Archives for category: Accountability

Michael Klonsky posted on his blog these photographs of some of the Atlanta educators who were investigated for cheating; 11 were convicted and sent directly to jail to await sentencing (excepting a pregnant woman.) Superintendent Beverly Hall died weeks before the verdict was handed down. He said they were “taking the fall” for “Duncan’s Testing Madness.”

atlanta_superintendent_teachers_arrested_cheating_scandal-640x487

 

 

 

In an earlier post, I said that the lesson of Atlanta is “never never never cheat.” Don’t do it, don’t tolerate it.

But as I saw educators led away in shackles, as I saw speculation that they were facing 20 years in prison, I began to think again. Yes, cheating is wrong and should never be tolerated, but this punishment does not fit the crime. It is way too disproportionate to the charges. Some criminals get lesser jail sentences for murder and armed robbery. Since when did cheating in school become racketeering?

My thinking was nudged along by three important articles about this affair.

One was by Richard Rothstein. In this brilliant article, Rothstein argued that the 11 convicted educators were “taking the fall” for a thoroughly corrupt testing regime that set impossible goals and punished those who can’t meet them:

Rothstein writes:

 

Eleven Atlanta educators, convicted and imprisoned, have taken the fall for systematic cheating on standardized tests in American education. Such cheating is widespread, as is similar corruption in any institution—whether health care, criminal justice, the Veterans Administration, or others—where top policymakers try to manage their institutions with simple quantitative measures that distort the institution’s goals. This corruption is especially inevitable when out-of-touch policymakers set impossible-to-achieve goals and expect that success will nonetheless follow if only underlings are held accountable for measurable results.

 

There was little doubt, even before the jury’s decision, that Atlanta teachers and administrators had changed answers on student test booklets to increase scores. There was also little doubt that Atlanta’s late superintendent, Beverly Hall, was partly responsible because she had, as a state investigation revealed, “created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that had permitted “cheating—at all levels—to go unchecked for years.”

 

What the trial did not explore was whether Dr. Hall herself was reacting to a culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation that her board, state education officials, and the Bush and Obama administrations had created. Just as her principals’ jobs were in jeopardy if test scores didn’t rise, her tenure, too, was dependent on ever rising test scores.

 

Holding educators accountable for student test results makes sense if the tests are reasonable reflections of teacher performance. But if they are not, and if educators are being held accountable for meeting standards that are impossible to achieve, then the only way to meet fanciful goals imposed from above—according to federal law, that all children will make adequate yearly progress towards full proficiency in 2014—is to cheat, using illegal or barely legal devices. It is not surprising that educators do just that.
And demanding that all students be proficient, by any date, was an impossible and incoherent demand. No Child Left Behind required that states make their proficiency standards “challenging.” But no goal can simultaneously be challenging to and achievable by all students across the entire achievement distribution. A standard can either be a minimal standard, which presents no challenge to typical and advanced students, or it can be a challenging standard, which is unachievable by most below-average students. Some states ignored the “challenging” requirement and lowered their standards so most students could pass a meaningless test. Others succumbed to hectoring by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his colleagues in the Bush and Obama administrations to raise their standards, essentially guaranteeing the cheating scandals that followed. Now, with tests coming online that are aligned with the tougher “Common Core” standards, along with new demands that educators jobs are at risk if all students don’t achieve proficiency, we can be sure that Atlanta’s cheating scandal will not be the last.

 

Rothstein notes that there have been many testing scandals in other cities, such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Houston, and Philadelphia, but no educators were indicted and convicted. He compares the Atlanta cheating scandal to the similar data-driven scandal at the Veterans’ Administration:

 

The most widely reported recent instance of this corruption was the Veterans Administration’s requirement that its staff schedule appointments within 14 days of a veteran’s request for one. That it was impossible to meet this standard because there were insufficient doctors to see patients within that time frame did not influence the VA to change its standard. So, systematically, nationwide, intake staff cheated, for example by reporting that patients had only called for an appointment 14 days before they received one, not the months that may have transpired. Many staff members also lied to federal investigators looking into the cheating; lying to investigators is a crime for which Atlanta educators were convicted, VA employees have not been similarly prosecuted. Instead of being put on trial, supervisors who permitted such practices have been allowed to resign.

