Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why The UFT Must Not Give In On The Evaluation Fight

Once again, the tabloids shriek about the federal funds that will be lost if the NYCDOE and the UFT do not come to an agreement on test score-based teacher evaluations for 44 so-called "failing" schools.

Here is the Daily News on the impasse between the city and the union (and of course they lead with how both the city and NYSED Commissioner and unofficial Pearson Education employee John King both blamed the teachers for hurting the kids):

The city could lose nearly $60 million in federal aid for its failing schools after officials were unable to reach a deal with the teachers union on instructor evaluations.

State Education Commissioner John King had given schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott until Sunday to hammer out an accord with the United Federation of Teachers in order to keep the money for 44 failing schools.

On Friday, Walcott walked away from the tense negotiations and sent King a letter saying the city and union would “not be able to come to an agreement” because “the teachers’ union is not committed to real accountability.”

King responded to the collapse of the talks by announcing that he would immediately “suspend” the promised federal funding.

“Sadly, the adults in charge of the city’s schools have let the students down,” he said. “This is beyond disappointing.”

The impasse is not disappointing at all - frankly, given the way the DOE has already tried to use the new evaluation formula under the Danielson framework in these schools to tar veteran teachers as "ineffective," it is clear that if the UFT caves in this evaluation fight, the DOE will ram through a rigged evaluation system that will be used to fire most (if not all) of the veteran teachers in these schools.

This evaluation system will then be scaled up for the whole New York City public school system and the process will be repeated - the DOE will use the Danielson framework and the value-added formula based upon student test scores to declare tens of thousands of veteran teachers "ineffective" and get them off the payroll.

As I have posted many times, this value-added formula they use for the test scores has a margin of error between 12% and 35%, depending upon how many years of test scores are used.

In addition, since the tests do not yet exist that can be used to evaluate teachers in all subjects, the city and the state BOTH have to come up with new batteries of tests for all subjects in all grade levels.

Once the new evaluation system is implemented, students will take city tests twice a year and state tests twice a year in every subject.

Basically all they will do in school is either take tests or prepare to take tests.

Then, using a complex value-added formula, those numbers will be used to rank teachers as "ineffective," "developing," "effective," and "highly effective."

The city wants the right to fire "ineffective" teachers immediately without a hearing before a third party arbiter.

In addition, there is some concern that teachers who are ranked "developing" for a few consecutive years could also be on the chopping block.

The proponents of this system - from President Obama to Governor Cuomo to Mayor Bloomberg to computer mogul/education reformer Bill Gates to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to NYSED Commissioner and unofficial Pearson Education employee John King all say this system is "objective" and therefore fair.

But as has been shown already by the arbitrary nature of the value-added evaluations the DOE uses for 4th-8th grade math and ELA teachers, there is nothing "objective" or "fair" about the system at all.

Teachers who are respected by their administrators, peers, students and parents, teachers who work hard and know how to teach, can come up "ineffective" in this system as Michael Winerip so ably showed in this NY Times article from last year:

No one at the Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies works harder than Stacey Isaacson, a seventh-grade English and social studies teacher. She is out the door of her Queens home by 6:15 a.m., takes the E train into Manhattan and is standing out front when the school doors are unlocked, at 7. Nights, she leaves her classroom at 5:30.

“She’s very dedicated,” said Tejal Bahtt, a fellow teacher. “She works way harder than I work. Yesterday I punched in at 7:10 and her time card was already there.”

Last year, when Ms. Isaacson was on maternity leave, she came in one full day a week for the entire school year for no pay and taught a peer leadership class.

Her principal, Megan Adams, has given her terrific reviews during the two and a half years Ms. Isaacson has been a teacher. “I know that this year had its moments of challenge — you always handled it with grace and presence,” the principal wrote on May 4, 2009. “You are a wonderful teacher.”

On the first day of this school year, the principal wrote, “I look forward to being in your classroom and seeing all the great work you do with your students,” and signed it with a smiley face.

