I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Continuing Humiliation of Teachers

First, it was LA; now, it's NYC. So why, exactly, do we need to release teacher evaluation data that's out of date, error-prone (53% margin of error?!?!), and can't be used by the public to do anything anyway? What the hell is the point?

Well, let's go back to the LA Times, which led the way in releasing this dreck. What was their justification for releasing (really bad) teacher ratings back in 2010?
Critics, and especially union leaders, railed against The Times' decision to release this information, saying that it unfairly casts teachers as good or bad. They predicted that parents would throng local schools demanding that their children be assigned to one teacher or another based on scores that are at best an incomplete measure of a teacher's effectiveness.

Test scores are indeed just one indicator of a teacher's performance. It's too early to determine the long-term response, but so far, parents seem to understand that; L.A. Unified reports that there has been no headlong rush to principals' offices for a change of teachers before classes start later this month.
So the parents are smart enough to know not to rely on this unreliable data. OK; so why publish it? What is the point?
But it's revealing, and disturbing, to read the comments of some teachers who don't seem to care whether their students' scores slide. They argue that they're focused on more important things than the tests measure. That's unpersuasive. The state has carefully constructed some of the best curriculum standards in the nation, which are about to become better with the adoption of new English and math standards. These represent widespread agreement among educational experts on what students should learn by certain grades. We're far past the point of allowing individual teachers to decide how much of the curriculum they want to impart, or sitting by while low-income students enter high school illiterate and without a basic grasp of multiplication. [emphasis mine]
Hold on a sec...

Sorry, I had to take a good couple of minutes to hold my side laughing at the idea that a single bubble test, graded by some low-paid worker in a warehouse in Iowa, is a good measure of whether a kid meets "carefully constructed"...

... sorry, I needed another minute for that one - "carefully constructed"... let me catch my breath... whoo....

 ..."carefully constructed" standards.

But this paragraph, for all its cluelessness, is highly instructive. If you read the entire LA Times piece, you'll find this is the closest they come to a real justification for publicly publishing this release: it gives the LAT a chance to rail against teacher responses. As I said at the time, the LAT gave up any pretense of objectivity when they released this report, and it's clear to me they did it solely for financial reasons. They are ideologues who want to make the case that the largest problem children in America face is not poverty, or income inequity, or inadequate resources for schools.

No, in their world, children are failed primarily by hordes of lazy, unionized, unaccountable teachers. And I'm sure it's just a happy coincidence the LAT is owned by a very wealthy man who is one of the largest financial backers of the war on teachers.

But I'll give them this: at least they admit that they were the ones who requested the data and analyzed it. Contrast that to this gutless report from the New York Times, which fails to report who exactly filed the FOIA, saying only this:
The push to release the individual rankings began in August 2010, when New York City education officials contacted the reporters who most closely cover the city’s public schools and encouraged them to submit Freedom of Information Act requests for the teachers’ rankings. Until then, the city had refused to release the names with the rankings, citing issues of privacy.
So Mike Bloomberg - a guy who said he would cut the teacher corps in half if he could - tells the NY Times to jump, and they ask "how high?" Since when? Doesn't the Times have an obligation to determine whether publishing such error-prone data may violate ethical journalism standards?

Would the Times publish the mortality rates for surgeons if the data couldn't accurately account for what type of patients they operated on? Even if Mayor Mike begged them to do so? Hell, no - they'd be too afraid of getting their asses sued off.

Which begs the question: where are the databases of pilot errors? Where are the statistics showing how many cases lawyers won and lost? The racial breakdown of arrests for individual cops? Is there anything comparable to this happening in any other profession?

Hell, no.