 

There is another respect in which the VA scandal differed from the one in the Atlanta school district. VA supervisors permitted to resign did not take the fall for those ultimately responsible for enforcing the corruption-inducing standard. Last May, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who had ordered that appointments be scheduled within 14 days, himself resigned because of the scandal. I offer no opinion about whether similar accountability would be appropriate in the Department of Education.

 

Another article that caught my eye was posted on Yahoo in the financial news. It made the point that our society has different justice systems: one for ordinary people, like the Atlanta educators, and another for the financiers who nearly destroyed our economic system.

 

The author, David Dayen of The Fiscal Times, writes:

 

One of the defining issues of this millennium has been the bifurcation of the criminal justice system, with one set of rules for ordinary people and another for elites. We’ve learned that justice is a commodity to be purchased rather than a universal value delivered without prejudice.

 

That’s the proper backdrop to the news of convictions in the Atlanta test cheating case. Eleven educators were found guilty of racketeering charges — something typically reserved for organized crime — for feeding students answers to standardized tests, or changing test sheets after they were turned in.

 

If you don’t remember these kinds of creative prosecution strategies during the financial crisis, that’s probably because no prosecutor ever used them. Teachers ordered to falsify tests and the superiors who demanded it, amid desperation to save schools from destruction, deserve no mercy from the court. Bankers who ran a criminal enterprise to engage in the largest consumer and investing fraud in world history deserve our thanks….

 

None of this excuses the misconduct, it sets a context for it. And it matches almost precisely what went on at every level of the mortgage market before, during and after the housing bubble. Mortgage brokers used Wite-Out and exacto knives to falsify income tax data for unqualified borrowers to get them into loans. They employed Coke vending machines as light boards to trace forgeries, putting people into garbage loans they didn’t purchase. The loans got sold to Wall Street banks, which routinely lied to investors, who purchased bundles of mortgages packaged into securities, by telling them that the loan quality exceeded underwriting standards.

 

When the loans predictably defaulted, mortgage servicing company employees were instructed to lie to customers, claim to have lost loan modification applications when they actually shredded them, and push customers into foreclosure, which maximized servicer fees. One set of workers at Bank of America testified that they received Target gift cards as bonuses for causing foreclosures among customers.

 

In the foreclosure process, these same companies, with help from “default services” specialists and “foreclosure mill” law firms, fabricated and forged the legal documents required to enforce the terms of the mortgage, because all that documentation was either lost or never recorded. Workers would sign each other’s names, use each other’s notary stamps, pretend to work for other companies, and assign mortgages from the company they didn’t work for to the one they did.

 

The job pressures faced by the Atlanta educators differed little from the job pressures faced by line-level workers at mortgage origination, securitization, servicing, foreclosure mill and default services shops across the country. In both cases, the workers performed their jobs under threat of termination. Supervisors watched everyone to ensure compliance. The fraud became institutionalized. And after a while, people stopped asking whether what they were doing was in any way legal.

 

So let’s see how the justice system dealt with these two cases. When mostly African-American educators at poor schools in Atlanta cheat on tests, they get the book thrown at them …..

“The darkly amusing part of all this is that the harsh sentence in the Atlanta case is seen as a necessary counter to the temptation to cheat caused by the testing regime. So prosecutors devote huge amounts of resources (the district attorney called it the most complex case of his career) and judges dole out long sentences, all to keep teachers in line. No similar deterrent has been created for the industry that sells Americans the most important financial product of their entire lives. We send messages to teachers; we send bailouts to bankers.

“You don’t have to consider the Atlanta teachers innocent to know something has gone terribly awry in the country when filling in bubbles on Scan-Tron sheets can get you 20 years, but stealing people’s homes and defrauding pension funds can’t get you indicted. The only way you could see what the justice system has granted bankers as in any way commensurate with what it does to ordinary people is if you grade on a curve.”

 

The third article, on Huffington Post, expressed even more astonishment at the contrast between the justice meted out to errant educators and the pass given to financiers who ruined the lives of millions of people.

