Archives for category: Massachusetts

A few days ago, I posted about a plan by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to take away teachers’ licenses if they received poor evaluations. Not just to take away their tenure or their job, but their license to teach. I relied on a terrific post by Peter Greene saying that Massachusetts had come up with an ingenious way to chase teachers out of the state. Given how flimsy and flawed the new test-based evaluations are, this was a horrendous plan that lacked logic, common sense, or basic decency. Given the fact that Massachusetts is by far the highest performing state on NAEP, these draconian measures were incomprehensible.

 

The Massachusetts Teachers Association rallied their members against the DESE plan, and the state DESE backed down. This is the MTA’s description of what happened, how they mobilized, and why good sense prevailed.

 

Here is the communique from the MTA leadership:

 

MTA MEMBERS SHOW UNION POWER; DESE RESCINDS PROPOSALS LINKING LICENSURE TO EDUCATOR EVALUATION

 

 

MTA President Barbara Madeloni and Vice President Janet Anderson sent the following message to MTA members on Friday, November 14:

 

We did it! In recent days, thousands of you have contacted state education officials to express your opposition to linking your license to your evaluation. MTA members sent e-mails, spoke out at DESE’s “town halls,” organized building meetings and made plans to attend upcoming DESE meetings in Malden and Bridgewater.

 

Today, the commissioner of education released a letter that says: “… we are rescinding the draft options that link licensure to educator evaluation.”

 

Our message — Union Strong — is making a difference.

 

While the immediate threat is lifted, there is much more to be done to make sure state officials hear what educators think we and our students need.

 

Here’s the background on the licensure story.

 

Twenty-five days ago, MTA received notice of licensure changes proposed by DESE that would connect performance evaluation to license renewal and advancement. These proposals and the façade of voice given within the DESE “town halls” exposed the deep disconnect between educators and the department. Union members spoke out resoundingly. Several members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education joined us in telling the commissioner they opposed this licensure plan.

 

The decision announced today is a good start, but other aspects of proposed licensure changes are still unsettled, and the disconnect between educators and DESE remains.

 

The commissioner has invited us to “continue the conversation.” Let’s do just that by showing up in Malden on Nov. 19 and Bridgewater on Nov. 20 to tell our stories, speak our truth, and reclaim public education.

 

Here are the details of the meetings next week:

 

DESE-sponsored Town Halls on Licensure

 

Wednesday, November 19
4:30-7 p.m. (arrive at 4:15 p.m.)
Malden High School
77 Salem Street
Malden

 

AND

 

Thursday, November 20
4:30-7 p.m. (arrive at 4:15 p.m.)
Bridgewater State University
Crimson Hall – Dunn Conference Room
200 East Campus Drive
Bridgewater

Even as we move forward with our plans to make our voices heard, this is a moment to celebrate our strength and acknowledge the hard work of our members on this crucial issue. So thank you, and let’s keep up the fight!

In solidarity,

Barbara and Janet

 

 

Yesterday, I posted about the plan by Massachusetts to strip teachers of their licenses if their evaluations were poor.

As it happened, the Massachusetts Teachers Association had already issued a forceful response to this misguided proposal. President Barbara Madeloni posted this as a comment on the blog. It was released on October 27:

MTA to BESE: How can anyone in good conscience connect an employment evaluation to licensure?

In response to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s proposed changes to initial licensure and relicensure, MTA President Barbara Madeloni and Vice President Janet Anderson sent the following letter to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester. More information and recommended actions are forthcoming.
October 27, 2014

To: Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Education

From: Barbara Madeloni, President, Massachusetts Teachers Association
Janet Anderson, Vice President, Massachusetts Teachers Association

Re: Changes Proposed by DESE to initial licensure and relicensure

On Monday, October 20, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released proposed changes to requirements for both initial licensure and relicensure. A day later, the DESE held its first “town hall” hearing about these proposals. These hearings were facilitated by the Keystone Center, but DESE staff were present.

While there are many questions to ask about these proposals that would allow us to gain some clarity of meaning (e.g., what does “grit” mean as a requirement for initial licensure?), the primary question is: How can anyone in good conscience connect an employment evaluation to licensure when these are entirely different areas of authority and oversight? We know of no other profession in which licensure is contingent on employment evaluation. More insidiously, the employment evaluations include student learning outcomes, thus connecting relicensure to student test scores.

“ How can anyone in good conscience connect an employment evaluation to licensure when these are entirely different areas of authority and oversight?”