The Lab School has selective admissions, and Ms. Isaacson’s students have excelled. Her first year teaching, 65 of 66 scored proficient on the state language arts test, meaning they got 3’s or 4’s; only one scored below grade level with a 2. More than two dozen students from her first two years teaching have gone on to Stuyvesant High School or Bronx High School of Science, the city’s most competitive high schools.

“Definitely one of a kind,” said Isabelle St. Clair, now a sophomore at Bard, another selective high school. “I’ve had lots of good teachers, but she stood out — I learned so much from her.”

You would think the Department of Education would want to replicate Ms. Isaacson — who has degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia — and sprinkle Ms. Isaacsons all over town. Instead, the department’s accountability experts have developed a complex formula to calculate how much academic progress a teacher’s students make in a year — the teacher’s value-added score — and that formula indicates that Ms. Isaacson is one of the city’s worst teachers.

According to the formula, Ms. Isaacson ranks in the 7th percentile among her teaching peers — meaning 93 per cent are better.

This may seem disconnected from reality, but it has real ramifications. Because of her 7th percentile, Ms. Isaacson was told in February that it was virtually certain that she would not be getting tenure this year. “My principal said that given the opportunity, she would advocate for me,” Ms. Isaacson said. “But she said don’t get your hopes up, with a 7th percentile, there wasn’t much she could do.”

That’s not the only problem Ms. Isaacson’s 7th percentile has caused. If the mayor and governor have their way, and layoffs are no longer based on seniority but instead are based on the city’s formulas that scientifically identify good teachers, Ms. Isaacson is pretty sure she’d be cooked.

How did this happen? How did a good teacher respected by all with numbers and data to back up her teaching skill get rated 7th percentile?

Easy - the value-added numbers are ginned up in a formula so complex that not even the DOE experts can explain it and they MAKE NO FREAKING SENSE:

Everyone who teaches math or English has received a teacher data report. On the surface the report seems straightforward. Ms. Isaacson’s students had a prior proficiency score of 3.57. Her students were predicted to get a 3.69 — based on the scores of comparable students around the city. Her students actually scored 3.63. So Ms. Isaacson’s value added is 3.63-3.69.

What you would think this means is that Ms. Isaacson’s students averaged 3.57 on the test the year before; they were predicted to average 3.69 this year; they actually averaged 3.63, giving her a value added of 0.06 below zero.


These are not averages. For example, the department defines Ms. Isaacson’s 3.57 prior proficiency as “the average prior year proficiency rating of the students who contribute to a teacher’s value added score.”


The calculation for Ms. Isaacson’s 3.69 predicted score is even more daunting. It is based on 32 variables — including whether a student was “retained in grade before pretest year” and whether a student is “new to city in pretest or post-test year.”

Those 32 variables are plugged into a statistical model that looks like one of those equations that in “Good Will Hunting” only Matt Damon was capable of solving.

The process appears transparent, but it is clear as mud, even for smart lay people like teachers, principals and — I hesitate to say this — journalists.

Ms. Isaacson may have two Ivy League degrees, but she is lost. “I find this impossible to understand,” she said.

In plain English, Ms. Isaacson’s best guess about what the department is trying to tell her is: Even though 65 of her 66 students scored proficient on the state test, more of her 3s should have been 4s.

But that is only a guess.

Moreover, as the city indicates on the data reports, there is a large margin of error. So Ms. Isaacson’s 7th percentile could actually be as low as zero or as high as the 52nd percentile — a score that could have earned her tenure.

Now when Winerip wrote that article, the value-added system was only being used to evaluate 4th-8th grade math and ELA teachers for tenure decisions.

If the DOE, the NYSED and the Regents get their way, that system will be used to "objectively" decide who gets to remain a teacher and who gets fired.

Michael Winerip has since shown how a similar system has played out in Tennessee, an early winner of the Obama administration's Race to the Top program that put all these new teacher evaluation systems in place by dangling out federal funds to cash-starved states.

