duncan has been scaling up the standardized testing regime with his Race to the Top program. States like New York will now judge their teachers’ effectiveness with “value added” data that have such wide margins of error as to make them useless.

The consequences of this are predictable. Teachers will merely “teach to the test”. Those who dare teach students with learning disabilities will be at greater risk of being rated “ineffective”. Teachers in Long Island will be held to the same standard as teachers in the South Bronx, despite the fact that they receive generally less funding and have more “externalities” to overcome. There will be an exodus of teachers to school districts with lower rates of poverty, crime and learning disabilities.

So why the narrative of the ineffective teacher? If we don’t even have reliable ways of identifying ineffective teachers, how do we know there are any in the system, let alone an amount that warrants wholesale reform of teacher evaluations?

It has currency with the general public because most people have been to school at some point. This fact alone seems to cause people to believe that they are some sort of authority on matters of education. Moreover, everybody is a taxpayer and, therefore, the boss of every public school teacher out there, or at least the teachers in their district.

Sadly, most of these people in the general public seem not to remember their teachers with fondness. They probably did not learn a whole heck of a lot in school, or only did so despite their teachers. I can say that, throughout my public school career, I did not learn much myself. In these instances it is easy to blame the teachers. People brandish the accountability noose in revenge for all of the crappy teachers they had when they were in school.

However, just because we did not learn much in school does not mean our teachers were ineffective. First off, I have been a student in many schools and I do not really recall any teachers who did not try to teach. There are people who seem to think that teachers drink coffee and sleep at their desks all day, even though this clearly runs counter to even their own experiences. Therefore, our not learning anything certainly was not due to our teachers not trying. So if they tried to teach us, why did we not learn? Sure, it is easy to say that they were boring. Their methods did not capture our attentions. They did not seem to care about us as people. Maybe this is true to an extent but it leaves out one thing: our own complicity in not learning.

I did not learn in school because I did not pay attention most of the time. I did not pay attention most of the time because there were other, more exciting things in the world to think about other than grammar and algebra. My mind was swirling with so many disorganized thoughts and so many fleeting desires. After all, I was a kid. Furthermore, I was a kid growing up at the end of the 20th century. There were all types of toys, commercials, television shows, popular music songs and technology out there geared specifically towards me. These were usually the images and the sounds that were dancing in my head while the teacher was talking about stuff like the Declaration of Independence. It is no wonder I did not learn anything.

Yet, here I am typing away using vocabulary, sentence structure and organized paragraphs. If I did not learn anything, how did I learn how to communicate in the English language at all? I know that it was at some point in kindergarten that I was introduced to the alphabet and how to use it. I will be damned if I remember how it was taught to me. But something stuck. Many things apparently stuck because I somehow ended up knowing stuff by the time I graduated high school. Sure, maybe I did not learn the type of detail that some of the gifted students learned but there was and still is stuff in my head. I learned and I did so despite myself.

It would be easy to chalk up my ignorance to my teachers. They did not “get” me. They were “lame”. Maybe there is some truth to that. Maybe there is also truth in the idea that I was a spoiled brat who took for granted an education that children in other nations would die to have. Alas, it is uncomfortable for people to actually believe that they once were, or still are, a bunch of brats. Politicians and education reformers certainly are not going to tell them that. So blaming teachers is easier. It lets us off the hook for our own shortcomings.

The other part to the teacher -bashing has to do with unions. Apparently, most Americans are miserable at their jobs and have the fear of being fired dangling precariously over their heads. They believe that teachers, these lazy and ineffective bums that did not “get” them when they were in school, are not miserable or insecure enough. Coming from a school of thought that holds the specter of poverty and homelessness makes workers better, people have had an obsession with eliminating “tenure” under the false impression that it means a job for life. Somehow, if teachers do not have the protections that allow them to advocate for their children and are held to accountability standards that measure how many bubbles their students fill in “correctly” over the course of 3 hours, schools will “improve”.