We are asking the commissioner to rescind these recommendations in whole for the following reasons:

1. The DESE is advancing policy options that almost exclusively base license advancement and license renewal on the summative performance ratings in the educator evaluation framework and the student impact rating derived from MCAS growth scores and District-Determined Measures. This is a misuse of measures of student learning and is counter to the DESE’s own assertions about how student learning measures would be used.

2. As a professional organization representing approximately 80,000 licensed preK-12 practitioner-members, the MTA does not support either the design principles or the policy options outlined in this document. To connect licensure to evaluation is a serious breach of lines of authority and responsibility. The state’s determination of having met requirements to teach should not and cannot extend into performance on the job, which falls under the authority of school administrators. Further, linking performance evaluations to licensure puts all educators on notice: Be careful what you say and do or you risk not only your job, but also your ability to teach or administer in Massachusetts schools.

3. The MTA does not support short-track preparation programs that allow unqualified and underqualified individuals to enter classrooms as teachers of record without the requisite knowledge and skills to be “classroom ready” on day one. Too often, these underqualified individuals enter high-poverty, low-performing schools, thus contributing to existing achievement gaps and the inequitable distribution of highly effective practitioners.

4. The MTA decries the use of $550,000 in public funds to pay private vendors for this project. The process employed by these vendors shows little or no interest in engaging in meaningful dialogue about what is and is not effective in the current licensure and relicensure processes. Educators report that they have attended tightly controlled “town halls” in which the outcome seems predetermined and voices of dissent are not welcome. We need meaningful opportunities for input into the development of licensure regulations.

We urge the commissioner and the board in the strongest possible terms to heed the overwhelming opposition to these proposals from the people most directly affected and to act immediately to withdraw the policy options currently being considered.

Peter Greene writes that there seems to be a contest among the states to see which one can be most hostile and punitive towards public school teachers. Is it North Carolina? Is it Tennessee? No, writes Greene, the state that is in the lead in this category is Massachusetts.

 

Massachusetts, which leads the nation by far on federal tests of mathematics and reading, intends to adopt regulations that will take away a teacher’s license if his or her students get low test scores.

 

Can you believe that? The teacher won’t  just be fired; she will lose her license to teach!

 

He writes:

 

There are three proposed versions (A, B & C) of the new system, and they all share one piece of twisted DNA– they link teacher evaluations to teacher licenses. Not pay level or continued employment in that particular school district– but licensure. A couple of below-average evaluations, and you will lose your MA license to teach.

 

There is no profession anywhere in the country that has such astonishing rules. Good lord– even if your manager at McDonalds decides you’re not up to snuff, he doesn’t blackball you from ever working in any fast food joint ever again! Yes, every profession has means of defrocking people who commit egregious and unpardonable offenses. But– and I’m going to repeat this because I’m afraid your This Can’t Be Real filter is keeping you from seeing the words that I’m typing– Massachusetts proposes to take your license to teach away if you have a couple of low evaluations.

 

It will not surprise you to learn that those evaluations would include all the usual groundless baloney. Student Impact Ratings– did your real student get better test scores than his imaginary counterpart being taught by an imaginary average teacher in a parallel universe? Did you successfully climb the paperwork mountain generated by a teacher improvement plan (duly filed with the state department that doesn’t have time to do the work it has now, so good luck with the new influx of improvement plan filings)? One version of the plan even allows for factoring in student evaluations of teachers; yes, teachers, your entire career can be hanging by a thread that dangles in front of an eight-year-old with scissors.

 

Which groups are advising the state in this draconian effort to drive teachers away? Some group called “the Keystone Center” and TNTP, the organization founded by Michelle Rhee.

 

Greene writes about these organizations:

 

“The Keystone Center was established to independently facilitate the resolution of national policy conflicts.” Those conflicts seem to most often have to do with oil and gas stuff, as well as Colorado higher education and monarch butterflies. How they ended up helping Massachusetts blow up teaching careers is not clear to me. But it’s easy to see how their “project partners” ended up here, because they’re teamed up with TNTP, a group that never met a set of teacher job protections that they didn’t want throw in a woodchipper and burn with fire.

If TNTP ever has a legitimate mission, it has long since been replaced with one single-minded focus– to make it easier to fire all teachers everywhere all the time.

 

The Massachusetts Teachers Association is fighting this irrational plan. They see that it is a looming disaster for teachers and public schools.