 

Jason Linkins writes:

 

There’s really no doubt that those convicted did a Very Bad Thing — like, you know, The Worst Thing “since forever” OMG — if for no other reason than that their actions will scandalize other public school educators, who are currently described so frequently in media accounts as “embattled” it’s like their homeric epithet. The only people more demonized by political elites from either party are sadists who attempt to set up demented death-cult caliphates.

 

And sweet fancy Moses, did they ever lay the wood to those folks they convicted! Per the AP: “Over objections from the defendants’ attorneys, Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter ordered all but one of those convicted immediately jailed while they await sentencing. They were led out of court in handcuffs.”

 

They took them out in chains! That’s hardcore. That’s humiliating. That’s a sight that will make other people think twice before committing similar crimes — it’s what real accountability looks like.

 

 

Linkins reviews numerous high profile cases in which bankers were not prosecuted because the are “too big to fail.” Their misdeeds were egregious, but they got a light slap on the wrist.

He concludes:

“In the end, I think that these Atlanta teachers have learned a lesson: Be a banker. Or a polluter. Or run a for-profit education scam. Or snooker people with predatory mortgage agreements. Or rip off people with penny-stock schemes. Or run a college sports cartel. Or create a super PAC. Or “torture some folks.”

“Just don’t ever change the answers on a standardized test.”

The following comment was written by a young man just returned from teaching in the Peace Corps. Responding to a request from the Network for Public Education, he wrote a letter to Congress about NCLB:

 

Diane-

 

I would like to share the letter I wrote (at the urging of NPE) to my congressional Representative concerning H.R. 5:

 

This time last year I was a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer, coming home from service as an English teacher in a Cameroonian public school. Shortly before I left Cameroon I attended a disciplinary hearing convened for the purpose of meting out punishment. I sat with other teachers in a ring at the edge of the principal’s office while students were shuffled in by grade level, given the chance to explain their infractions, then made to lie on their stomachs on the dusty floor while an administrator whipped them. It was against the law, but they did it anyway. This policy was intended to regulate student behavior, and it was shamefully successful. They followed an ideology of control and never have I seen such a passive group of students. My colleagues and the administrators managing us weren’t bad people–or even bad educators. I still marvel at their drive to impart knowledge, but their instructional model followed a paradigm that mirrored their discipline: students are, to lean upon a cliche, vessels to be filled, objects to be acted upon.

 

It may be hard for us to see, but their ideology is our ideology. By conventional standards I was a good student; in me the systems of reward and punishment accomplished their goals. My success, however, was bounded by its context. The social psychology research that claims traditional classroom practices limit student interest, reduce depth of thought, and discourage a challenge-seeking orientation resonate with my experience. When I reflect on my education I feel the deep tragedy of my untapped potential. Here was the refrain of the times: “Why would I put more effort into this? I already have an A.” I was lucky because many other students repeated its more destructive corollary: “Why would I put any effort in to this? I’m just going to get an F.” No matter what a student’s place on this artificial spectrum, reducing performance to an externally imposed measurement of a pseudo-objective standard constitutes control. When, later in my academic career, I did fail one class, I imagine the emotional pain I felt was a close cousin to the physical pain of my future Cameroonian students.

 

Whether or not there are legitimate uses for standards in today’s world, the current political environment has paired standards with a toxic accountability. There’s an or else. Pay teachers following our formula or we won’t send federal money your way. Raise your students’ scores to the level we say or we’ll give your school a failing grade. Do better or we’ll close it entirely. As a country our greatest shames have been perpetrated under contingency and duress. This is no different. My educational history has been filled with motivated teachers who didn’t require bribes or threats to seek self-improvement, who didn’t need standardized tests to gauge student proficiency.

 

If we want our students to learn to function in a democracy, why are our classrooms structured like dictatorships? Why are we pursuing a path that further alienates students from content by adding additional separation between teachers and curriculum? Why, if we expect students to learn independence, are we stripping it from educators?