It is a sign of a selfish, petty and downright fearful society when one group of workers does not feel that another group of workers is suffering sufficiently. Apparently, they see no connection between stripping one group of workers of its due process rights and the deterioration of their own working conditions. It used to be that teachers were pitied because they pulled in long hours without making much money. Now they are envied because they make too much money and have some tepid job protections. Rather than attempting to get “tenure” for their own lines of work, they would rather engage in a race to the bottom where nobody has any job protections anywhere.

And this is supposed to keep the “effective” teachers while attracting more “effective” teachers in the future? I hope that people eventually think about the implications of what they are saying and realize the reformers are prescribing educational poison. You think schools sucked when you were a kid? Just wait until every teacher in America has to turn their classroom into a 180-day test-prep session.

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The New CTU Contract vs. The Old UFT Non-Contract

 

Norm at Ed Notes has a thorough treatment of what might be in the new Chicago Teachers’ Union contract. Michael Fiorillo expresses gratitude to the CTU:

Can’t we at least take satisfaction and feel some gratitude in the CTU wiping some of the smugness and arrogance off the faces of these bastards, and showing that the destruction of the public schools will not be passively allowed to happen?

This was an epochal strike, one that will be seen as the opening round in the battle to reclaim public education. After decades of being slandered and knocked back on our heels, the CTU has shown that we can fight back and begin to reclaim the territory that is rightfully ours. They deserve our thanks and support.

Those of us in NYC especially need to thank the CTU. As Michael suggested, they have shown us that fighting back against the education reform juggernaut is possible. We have had the reformer boot on our necks for a decade here in the nation’s largest public school system. The Chicago strike was a gunshot in the darkness, a potential awakening to the fact that the boot is on our necks only because we have allowed it.

And “we” means our union. As was pointed out in Norm’s post, there will surely be spin by UFT leadership as to why the strike was unnecessary, about how we have all of the things the CTU has without striking and how our salvation lies in backroom negotiations with reformer types.

So, let us put that to the test by comparing what the CTU might have gotten to what we have. Bullet points about the CTU contract all come from Norm’s link included at the start of this post.

1. They have a contract.

The first response to any Unity supporter who tries to downplay the Chicago strike is that they have a contract and we do not. They were willing to strike for their right to a contract, while the UFT has done…. what exactly?

2. *Provide A Better School Day:* The Board will hire 512 additional ‘special’ teachers in art, music, physical education, world languages and other classes to ensure students receive a better school day, a demand thousands of parents have called for since last year.

While in NYC, each school has either one art or one music teacher, but not both. Foreign languages are dying and hundreds of Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese and Latin teachers around the city have been excessed over the past 3-5 years. The state is working on  getting rid of the Global History regents, which will surely mean teachers of that subject will face layoffs and excessing in the near future.

3. *Ensures Job Security:*Creates a “CPS Hiring Pool,” which demands that one-half of all of CPS hires must be displaced (laid-off) members.

A good provision that not only protects jobs, but ensures children will have more experienced teachers rather than TFA mercenaries. Meanwhile, in NYC, we have an untold number of ATRs, perfectly good teachers who are demeaned every day by making copies, locking bathrooms and doing cafeteria duty. That is not to say these jobs are demeaning, that is to say that our ATRs should be teaching. Of course, the Unity response to this is “at least they still have jobs”. Protecting jobs is the least a union can do for its members. It makes no sense to give the UFT credit for doing the least with our union dues. They should be fighting for our conditions, quality and professionalism. The CTU restored some of that with this provision.

4. *Adds An Anti-Bullying Provision: *No more bullying by principals and managerial personnel. The new language will curtail some of the abusive practices that have run rampant in many neighborhood schools.

