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

Sunday, March 4, 2012

NYC Teachers Strike Back

But will anyone listen? Here's NYC teacher William Johnson in today's NY Times:
Like most teachers, I’m good some days, bad others. The same goes for my students. Last May, my assistant principal at the time observed me teaching in our school’s “self-contained” classroom. A self-contained room is a separate classroom for students with extremely severe learning disabilities. In that room, I taught a writing class for students ages 14 to 17, whose reading levels ranged from third through seventh grades. 
When the assistant principal walked in, one of these students, a freshman girl classified with an emotional disturbance, began cursing. When the assistant principal ignored her, she started cursing at me. Then she began lobbing pencils across the room. Was this because I was a bad teacher? I don’t know. 
I know that after she began throwing things, I sent her to the dean’s office. I know that a few days later, I received notice that my lesson had been rated unsatisfactory because, among other things, I had sent this student to the dean instead of following our school’s “guided discipline” procedure. 
I was confused. Earlier last year, this same assistant principal observed me and instructed me to prioritize improving my “assertive voice” in the classroom. But about a month later, my principal observed me and told me to focus entirely on lesson planning, since she had no concerns about my classroom management. A few weeks earlier, she had written on my behalf for a citywide award for “classroom excellence.” Was I really a bad teacher?
Reformy types keep telling us that teacher evaluations have to mirror the "real world." Let me ask them: if you were evaluating a manager, and one of his employees started cursing and throwing things at work, would you blame hat manager? Especially if the manager hadn't hired the employee? Or would you escort the employee out of the building immediately and call the police?

Human interrelationships are complex; they are exponentially more complex when they involve children, and it's yet another quantum leap when they involve children who are emotionally disturbed. Anyone who thinks teacher's worth can be boiled down to a number is a fool.

Here's another NYC teacher, Julie Cavanagh, in the NY Daily News:
Since the reports were released last week, the debate has been raging about whether a formula prone to as much as 53% in margin of error is the best way to judge the effectiveness of teachers. Self-proclaimed reformers say yes; those who understand teaching say otherwise.
There is no question that teachers are responsible for the learning and growth that take place inside of their classrooms. However, standardized tests are just not a reliable measure of learning. If we are truly interested in increasing the quality of education, the conversation surrounding accountability must shift.
Imagine if doctors were held accountable based on the death rate of their patients, regardless of environmental factors and whether prescribed treatment was followed.
Imagine if firefighters were held accountable based on fire injuries and deaths, even though they didn’t start the fires, their budgets had been cut and most of the homes in their district didn’t have fire alarms.
That would be unreasonable. So why do we only apply this impossible standard to teachers?
Because this has absolutely nothing to do with teacher "effectiveness," and everything to do with intimidation and union busting. The wide variation of scores year-to-year and arbitrary nature of the evaluation process - which Gary Rubinstein has documented brilliantly here and here -  is a feature, not a bug. The corporate reformers want teachers scared and humiliated; that way, they're less likely to stand up and demand decent middle-class wages and benefits.

Don't believe me? Look at this editorial in the very same edition of the NY Daily News:
Case One in point: Eric Windley, interim acting principal of Brooklyn’s Intermediate School 318, the school with the city’s highest proportion of low-rated teachers — fully 58.3% of the faculty.
Called upon to explain, Windley blamed dismal staff performance on disproportionate budget cuts — an out-and-out falsehood.
He told parents in a letter:
“Schools in economically disadvantaged areas get financially tortured, whereas schools in areas where there is no poverty do not receive any cuts in their school’s budget.”
The truth is that every school suffered budget cuts this year that averaged 2.4%. The hit to IS 318 was slightly less than typical. The truth also is that the school’s teacher ratings were perfectly in line with with the poor achievement gains scored by its students.
Principals like Windley must come to terms with their duty to raise teacher performance. Weak instructors must go, and, honestly, a good administrator does not need test data to know which teachers aren’t making the grade.
Case Two in point: The Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy One, a charter school that has wide latitude in hiring and firing staff. Two teachers lagged badly in the ratings, but by time the numbers were released, those instructors were long gone.
That’s how it should be done in all the schools, IS 318 included.
First of all: only an idiot sitting at an editor's desk would think that the interim acting principal of a school was responsible for hiring or firing staff. When did he start his job? Was he going to fire people in the middle of the year, before the ratings came out? Should he fire them now mid-year and create chaos in the classroom? On the basis of an inaccurate bubble test? Whoever wrote this dreck should be embarrassed on this basis alone.

But there's more: they compare this interim acting principal to a HCZ school; hey, they fired the teachers! Hooray! Of course, Geoffrey Canada, head of HCZ, also fires students when he thinks they can't cut it. Is the News endorsing that? Maybe this interim acting principal needs to let the students go if they aren't pulling their weight, huh?

Did it occur to the News that maybe there is an interim acting principal at this school because Tweed figured out the school needs new leadership? Shouldn't the interim acting principal be given a chance? Ot maybe we should wait to see who the non-interim, permanent principal is?

But that wouldn't give the News the chance to deflect blame away from school funding, would it? Because it's never, ever about money; if it were, insanely wealthy people like Mort Zuckerman, the publisher of the News, might actually have to start ponying up their fair share. Can't have that, can we?

This whole thing is beyond stupid. Morons running a tabloid that spills more ink on Christie Brinkley's marriage and celebrities in bikinis than explaining the teacher evaluation process are now pointing fingers at teachers and principals. They never bother to explain who they are going to get to replace these "bad" educators, as if there is an inexhaustible supply of qualified teachers just waiting to be judged by arbitrary measures and then humiliated in the Post and the News.

As for those of you currently on the job: don't fool yourselves. This is coming to your city and your state. They can't wait to humiliate you and denigrate you and disenfranchise you, all while saying how much they admire and respect the "good teachers."

We all need to get together now, stand with our brothers and sisters in NYC and LA, and tell these people we've had it.


Anonymous said...

Duke wrote: "They never bother to explain who they are going to get to replace these "bad" educators, as if there is an inexhaustible supply of qualified teachers just waiting to be judged by arbitrary measures and then humiliated in the Post and the News."

EXACTLY!! In higher education, corporatization has led to staggering amounts of courses being taught by adjunct instructors, many of whom receive less than $2000 for each semester-long course they teach with no benefits. (If you don't know much about this, Google "The Adjunct Project").

When the supply of K-12 teachers dries up because most have been run out of the profession and no one in their right mind wants to go into it anymore, we could end up with a situation in K-12 resembling the "adjunctification" of higher education.

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget the LARGE role our Acting Commissoner
Of Education played in creating this system, lying about releasing it, and how he seeks the same thing here in NJ. The "Teflon, Carpetbagging, Chronically Underperforming" Christopher Cerf, knows everything, yet has accomplished nothing.
Even though another Broadie Stooge will follow, CERF MUST GO.