In that article, Winerip shows how insane the new test score-based evaluation system is:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Last year, when Tennessee was named one of the first two states to win a federal Race to The Top grant, worth $501 million, there was great joy all around.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has the job of implementing President Obama’s signature education program, praised Tennessee officials for having “the courage, capacity and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students.”

Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, called his state “the focal point of education reform in the nation.” Tennessee’s new motto is “First to the Top.”

So you would think that educators like Will Shelton, principal of Blackman Middle School here, would be delighted. The state requires that teachers be evaluated by their students’ test scores, and that principals get into classrooms regularly to observe teachers.

Mr. Shelton is a big believer in both.

But not this. “I’ve never seen such nonsense,” he said. “In the five years I’ve been principal here, I’ve never known so little about what’s going on in my own building.” Mr. Shelton has to spend so much time filling out paperwork that he’s stuck in his office for long stretches.

The new rules, enacted at the start of the school year, require Mr. Shelton to do as many observations for his strongest teachers — four a year — as for his weakest. “It’s an insult to my best teachers,” he said, “but it’s also a terrible waste of time.”

Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.


The state is micromanaging principals to a degree never seen before here, and perhaps anywhere. For example, Mr. Shelton is required to have a pre-observation conference with each teacher (which takes 20 minutes), observe the teacher for a period (50 minutes), conduct a post-observation conference (20 minutes), and fill out a rubric with 19 variables and give teachers a score from 1 to 5 (40 minutes).

He must have copies of his evaluations ready for any visit by a county evaluator, who evaluates whether Mr. Shelton has properly evaluated the teachers.

He is required to do at least four observations a year for the 65 teachers at his school, although the changes suggested last week would save paperwork by allowing two of the observations to be done back to back.

Teachers have it worse. Half of their assessment is based on their students’ results on state test scores, a serious problem for those who teach subjects with no state test.

To solve that, the state is requiring teachers without test results to be evaluated based on the scores of teachers at their school with test results. So Emily Mitchell, a first-grade teacher at David Youree Elementary, will be evaluated using the school’s fifth-grade writing scores.

“How stupid is that?” said Michelle Pheneger, who teaches ACT math prep at Blackman High and is also being evaluated in part based on writing scores. “My job can be at risk, and I’m not even being evaluated by my own work.”

For 15 percent of their testing evaluation, teachers without scores are permitted to choose which subject test they want to be judged on. Few pick something related to their expertise; instead, they try to anticipate the subject that their school is likely to score well on in the state exams next spring.

Several teachers without scores at Oakland Middle School conferred. “The P. E. teacher got information that the writing score was the best to pick,” said Jeff Jennings, the art teacher. “He informed the home ec teacher, who passed it on to me, and I told the career development teacher.”

It’s a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation. While this may have nothing to do with academic performance, it does measure a teacher’s ability to play the odds. There’s also the question of how a principal can do a classroom observation of someone who doesn’t teach a classroom subject.

The answer is, the principal still has to observe them teaching something. Erin Alvarado, a librarian at Central Magnet, a combined middle and high school, picked eighth-grade descriptive writing. One of the rubric variables is how well the teacher knows her students. There are 938 students at Central, and she knew few in that class by name. “Fortunately, the teacher put all the names on index cards for me,” Ms. Alvarado said. “I’d take a quick peek down at the card, pick a name, look around and hope the student was there.”

This would all be hilarious, except these evaluations can cost people their jobs.

Indeed, people can lose their jobs in all of this insanity over "objective" teacher evaluations that are ANYTHING BUT OBJECTIVE.

And that's the point.

This system has been put into place, pure and simple, to give districts the ability to fire veteran (and therefore expensive) teachers at will.

All the districts have to do is put pressure onto administrators to declare a certain percentage of teachers "ineffective" every year and the value-added formula with the MOE between 12%-35% will back those labels up.

Actually, the bell curve that is used to evaluate teachers in the four designations - "ineffective," "developing," "effective," and "highly effective" - will ensure that some teachers are declared "ineffective" every year no matter what.

You can pretty much bet most of those teachers will be the expensive veteran ones.

Districts will save millions of dollars in wages, benefits and pension costs by firing hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of teachers every year, depending upon the size of a district.