This is one of the biggest problems in NYC, a problem that has been allowed to persist because of a lack of a new contract. The contract by which we are forced to abide has so much grey area, grey area that has allowed principals to get away with murder, that the bullying of teachers is epidemic throughout the system. The fact that we cannot grieve letters to the file anymore, the fact that it is nearly impossible to win the grievances we do bring forward, the fact that teachers pretty much have to sue in court to overturn “U” ratings because of the biased appeals process, the fact that Walcott has supported principals who sexually harass their staff, the fact that SCI and OSI essentially now try to substantiate every frivolous charge and the fact that the new generation of arbitrators hired for 3020a hearings were brought in to fire teachers has led to a system that bullies teachers as a matter of policy. We do not know exactly what kind of anti-bullying provisions were won by the CTU, but we do know that we have no anti-bullying provisions in NYC. When we finally do negotiate a new contract, something substantial has to be done about bullying or nothing else we get in the contract will matter.

5. *Racial Diversity:*The CTU continues to fight the District on its lay-off policies that has led to a record number of African American educators being laid off and eventually terminated by the District. The new contract will ensure that CPS recruits a racially diverse teaching force.

A high percentage of laid-off Chicago teachers have been black. This is an Arne Duncan legacy and has continued in Chicago until this day. To replace them, we get the Ivy League suburban TFA alum with no ability to communicate with inner-city students and no intention to continue to teach. That means they are not motivated to learn how to communicate with inner-city students, making them mostly crappy teachers. The same thing is happening in NYC. The black educator has been disappearing. This is not so much a race issue as it is an issue of community-building. Too many new teachers are from the suburbs and have no idea what the students in their classes face. There is an alienation between student and teacher. The CTU is trying to overcome this. The UFT, historically, has driven wedges between teachers and the communities they serve. The 1968 strike comes to mind. It is unlikely the UFT will change their tune in this regard or call for hiring practices that will bring in people from the community. It is a shortcoming woven into the fabric of the Unity caucus.

6. *Fairer Evaluation Procedures:* The new contract will limit CPS to 70% “teacher practice,” 30% “student growth” (or test scores)—which is the minimum by state law. It also secures in the first year of implementation of the new evaluation procedures there will be “no harmful consequences” for tenured teachers. It also secures a new right—the right to appeal a Neutral rating.

Teacher evaluations based 30% on student test scores is the most the CTU could have gotten thanks to Illinois law. In New York, we have at least 20% and most likely it will go up to 40%. It is the only 40% that matters since we are rated “inefficient” overall if we fail that 40%. This is what our union negotiated for us and told us it was such a great thing. Not only did they not resist any parts of these provisions, but defended them to us. The fact that two inefficient ratings in a row leads to 3020s hearings effectively ends tenure for NY teachers. In Chicago, they have at least secured some sort of guarantee for tenured teachers., as well as a right to appeal that seems more fair than in NY. Remember, in NYC, only 13% of teachers will have the right to appeal a bad rating. The UFT tells us this is preferable to what goes on now where no teachers ever gets a “U’ overturned. Unfortunately, it was the UFT who allowed it to get that way in the first place.

7. *Reimbursement for School Supplies:*The contract will require the District to reimburse educators for the purchase of school supplies up to $250.

Hmmmm, I am no mathematician, but $250 seems more than the NOTHING NYC teachers get now.

8. *Reduced Paperwork:*The new contract ensures the new paperwork requirements are balanced against reduction of previous requirements.

Paperwork sorely cuts into teacher time. We know that the vast majority of paperwork we get is useless. While this is a problem in all schools, the fact that the CTU tackled this issue at all is a small victory for our professionalism and respect for our important duties. By the way NYC teachers, have you filled out your Circular 6 assignments yet?

Notice that most of the things in the new CTU contract have to do with learning and teaching conditions. This should put to rest all of the dumb talk about going on strike for “more money” and “limousine benefits”. Much of what is listed above goes to the heart of what it means to be a teacher in the age of education reform,

As for our union in NYC, they cannot pretend that the contract we currently do not have is better than what the CTU received after a strike. While this is not a perfect contact (none of them are), its provisions certainly beat most of the contract we are forced to work under. Is the corporate unionism of the UFT better for students and teachers than the social justice unionism of the CTU? Look at the contracts and decide for yourself.