 

Greene writes:

 

I would point out to the people pushing this that it’s a great way to chase people away from teaching in Massachusetts ever. I would point out that young people interested in starting a teaching career might favor a state where that career can’t be snuffed out because of random fake data that’s beyond their control. I would point out that this is one more policy that will almost certainly make it even harder than it already is to recruit teachers for high-poverty low-achievement schools. I mean, most states are settling for evaluation systems that punish inner-city teachers with just losing that particular job; it takes big brass ones for Massachusetts to say, “Come teach in a poor struggling under-funded low-resource school. Take a chance on the job that could end your entire teaching career before you’re even thirty.” Who on God’s green earth thinks this is a way to put a great teacher in every classroom?

Well, the answer is nobody. I would say all those things to the people pushing this program if I thought they cared about any of that. But it seems increasingly obvious that creating a massive teacher shortage is not a bug, but a feature. It’s not an unintended consequence, but the chosen objective.

 

Good luck, MTA. The people of Massachusetts should celebrate the successes of their schools and send these interlopers who want to ruin teachers’ careers packing. How is it possible to improve education by ruining the lives of teachers? How is it possible to improve education by making test scores the measure of everything? Good business for Pearson, not so good for the children.

 

The charter industry is stunned by the possibility that Massachusetts may not authorize any new charters this year. This would be the first time in 15 years that no new charters were opened.

“Proponents say the move represents another blow in their quest to open more charter schools across the state. It comes just three months after the state Senate overwhelmingly rejected an increase in the number of charter schools that can operate in low-performing districts.”

Charters were stopped in Brockton and Fitchburg because the law says that they should open only in districts that are in the bottom 10% on state tests. Neither district is in the bottom 10%.

“Created under the 1993 Education Reform Act, charter schools are intended to be laboratories of educational innovation. They operate under looser state regulations than traditional schools and are rarely unionized.

“Seventy operate independently of local school systems, while 10 others operate in partnership with a school district.

“Many charter schools have among the highest MCAS scores, but some struggle academically and more than a dozen have closed, typically because of low test scores or financial problems.

“The move last week delighted charter school opponents, who argue that such institutions drain funding from traditional school systems and cherry pick students, assertions that proponents dispute.”

“While the effort to add more independent charter school proposals appears stymied, the state continues to review three other proposals for charter schools that would operate in partnership with the Boston, Salem, and Springfield school systems.

“Many charter school proponents, however, consider these “in-district charters “ to be less ideal than independent schools because they employ unionized teachers and are often subject to districtwide policies, restricting their autonomy.”

In other words, the charters were offered the chance to open but refused because they would have to have a union staff and some regulation, perhaps limiting their ability to exclude students they don’t want.

Educators in Worcester, Massachusetts, spoke out against the school committee’s decision to adopt the federally-funded Common Core test, at least partially, splitting the district between PARCC and the established Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). PARCC was field-tested last year in Massachusetts. See what the teachers say about it. The Commissioner of Education in the state, Mitchell Chester, is chairman of the PARCC governing board, which the teachers consider a conflict of interest.

The following is a Press Release from the EAW. Please Read.

EAW DOES NOT SUPPORT WORCESTER SCHOOL COMMITTEE’S “YES ON PARCC” VOTE

The Worcester School Committee, in 5-2 vote, recently elected to split Worcester Public Schools (WPS) between two different standardized tests: the established MCAS test; and the PARCC pilot test. This “Yes on PARCC” vote goes against the Educational Association of Worcester (EAW)’s publicized March 2014 vote of No Confidence on PARCC and its vote to pause PARCC.
The EAW, comprised of WPS teachers, is not alone in its public position on pausing PARCC. In May 2014, delegates of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) passed items calling for a three-year moratorium on PARCC testing at its annual convention.

Also, over 66% school districts in Massachusetts have chosen the MCAS test option over the PARCC pilot test for 2014-2015.
PARCC started with 23 states in their consortium; four years later, 13 states have dropped out. That’s a drop of 44 percent.
The EAW stands behind its vote of No Confidence on PARCC, and believes Worcester Public Schools should put a three-year pause on PARCC and re-assess high stakes testing.

In light of the Worcester School Committee’s recent “Yes on PARCC” vote, the EAW supports parents/guardians and students who choose to refuse the PARCC pilot tests in their respective schools. Because PARCC is still in a test year, Worcester students can to refuse to participate in the PARCC “research study” without punishment; and designated PARCC schools will not be penalized for any pilot test refusals.

Note that the Worcester School Committee, in March 2014, voted to allow parents/guardians of WPS students selected to take PARCC to refuse the test. WPS Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone informed parents/guardians of their right to refuse the PARCC pilot test via letter.