 

Best Regards,

 

Jakob Gowell

 

B.A. English, Grinnell College 2011
RPCV Cameroon 2012-2014
Education Volunteer (TEFL)

Across the river in New Jersey, teacher-scholar Jersey Jazzman watched the shenanigans. Perhaps he saw one Democratic member of the Assembly after another stand up to recount his sad feelings, her heavy heart, his misgivings, and then vote “yes” to a cockamamie scheme that will be a nightmare to implement and that will be an enormous unfunded mandate, all meant to discover, identify, and remove those BAD TEACHERS who are dragging down test scores. He refers to the controversy as “New York’s Absurd Debate about Teacher Evaluations and Test Scores.”

 

That’s putting it mildly.

 

Governor Cuomo, he says, has made a bad system worse.

 

He writes (and this is only a small part of his analysis):

 

APPR, like New Jersey’s AchieveNJ, is predicted on the idea that the educator — and only the educator — is responsible for the “growth” of his or her students. It ignores the impacts of funding inequities or district-level curriculum decisions or inadequate facilities or non-random assignment of students or any of the many factors that impact student learning that are completely out of the control of teachers and/or principals.

 

In New Jersey, the test-based components of AchieveNJ also ignore student characteristics, even though SGPs — Student Growth Percentiles, the test-based measures of student achievement used in teacher evaluations — are clearly biased against teachers who work in high-poverty, low-resourced schools.

 

New York’s growth model at least attempts to account for differences in student characteristics. According to the state’s Technical Report, the bias against teachers and schools serving high-needs students has been significantly reduced compared to earlier versions of the model.

 

But that doesn’t make New York’s growth measures any less statistically noisy or invalid. According to the Technical Report, one-third of New York’s teachers changed ratings from 2012-13 to 2013-14 (p. 43). The report crows that this is relatively stable compared to other growth measures, but in reality, it only means that the measures are merely the best of the worst.

 

Think about it: does it make any sense whatsoever that a full one-third of New York’s teachers significantly changed in their “effectiveness” within the span of a year? Should a high-stakes decision be compelled by a measure that is this unstable?

 

Here are the Technical Report’s growth ratings for teachers in “tested grades” over the last two years. If we add together all of the teachers who had at least two consecutive “Developing” or “Ineffective” ratings, we are only dealing with the bottom 5 percent of the teaching corps.

 

I know that the reformy line is these 5 percent are keeping us from competing with Singapore and Finland, but let’s get real: this small number is not worth Angry Andy’s disproportionate response. Yes, we need to remove bad teachers from classrooms, but does anyone really think the vast majority of these teachers couldn’t be identified through their classroom practices?

 

Angry Andy doesn’t think so; he is convinced that large numbers of administrators are, for reasons known only to Andy, fudging their observations so they can retain poor teachers. That’s why Andy wants to impose a huge unfunded mandate on school districts and require them to bring in outside observers to evaluate teachers.

 

It never occurs to Angry Andy that it may be possible administrators retain less-than-optimal teachers simply because there are not enough qualified candidates standing ready to replace them. Angry Andy has actually helped to create this situation in his own state, imposing “financially crippling” exams on teacher candidates (more on this later).

 

Even more foolishly, Angry Andy Cuomo thinks his demonization of teachers won’t have an effect on the number of bright young people willing to enter the profession. He believes his own inability to properly fund New York’s schools has no effect on the quality of teachers; no, it must be all these deceitful, lazy administrators, handing out phony high marks to lazy, ineffective teachers.

 

 

 

 

This is a video of a spoken word poem by student Ryan Lotocki. It is genius. In fact, the poem is titled “This Is Genius,” and it shows all the different ways that students excel. Not just on a standardized test, but in living good lives that engage their interests and passions.

 

Can we show this to a joint meeting of Congress, or at least to the committees now rewriting No Child Left Behind? Or how about our state legislatures, who assume the power to decide that teachers by the test scores of their students?

 

Students have power. They are the primary victims of the disruption and distorted values that NCLB and Race to the Top and uninformed politicians have made of our education system.

Peter Greene read an opinion piece defending Common Core in a major newspaper in Arizona. With a bit of googling, he discovered that the writer–Rebecca Hipps– lives in Washington, D.C., and works for an organization that sells Common Core teaching materials. What surprised him even more was that with the author’s concern for the state of public education, she said nothing about the punishing budget cuts that have decimated its schools (as well as higher education, which Governor Doug Ducey seems to want to get rid of along with public schools). Greene calls his post “Razing Arizona,” which is a clever pun on the name of a popular movie called “Raising Arizona,” by the Coen brothers.

