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, February 26, 2012

The Incoherent Arguments For Releasing Teacher Evaluations

The only argument I can see here for releasing the error-ridden ratings of NYC teachers seems to be: "Because the unions didn't want us to":
UFT President Michael Mulgrew is furious, having failed first to avoid meaningful teacher evaluations and now to block the public release of those ratings. After using money taken from teachers’ salaries to pay lawyers to litigate in vain, he’s now using union funds to wage a media ad campaign attacking the city Department of Education and the rating system. 
Mulgrew screeches that the ratings are flawed, based on “bad tests, a flawed formula and incorrect data” that will mislead the public about teachers’ effectiveness. In typical obstructionist fashion, of course, no promise of the public release of results of a better-designed rating system, such as the one recently approved by the state, accompanies his complaints. 
While Weingarten held firm that this data on whether teachers advanced their students’ learning (an element many consider the core component of a teacher’s job) shouldn’t be used in job-performance evaluations, she acknowledged that “this information can be a powerful instructional tool.
Brian Backstrom's piece is typical of both the incoherence and the union-hating that pervades all of Rupert Murdoch's empire. Of course, Murdoch stands to make tons of money if he can follow through on his plan to replace teachers with software, so it's easy to understand why he wants his minions to bad-mouth as many educators as they possibly can.

Mulgrew isn't "screeching, " he's simply repeating what even the designers of the ratings system know: these evaluations were never meant to grade teachers with the implied specificity the system produces. Backstrom's insistence that Mulgrew endorse "better" systems is actually an admission on Backstrom's part that these systems aren't nearly accurate enough. But he's not fooling anyone; this isn't about "informing instruction" at all:
No rating system will be perfect from the perspective of everyone involved. After all, being able to use the tenure system to guarantee yourself a job for life without anyone knowing whether you actually perform effectively is a pretty sweet deal. But the Department of Education, with the full backing of the mayor, has won a victory for parents, children and school administrators trying to improve the quality of public education. [emphasis mine]
He just can't help himself. In his smugness, Backstrom gives away the game: this is about punishing teachers for having tenure. Further:
No one wants to see any teacher unfairly rated, much less unfairly criticized, for his or her performance.But the union’s complaints would have more credibility if it weren’t for the long history of the UFT (and its statewide parent union, NYSUT) in resisting greater accountability and transparency in public schools. [emphasis mine]
It's also about punishing teachers for daring to claim collective bargaining rights.

Brian Backstrom doesn't give a damn about teacher accountability; if he did, he would acknowledge that the margin of error on these evaluations is so high as to render them meaningless. He would acknowledge that the ratings only affect a small portion of the teaching corps, effectively setting up a two-tier system that will destroy morale in the NYC schools. He would admit that this is setting up a culture of teaching to the test, something the wealthy and powerful avoid for their own children.

So spare me your pieties about how this is all about the kids, Brian; it isn't. Not once in this piece do you actually say why it's important for parents to have this inaccurate information, other than to bash teachers and their unions.

This is really about putting middle class workers - mostly women - in their place.

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