MCAS was developed and vetted by Massachusetts teachers. Massachusetts DESE Commissioner Mitchell Chester is also Board Chairman of PARCC, Inc., the organization controlling the development and promotion of the PARCC test – a clear conflict of interest for the children and schools of Massachusetts, because he has a completely biased opinion towards implementing PARCC in the Bay State.

Massachusetts currently has the best standards in the country. By moving to PARCC, a national test, our schools will be forced to lower standards to make it fair for all states involved.

During the 2013-2014 school year, PARCC was field tested on numerous children around Massachusetts. Identified issues include:

· 72% of schools need more devices to test all students

· Almost 50% of teachers said their training was inadequate for administering PARCC on computers.

· 61% of students reported that the Math test was more difficult than their school work (28% for ELA)

· only 70% of students said the test questions asked about content they had learned in Math (87% in ELA)

· 41% of kids said it was hard to type answers for Math

· 46% of kids experienced tech-related problems with Math (31% ELA)

Student scores on the PARCC pilot tests are not be shared with students, parents/guardians, schools, or states. PARCC Inc. uploads student scores for use in data mining and storage.

If Massachusetts eliminates MCAS and moves toward PARCC, the state will no longer control its own assessment system. The PARCC test will be controlled by multiple other states and management that the citizens of Massachusetts did not elect.

Again, the EAW stands behind its vote of No Confidence on PARCC, and believes Worcester Public Schools should put a three-year pause on PARCC and re-assess high stakes testing. All parents/guardians and students should, once again, be notified in writing by WPS Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone on how to refuse the PARCC pilot test.

Zak Jason wrote a fascinating interview in “Boston” magazine with Barbara Madeloni, the recently elected president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the largest union in the state with 110,000 members.

I first learned of Madeloni when she was preparing teachers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and she refused to give the Pearson test to evaluate new teachers. Michael Winerip wrote a story about her defiance in the New York Times, and within a matter of days, her contract was not renewed. Now all teacher candidates across the university are required to take the Pearson exam.

I learned many things from this article. I learned that Barbara was a psychotherapist before she became a high school English teacher. I learned that when she ran for union president, she was considered a very long shot. Some people thought she had no chance at all.

I learned that the State Commissioner of Education, Mitchell Chester, is also chair of the governing board of PARCC, one of the two federally-funded Common Core tests. Some in the state say he has a conflict of interest.

Madeloni has called for a three-year moratorium on all testing and teacher evaluations:

“We’ve been trying to do scale, instead of human beings. We need to do human beings,” she says. She lambasts the Common Core, a national set of curriculum standards that the state adopted in 2010, as “corporate deform,” and described its architects to CommonWealth magazine as “rich white men who are deciding the course of public education for black and brown children.”

“The past and present heads of the state’s top education offices I talked to dismiss Madeloni’s rhetoric as naive, absurd, and, in the case of the moratorium, illegal. Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), says he’s concerned that her “hyperbolic” vision may force the DESE to tune out the entire union.”

Chester may dismiss her, but teachers view her as a savior. “She’s the first MTA leader willing to listen to their agony, and to tell the truth about how teaching in the age of accountability can be, as Holyoke teacher Cheri Cluff puts it, “like waiting tables at a busy restaurant; you’re running and running and running, and you’ve lost your head.” Whereas past presidents and her opponent, MTA vice president Tim Sullivan, were willing to compromise with state administrators, Madeloni is combative, unapologetic, and, as Agustin Morales, another Holyoke teacher, says, “unafraid to make her life uncomfortable.”

Morales, the article notes, was elected president of his local in Holyoke with a 70% majority; he complained about the data walls, where students’ names and test scores are publicly posted. He was fired.

Madeloni is a fighter. She is outspoken and unafraid. Will she be marginalized by the state? Can the state alienate its largest union? Watch for the battles ahead. Madeloni was elected to stand up for teachers. Richard Stutman of the Boston Teachers Union has agreed to collaborate with her.

Zak Jason concluded:

“When I first talked to Madeloni soon after her election, she agreed to have me follow her throughout her first week. But just before her presidency began, she told me, “As a psychotherapist, I know the presence of someone else in the room can affect how the room behaves,” and said she would only be available for an interview, and her communications director James Sacks would join.

“As I’m about to leave her office, Madeloni turns to Sacks and asks, half-joking, “Is there anything I didn’t say that I was supposed to say?”

“What’s your vision?” he says.

“That we reclaim the vision of public education as a space for democracy, for joy, for hope, for a better future for all of our children. All of our children.”

Carol Burris, principal of south side High School in Rockville Center, New York, writes here about the multiple flaws of test-based teacher evaluations.