 

He writes:

 

Arizona has cut public ed spending steadily since the late oughts, and they rank 50th in college per-student spending. It’s a wonder that Hipps did not bring this up, as it would seem that Arizona is a poster child for spending bottom dollar on education and getting bottom dollar results.

 

Greene points out that legislators are responding to public criticism by making it illegal for educators to engage in public discussion or debates:

 

At least Hipps is able to speak out at all. Arizona’s teachers, superintendents, principals and school board members have spoke up about the slash and burn methods of their state leaders, and the state leader response has been to float a law that will require them to shut up.

Arizona lawmakers have attached an amendment to Senate Bill 1172. It prohibits “an employee of a school district or charter school, acting on the district’s or charter school’s behalf, from distributing electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.”

 

On the one hand, it’s a good idea that Mrs. O’Teacher not give her class an hour of self-directed worksheets while she stuffs envelopes for the new ballot initiative. On the other hand, there’s that whole First Amendment thing. And the law is so broadly worded that I imagine a citizen asking a school district employee, “I’m really worried about the new proposed law cutting all money to public schools. Will that hurt our programs here,” and said school employee must reply, by law, “I cannot share any information about that with you.” Other critics of the bill fear that it would even prohibit any discussion of educational programs that directly affect children with those children’s parents.

 

And while I’m not concerned, exactly, I am curious– would this law also prohibit charter schools from advertising?

 

The law is clearly one more attempt to push educators out of the political world. No more informational letters to parents and voters. No more taking a public stand against assaults on school funding by the governor and legislators. Presumably no teacher or administrator in Arizona could write a response to Hipps’ op-ed– at least not with any indication that they were writing their response from the perspective of a public educator.

 

In their wisdom, legislators have decided that the biggest problem of public schools is not the lack of funding, but the surplus of discussion of their funding. Best to shut up the educators.

 

 

Lynn Lillian is the chair of Fair Funding for Our Schools, an advocacy network dedicated to insuring adequate and equitable funding for New York public schools. A lifelong supporter of public schools, she also serves on her local school board. I heard Lynn Lillian speak about the budget at a meeting of supporters of public education in the Monroe-Woodbury District and was very impressed by her understanding of the details. I asked her to write this article for readers of the blog. She graciously agreed.

 

 

She writes:

 

 

In spite of New York State’s responsibility to provide the funding necessary to educate all of New York’s students, the past few years have seen multiple assaults on funding for education in the form of the 2% Tax Cap, the GEA, and Foundation Aid. At the same time funding for public schools has been reduced, districts have been required to spend astronomical sums implementing Common Core Learning Standards and new APPR evaluations, required by Race to the Top.

 

Education funding in New York is maddeningly convoluted. Multiple formulas and funding mechanisms defy understanding and sometimes even logic. Education advocates joke that there are only three people in the state that actually understand the formulas that are the basis for public school funding in New York. As my grandmother used to say, it can be enough to drive a happy person right out of their mind.

 

However complex, funding does get to the heart of the matter. The governor is fond of saying that money doesn’t matter in education, but The National Bureau of Economic Research cites data that links increases in spending to higher graduation rates, and higher income.

 

Every child has a right to a fully funded public education in New York. In this context the chronic underfunding of education in our state is particularly indefensible.

 

Our state constitution demands and law requires that the state fund education adequately and equitably. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) decision reaffirmed the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education as well as the state’s responsibility to fund it.

 

School districts have only two discreet sources of revenue by law to fund their budgets, aid from the government, and the ability to levy taxes in our communities to make up the difference between program costs and what state aid provides. Both sources of revenue have been impacted dramatically.

 

In order to bring the level of funding up to what was deemed necessary to provide a sound basic education, the CFE decision also found that public schools in New York were owed billions of dollars. This money was to be paid back through the Foundation Aid formula, which was created to fund all districts equitably based on a districts’ ability to contribute, and it’s need. That debt remains unpaid.

