While I was watching the television coverage of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, an ad came on that was very upsetting. Sponsored by StudentsFirst ad, it was a typically deceptive TV ad depicting teachers and parents who demand that teachers be evaluated by test scores. It implies that teachers are slackers and need a swift kick to get to work. If they are evaluated, they claim, this will have a revolutionary effect on the schools.

Showing this anti-teacher ad at this moment in time was utterly tasteless. Just as we are watching stories about teachers and a principal and school psychologist who were gunned down protecting little children, we have to see this tawdry ad. Given the timing, it is political pornography.

The ad is meretricious. It does not mention that the city published the names and ratings of thousands of teachers a year ago, generating anger and controversy, not any wonderful transformation. The ratings a year ago were rife with error, but all that is now forgotten in the new push to get tough with teachers.

Who are those teachers and parents in the ad with no last names? Are they paid actors? If they believe what they say, why no last names? Why no school names?

Does StudentsFirst know that most of New York City’s charter schools have refused to submit to the teacher evaluation system? May we expect to see a TV attack ad demanding that charter schools adopt the same test-based evaluation system that Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg want? Or is it only for public schools?

Andrea Gabor wrote an excellent post providing the context for ad and the stand-off between the New York City United Federation of Teachers and the city (and state). She writes:

“Governor Cuomo has threatened to withhold funding if the city and the union cannot come to an agreement by January. And Mayor Bloomberg has said that he would rather lose the money than compromise on the evaluations.

“The StudentsFirst ad and the mayor’s tough talk highlight one of several problems with the teacher-evaluation debate. While employee evaluations work when they are part of a system-wide effort at continuous improvement, they are often counterproductive when used as a cudgel against employees.

The cheerful-sounding teachers in the StudentsFirst ad not withstanding, everything about the teacher-evaluation debate has been framed in punitive terms.”

Not only has the debate been framed in punitive terms, but as Gabor points out, VAM is rife with technical issues. As I have written repeatedly on this blog, VAM is so inaccurate and unstable that it is junk science. And as Bruce Baker has written again and again, teachers with the neediest students are likely to get worse ratings than those with “easier” students.

No wonder charter schools in New York City refuse to submit their teacher ratings.

The issue now is whether the governor and the mayor, with the help of StudentsFirst, can beat the union into agreeing to a process for evaluating teachers that is demonstrably harmful and demoralizing to its members, that does nothing to improve education, and that is guaranteed to waste many millions of dollars.

Frankly, StudentsFirst should have had the decency to stop their attacks on public school teachers until the public had gotten over the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. At long last, have they no decency?

*UPDATE: Micah Lasher of StudentsFirstNY informed that the organization asked the city’s television stations on Monday morning to pull the ad, in light of the tragedy. I saw it on CNN or MSNBC on Monday night. Someone goofed. I appreciate the clarification.