It's worth pointing out that our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, applauds this crap:
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will call for all states and school districts to make public whether their instructors are doing enough to raise students' test scores and to share other school-level information with parents, according to a text of a speech he is scheduled to make Wednesday.
"The truth is always hard to swallow, but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter," according to remarks he plans to deliver in Little Rock, Ark. "That's what accountability is all about — facing the truth and taking responsibility."
Please. Publicly releasing the data has absolutely nothing to do with "facing the truth." And parents can't act on the data anyway. No, this is all about putting teachers in their place; this is all about intimidation.

Fellow teachers (and parents and students and citizens), understand this: we are in a war, and the weapons of choice for the other side are fear and humiliation. This is merely the latest step in the  systematic de-professionalization of teaching. We know the corporate reformers love this; the ostensible "liberals" in the Obama administration love it too. And the media is happy to play along, even as it pretends to wring its hands.

Fellow teachers, I have only one question for you:

How much longer are we going to put up with this crap?

ADDING (New Jersey specific): You know who promised the NYC teachers that this data would NEVER be revealed? That's right: ACTING NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf.

Add that to the list of many questions Cerf should have to answer if he ever gets a confirmation hearing.


Regan said...

I have no idea how teachers are evaluated in other towns, but I work in Newark, and it is hit or miss. I have had years when my principal never once observed me - she just gave me two evals to sign. As they were positive, I signed them! Currently, I have an admin who does come to my room all the time, and also does formal observations. I much prefer this, as we can all use constructive criticism.

However, I did receive a letter telling me that whenever we finally get a contract, I will have an increment withheld because of my attendance last year. Last year my son had surgery and recovery for his cleft palate. I could not use FMLA, because it had not been a year since I used it for my time off with his birth and first 2 surgeries. Nice, right?

So if they were to release my eval, it would look like I am some slacker who used all her days last year. Yes, my students' parents understood, but it still paints me in an unflattering light.

We are repeatedly assured that evals are for US, for our personal and professional development. They are not meant for the public. This is a very disturbing trend.

Anonymous said...

Why would publicly funded evaluations of publicly employed teachers not be made public, Duke?

You make no sense sometimes.

Anonymous said...

If teacher evaluations are made public, then there should also be public release of evaluations of hospitals, they get my tax dollars too. I also want evaluations released of the military, all of them, they also get my tax dollars. Then there are evaluations of all the lobbyists, governors, past governors, their staffs, nurses, road crews, public workers, and on and on and on... This is discrimination and intimidation and would qualify for protection under the HIB laws. If all you have to be is publicly funded and publicly employed, then let the floodgates open on ALL of them. Otherwise, it's nothing more than distraction.

TIM said...

Maybe after each school year teachers should be asked to publicly roll two dice. Those that roll a ten or higher can be deemed "high scoring"; roll a number from six to nine, you are an acceptable scorer, if you rol a five, you are below average and put on probation. If you roll a two, three, or four, and you are counseled out of the profession. But don' t worry, the odds are you will not be fired in any given year.

We could save money without the need for Broad Academy consultants (one of who earns almost 1 Million dollars from the NJDOE and state controlled districts that goes to his company FOCAL POINT). Let's just roll dice and save money.

Anonymous said...

Teachers are publicly employed workers in an important public job. The Legislature put in place a measurement criteria paid for by public tax dollars. It is the height of arrogance to say that these results should be somehow hidden from the public.

Jazzman's opinion that they are flawed is just that, his opinion, from someone who on a weekly basis for years has saad that ALL measurmeents are flawed -- while decrying the secrecy of various processes like charter school boards.

(shrug) Boy that cried wolf, Jazzman. Transparency is the price you pay.

TIM said...

Opinion? Are you serious? There really is no debate about accuracy. The only debate is whether or not accuracy is relevant. You assume the measures are accurate, but no one, not even Cerf will sat that they are.

Duke said...

TIM, Bruce Baker beat you to the idea!


Duke said...

Anon, of course all assessments are flawed; they all have margins of error. That is not the point.

It is INAPPROPRIATE to use an test that is designed to assess STUDENTS as a way to assess TEACHERS.

It's that simple.