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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How To Alienate Teachers

Well, here's a real shock:
With less than nine months and counting, New Jersey’s rollout of a statewide teacher evaluation system is moving ahead, but the deadlines are tight, reliability remains an issue -- and the system has yet to win the confidence of the teachers it's intended to evaluate. 
That was the bottom line of a sweeping report by a team of Rutgers researchers that is following the early implementation of the system. 
According to the state’s new tenure law, every district must have a revamped evaluation system in place by next school year. 
The cautions and caveats of the report were tempered by the fact that the study was only looking at the first 10 pilot districts in their first year (2011-2012). 
Another 20 districts are in a second-year pilot that will be reported on this summer. 
The report also did not delve into a central piece of the new process: the use of student achievement scores as a significant part of the evaluation. 
Still, there were some sobering findings. For instance, just one-third of the teachers in the first-year pilot thought the system accurately measured their classroom performance. 
The approval rate was twice as high among administrators. [emphasis mine]
Golly, why do you think teachers are so reluctant to get on board the reformy crazy train? Well, let's review the timeline:

- In 2010, Chris Christie ran up and down the state like a maniac, warring with the New Jersey Education Association, personally insulting teachers, breaking his promises about pensions, demanding educators take a pay freeze cut, and screwing up a chance to get millions in federal aid by insisting the state's Race To The Top application be rewritten because the NJEA's critics demanded it.

- He then set up an Educator Effectiveness Task Force that had only one working teacher and several political hacks (and, admittedly, a few other people who knew what they were doing). As Bob Grundfest reminds us, that teacher was one of the minority in New Jersey who are not members of NJEA.

- The Task Force's report was a document infused by ideology and mathematic abuse. Most egregious, it suggested the use of Student Growth Percentiles in teacher evaluations, even though SGPs make no effort to infer a teacher's influence on a student's scores and are therefore completely inappropriate to the task. Bruce Baker, Joseph Oluwole, and Preston Green have published a paper that suggests there may be severe legal consequences for districts that attempt to make high-stakes decisions based on these SGPs.

(By the way: Baker teaches at Rutgers, and Oluwole at Montclair State, which are both in New Jersey. Did anyone think they might be better members to sit on a task force on teacher evaluation than a guy whose professional experience, aside from lobbying, is as an editor for a local nightlife magazine?)

- Education Commissioner Chris Cerf thought it was so important to rush through a new evaluation system that he set a ridiculously short deadline for full implementation. When he realized he had made a grave error, he finally pulled back, even though it's clear many districts simply don't have the infrastructure, training, or personnel available to make program work on his timeline.

So it's no wonder that teachers aren't buying into this system; under Cerf, the NJDOE has become completely politicized and driven by the ideology of California billionaires. And it's even worse than NJ Spotlight is reporting here, because the response rate of teachers in the pilot is only 59%. I can only guess, but I'll bet less than a third of those teachers who didn't respond approve of this process: their apathy signals their discontent.

I don't know why any teacher would feel invested in this top-down, autocratic, corporate-driven, outsider-influenced, poorly-researched, unfair evaluation system. We were never asked to be part of its creation, we were never given the opportunity to shape it, and now it's being shoved down our throats by people who have never done the job.

If you alienate us, don't expect us to be happy about it.


Veiss said...

We just went through our new pilot program and our administrators told us to strive for mediocrity and to "vacation" in excellence. Hopefully, it is another of the many trends I have seen in my sixteen years of teaching that will not stick. It is total BS.

sean crowley said...

In about every other sentence of this you could substitute York for Jersey and it would be wholly accurate. Cuomo didnt even bother putting any teachers on his so called Reform Commission. He did manage to stack it with Aspen Institute, Broadies a few Bain hacks and crowned it with Mr. Upward failure himself disgraced and serial CEO ridden out on a rail Dick Parsons who even comes with his own love child. Their recommendations which were probably cribbed from a Gates think tank were probably written before the Commission ever held a sham meeting. Oh and the majority of them are totally pointless as there is no way to fund any of them.