 

In the wake of the recession, the state introduced two laws that further constrained education funding in New York: The Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was introduced to close a state budget gap, and the 2% Tax Cap Law.

 

The GEA allows the state to take back part of the money districts are owed in aid to spend somewhere else. Since 2010 the state has used the GEA shore up it’s own budget shortfalls, taking back badly needed aid from schools. The Tax Cap Law limits how much school districts can raise the tax levy. With the tax levy limit set at no greater than 2%, and costs generally rising about 3 per cent per year, the cap created an automatic deficit, functionally reducing both sources of revenue districts rely on.

 

When the tax cap law was being proposed, many education advocates lobbied for the law to be tied to mandate relief. Eliminating some unfunded mandates would theoretically address the loss of funds due to the tax cap. Not only has there been no significant mandate relief, but also more unfunded mandates have been imposed, and these have been costly.

 

For example, New York’s participation in the Federal Race to the Top grant required that the state implement the Common Core Learning Standards and a new APPR teacher evaluation system. In most districts the cost of implementing these mandates exponentially outstripped the modest and often inconsequential funds provided by the federal grant driving up per pupil cost and saddling districts with the bill.

 

Without the ability to levy taxes to make up the difference in the loss of funds due to the tax cap, the GEA and the failure to fully fund the Foundation Aid formula, districts have had no choice but to make cuts to programs and reductions in staff that erode the quality of public education.

 

The numbers are sobering. The New York State Association of Business officials report that the combined effect of the tax cap and state aid reductions have resulted in a gap of 17 billion dollars between historical and projected revenues. To protect academic programs from this loss of revenue, many districts have tapped into their reserves, leaving nothing in case of emergency or natural disaster. In addition, 30,000 teachers, administrators, and support staff have been laid off according to the Education Conference Board, a coalition of the state’s major educational organizations.

 

The result has been increased class sizes and fewer services to support kids. Worse still, 51% of New York’s school districts are still receiving aid under the 2008 level. Districts challenged by issues of poverty find themselves without the basics: books for libraries, and textbooks for teachers, strained by large class size and understaffed programs. Even districts that have managed to hold on to some resources find their students shut out of seats at highly selective colleges and universities as their academic and extracurricular programs have been whittled away.

 

The fallout of the past 6 years is a system in distress. Underfunding of our schools, in all of its forms, has meant opportunities lost for students, opportunities this generation of students won’t get back. The state has failed to deliver on both adequacy and equity. Without the funding necessary to provide a sound basic education, the conversation is not about the haves and the have-nots in public education, but about the have -nothings and the have- not- enough’s. Neither is acceptable.

 

All of our students deserve and are owed rich curriculum and necessary supplies; books for starters.

 

All students deserve and are owed the resources and experiences that will allow them to compete for seats at highly selective colleges and universities, and prepare them for meaningful rewarding work.

 

Going into this year’s budget cycle New York State owed its public schools Nearly 5 billion dollars in Foundation Aid and 1 billion dollars in GEA funds. With a 4.2 billion dollar surplus this year, and budget surpluses projected through 2018, one would think that it would be time for the state to deliver on the constitutional promise of a sound basic education and begin to pay back it’s debt to public schools by fully funding the Foundation Aid formula and eliminate GEA reductions.

 

Like farmers in the dust bowl feeling a drop of rain, educators imagined that these surpluses offered the opportunity to begin to repair the damage done by chronic underfunding and shift the conversation from how to hang on to how to best support and educate our students. The Governor’s first volley in the budget process put an end to that idea. It was an unprecedented push to tie state aid increases to education policies that demonized teachers, emphasized even more standardized testing, not less, and undermined public schools by promoting charters and blaming schools that are grossly underfunded. In essence, holding aid our students desperately need hostage to politics. The arrogance of his proposals ignited a groundswell of opposition.