And as Alexander Russo showed in this post here, there are plenty of newbies without jobs waiting to replace the vets who get fired, so finding newer, cheaper replacements will NOT be a problem.

If worse comes to worse, Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein stand waiting to step in with their for-profit, online education programs that can replace teachers completely.

But what will be a problem, ultimately, is the education experiences for students and the consequences these policies will have on the nation as a whole.

You can be sure that education will be narrowed to only include items that will be tested.

You can be sure teachers in the same school will no longer collaborate or work together in any way since they are now in "competition" on the great bell curve that is the value-added evaluation system.

You can be sure that students who need extra time, help, or care will not receive any of that from teachers scared for the jobs who know that taking time away from the endless test prep they have to do could jeopardize their jobs.

You can be sure that students will learn less and less in this Brave New World education system based upon test scores, value-added systems and Darwinian competition for teacher rankings that has been brought to us by Obama, Cuomo, and Bloomberg.

Finally, you can be sure that no one in their right mind will go into teaching in the future once they come to understand how badly the system is rigged against teachers and how easy it is for districts to scapegoat them (and ultimately fire them as well.)

The writer of the Daily News article, Ben Chapman, exposes his bias by quoting a member of the Educators4Excellence education reform group that is funded by the Gates Foundation who makes a living carrying water for the corporate education reformers:

Former teacher and Educators 4 Excellence school activist Sydney Morris called the breakdown in negotiations a “shame.”

“Teachers want and need a system that gives them meaningful feedback to improve their craft,” Morris said.

We sure do, Sydney.

But this system isn't it.

And you aren't a teacher looking for feedback to improve your craft.

You're a paid lobbyist looking for an even bigger corporate payday for carrying corporate education reform water.

Which is exactly the problem with the teacher evaluation system pushed by the state - it's been created and promoted by corporate education reform philanthropists, lobbyists and bureaucrats who either are "former teachers" who worked just year or two in a school system and then quit (like Sydney Morris, Joel Klein, Dennis Walcott or Michelle Rhee) or have never worked in a school system at all (like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, etc.)

The real world consequences this system is going to have on students, teachers and schools is stark.

But what do these people care?

They're not teachers, they're not working in schools day-to-day and they don't have to worry about having a value-added formula with a 12%-35% MOE and a bell curve evaluation system that declares a certain percentage of teachers failing every year come between them and their jobs.

This is why the UFT MUST stand fast in this fight against the new evaluation system.

It is a rigged system put together by people looking to scapegoat teachers, close traditional public schools with a unionized workforce, reopen them as privatized charters with nonunionized (and instantly fireable) rookie teachers, and make a profit either form themselves or their corporate cronies.

As James Eterno wrote in a post over at ICEBLOG, the best tact in this fight is to push for legislation to overturn this system rather than try to find common ground in one that is so rigged against teachers.

Over 1,100 principals statewide have already begun that fight.

The UFT and the NYSUT must join it.


  1. Wow. What a mess. And, like those hurt by this process, (students, parents, teachers, and principals),the powers that be don't even understand the mess.

  2. Pogue, I think they the powers that be do understand the mess because they purposely created it. John King knows the evaluation system is riddled with error - he wants it that way. So do Bloomberg, Cuomo, Obama, Walcott, et al. The rationale for the system is NOT to bring a scientific, objective measure to teacher evaluations - it's to bring a measure that is anything BUT scientific and objective to the system that LOOKS scientific and objective and use it to bust the unions, break the school systems up and ultimately privatize the system so that the EMOs and the online providers and the testing companies can make all that yummy yummy tax money.

    They know EXACTLY what they are doing. That they use the veneer of "civil rights" and "economic justice" to justify their privatization moves exposes just how hypocritical and despicable they are.

  3. They know exactly what they are doing. You don't mention the UFT/AFT. Many people can't seem to understand WHY they do what they do. They are not dumb or incompetent at the top. They know exactly what they are doing. The main issue is WHY. And figuring that out gets complex.