 

That opposition helped secure the 1.4 billion allocated for education in the recently adopted budget, certainly a better outcome than the governor’s proposed increase of 1.1 billion. While hailed as the largest state aid increase in years, it still leaves in place most of the billions of dollars owed to New York’s public schools in the form of GEA reduction and Foundation Aid. A disproportionate amount of what is owed is in the form of Foundation Aid, which affects the highest need districts in the state, exacerbating the lack of equity in school funding. Further, the Education Conference Board estimates that it will take 1.2 billion dollars to maintain current programs. When these factors are taken into account 1.4 billion represents a modest increase in school aid.

 

The governor’s initiatives were only strengthened in this budget, saddling districts with additional unfunded mandates and loss of local control. For example, my home district received a 3.4% increase in aid. The aid is welcome, but doesn’t go far enough, particularly when the strings attached are taken into account. To get the full funding due to us, districts have to comply with a new teacher evaluation plan (APPR). The plan as reported represents additional costs to districts in the form of outside evaluators, professional development for evaluators within districts, and costs associated with covering classrooms in the case teachers act as evaluators.

 

Districts receive their aid on a monthly basis and if they are not able to negotiate and approve the states’ APPR plan by the November 15th deadline, payment of the aid increase will stop. The budget bill also includes a requirement that teachers complete 100 hours of professional development over a five -year period. Again, districts pay for that, begging the question: how many costs do districts have to cover before an increase is not an increase?

 

Language in the bill relating to “failing” schools outlines the right of the state to convert these schools into charters, representing yet another drain on district resources. For every student who attends a charter, money is siphoned from the home district to that charter. These initiatives have another cost; the time educators spend complying with these unfunded mandates translates to loss of time that could be spent developing and implementing rich instruction – Which in turn results in opportunities lost for our students.

 

Over the next few weeks we will hear numerous claims, often contradictory, about what this budget means for students. It’s all a shell game. The complexity of the funding mechanisms at work allow for seemingly conflicting declarations about where we are. What is most dramatically illustrated by this year’s budget cycle is that educators and the students they serve have been driven into a corner arms aloft: trying to deflect blows from the state in the form of unsupported directives, funding reductions and inequities, and accusations of failure all meant to distract from the real issue: the state has capitulated it’s constitutional responsibility to fund it’s schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an example of the priorities in New York state’s budget: There is no increase in the minimum wage, but purchasers of yachts that cost more than $230,000 are exempt from the sales tax. This may be a wonderful boon for the boat-building industry, as well as the yachting community. There is no point buying a yacht that costs $200,000 or even $220,000, as you will have to pay the sales tax. So, when you consider buying your next yacht, be sure to spend at least $230,000.

 

Score a big win for the yacht lobby!

It is understandable that Governor Cuomo has a grudge against teachers: they didn’t endorse him in last fall’s campaign. So, naturally, he wants to destroy the teaching profession in his state by imposing a burdensome, invalid teacher evaluation system, written by his staff to inflict maximum pain on every teacher.

 

If he acted like an angry bully, the Legislature acted like fools.

 

Why did the Legislature go along? Many legislators said they voted reluctantly and “with a heavy heart.” Others made statements showing they didn’t really know what they voted for. The backlash has been fierce from parents and teachers.

 

In this article, principal Carol Burris shows how thoughtless and mean-spirited this legislation is.

 

She writes:

 

“The New York State legislature celebrated the Eve of April Fools by making a bad teacher evaluation system even worse. With the exception of a few principled members, the rest of the Senate and Assembly fell in line, without care or concern for the consequences their “reform” would bring. More remarkably, by the time debate was done, it was obvious that many legislators had no understanding of what they were voting into law.”

 

Testing will count for 50%. Principals will be sent to evaluate other principals’ staff.

 

“Of one thing you can be certain. The NYSED created growth-score and measures will produce a bell-curve. This will produce the “differentiation” that the chancellor and governor crave. You can also bet these scores will not be a valid or reliable measure of teacher performance. After all, that is the hallmark of APPR.

 

“The other half of the evaluation will be the result of two required and one optional observation. One required observation must be done by a teacher’s administrator or principal, and the other by an “independent” evaluator from outside the building. When school officials complained that using outside observers was an unfunded mandate, the glib reply was just swap administrators among schools.

 

“Let’s think about that plan. For districts like mine with one high school, swapping administrators might mean that the elementary principal would observe our IB Physics teacher and I would watch a kindergarten class. Without any knowledge of the curriculum, students, and the teacher, we would do a high-stakes observation.

 

“As we principals go on the road to observe teachers in other schools, we would leave our students and teachers without leadership if a crisis were to occur. This would be especially difficult in some areas of rural New York, where schools are far apart. With observations an hour in length, pre- and post-observation conferences and travel time, schools would be without their principals for days given the number of observations we are now required to do. Apparently the governor is not worried. When parents call and I am observing a teacher across town, I will tell my assistant to forward the call to him.”

The legislators should not make excuses. They should be ashamed of themselves and repeal this punitive and unworkable plan.

Parents are right to be outraged. This is another reason to opt out.

Who will want to teach in Néw York?

Peter Greene lives in Pennsylvania, where the previous governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican-controlled Legislature did their best to encourage corporate reform and to destroy public education. Corbett welcomed for-profit cyber-charters and every other kind of charter, and he slashed the budget for public education. The result can be seen starkly in Philadelphia, where many public schools have been replaced by charters, and the remaining public schools are stripped of programs, resources, and services.

 

Here he explains that it is not just urban districts like Philadelphia and York that are being cut down by “reformers,” but not-very-wealthy rural districts like the one he teaches in. People blame their local school boards, but even the most fiscally responsible local boards are falling victim to decisions made by the legislature.

 

He writes:

 

The closing of schools is rampant in my part of PA, and we aren’t alone. We’re a region of not-very-wealthy rural districts, but not-very-wealthy urban districts like Philly and York have also cut schools like a machete in a bamboo forest.

 

It is not a matter of declining student population, and it is not a matter of districts falling on tough times. It’s a widespread financial crisis, and it’s manufactured.

 

How to manufacture a statewide financial crisis.

 

Cut state funding. This puts the making-up-the-difference pressure on local taxpayers.

 

Take a ton of money away from public schools and give it to charters.

 

Create a huge pension funding crisis. This is its own kind of challenge, but the quick explanation is this– pre-2008, invest in really awesome stuff, and when that all tanks and districts suddenly have huge payments to make up, tell the districts they can just wait till later and hope for magic financial fairies to fix it. It is now later, there are no fairies, and a small district with an $18 million budget is looking at pension payments that go up $500K every year.

 

Oh, and pass a law that says districts can’t raise taxes more than a smidge in any given year….

 

The end result?

 

School districts are looking down the barrel of million-plus-dollar deficits. The two deficits for which I have now been a power point audience can both be entirely explained by the formula:

 

Charter Payments + Pension Payments + Other Tiny Obscure Cuts = District Deficit

 

In other words, a district that had a fiscally responsible year last year, that didn’t do anything crazy or odd or unusual and just left everything alone when planning for this year– that district is still facing huge deficits in their current budgeting cycle, unrelated to any choices that they made in managing their own local district.

 

Funny, last time I looked, it was states that have the primary responsibility in their constitutions for maintaining a “thorough and efficiency” (or some variation thereof) system of public education. But the legislators are passing mandates that shift the burden to local districts and sitting by while public schools are closed.

 

Is this part of a plan to privatize public education? What do you think?

 

 

 

 

The message from Atlanta: Don’t cheat. Never. Don’t erase answers. Don’t do anything to violate professional ethics, no matter how you may be threatened or offered bribes (merit pay, bonuses) by higher-ups.

Eleven of twelve Atlanta educators were convicted of racketeering. One was acquitted. Others who were indicted made plea bargains. Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was accused of rewarding principals and teachers who got high scores and punishing those who could not raise scores, died a few weeks ago; her terminal illness prevented her from ever going to trial.

A reader asked me to contrast Atlanta with Washington, D.C., where an investigation by USA Today uncovered widespread cheating, as well as evidence of many erasures changing answers from wrong to right. The difference is that the Governor of Atlanta put together a serious investigative team and broke open the scandal. In Washington, D.C., the investigation was limited and cursory. The cheating happened, during Michelle Rhee’s tenure in office, but no one was ever held accountable.

The bottom line: don’t cheat and don’t permit students to cheat. Period.

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