At an Ed Trust celebration, Duncan told the crowd, “But we can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We can’t let the utopian become the enemy of the excellent. And we can’t let rhetorical purity become the enemy of rigorous practice.” I do not have any idea what the third admonishment means, but I doubt Arne needs to fear that his rhetoric is pure.

So it came as no surprise that when he spoke of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation plan, Mr. Duncan praised the state for “not letting the perfect become the enemy of the good”. The teachers of Tennessee, however, are not seeing the new system as “the good”—they are, for the second time, suing the state because the system is, in their eyes, arbitrary and flawed. And it is.

When it comes to the new teacher evaluation systems, it is not a dispute between perfect and good. We are now forbidding the good to be the enemy of the lousy. The use of students’ scores is becoming more and more indefensible. In New York State, teachers despise APPR, and it is equally unpopular among principals who, for the most part, see it as a headache that does nothing to improve teacher performance. Teacher and principal scores, by district, were supposed to be released in the winter. It is the end of July and they have not appeared. That is not a surprise. If they were released, it would be an embarrassment, especially for districts that actually tried to engage in the Las Vegas pursuit of predicting student growth from pre-tests to post-tests. The New York State Education Department is stalling, and Governor Cuomo is letting it happen.

There was one state, Massachusetts, that created a plan that was more sensible than most. It did not use numbers, but rather was rubric based. It was phased in over time and applied to everyone, including central administrators. But now that the time has come to phase in the test scores, the trouble begins.

In his July 17 memo to Superintendents and Charter School leaders, Commissioner Mitchell Chester states he is pleased that the Bay State has not chosen “an algorithmic approach,” only to later explain in detail the algorithm by which teachers should be evaluated by test scores. To go further down the path of the lousy, he explains how the state will generate growth scores from PARCC exams for participating schools, and then attempt to show “growth” from the prior year student MCAS scores. Please say it isn’t so. That is not a growth measure. That is comparing students with similar scores on one test with each other the following year on an entirely different test. New York did the same thing last year. Can you do it? Of course you can—there is very little that you cannot do with numbers. It is easy to create a formula that is intimidating enough that eyes will glaze over. But that does not make it valid, reliable, fair or useful. It will be one more silly system that will result in a lawsuit, no doubt.

Chiefs for Change, including State Superintendents Huffman and Skandera, took the NEA and AFT to task for having the guts to back away from the test-based teacher evaluation systems they once supported. They accused them of ‘evading accountability’ like horse thieves running from the posse. They wanted union leaders to sit compliantly with hands folded, in the face of mounting evidence that the test-score evaluation systems are not working. These Chiefs for ‘change at any cost’, do not understand. True accountability means having the courage to speak the truth when facts come to light, even when it contradicts what you once supported. To keep one’s mouth shut as the lousy marches forward is wrong.

As we all know, the State Senate in Massachusetts voted against lifting the cap on charter schools. This was a shocker.

Here is the inside story, told by Edushyster.

You won’t see this anywhere else.

In a surprise move, the Massachusetts State Senate voted 26-13 not to increase the number of charter schools in the state. A similar bill cleared the House by a vote of 114-35 in May. “The Senate proceeded in a separate 9-30 vote to also defeat the underlying bill that had cleared the House.”

The Senate President, Therese Murray said: “In some ways, the vote could be looked at as a reflection of the changing makeup of the Senate that has seen an influx of more liberal members in recent years. Murray said she was surprised by the final tally, and noted that “progressives” voted against the bills.”

“Unions, meanwhile, cheered the bill’s defeat. “We congratulate the Senate for taking a stand for public schools and for public school students, many of whom live in poverty and who need all the resources they can get. The vote against raising the cap keeps resources in our locally controlled public schools where they are most needed,” said Tom Gosnell, president of American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts.

“Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker issued a statement suggesting the Senate “bowed to political pressure and handed urban families stuck in struggling schools a massive defeat by shutting down access to high performing schools.”

Defend a brave teacher! Defend students! Sign the petition to reinstate Gus Morales!

Gus Morales was elected head of his school union in Holyoke, Massachusetts, as an outspoken opponent of high-stakes testing and privatization. Children’s test scores were posted in a data wall. Morales objected.

Only weeks after his election, he was fired.

“As I started speaking out, I was targeted with negative observations. One can infer that the negative observation was meant to quiet me. As long as I kept my mouth shut, everything was good, and then when I started speaking about what was happening to my students, I was let go,” says Morales, one of only a handful of Puerto Rican teachers in a school district that is nearly 80 percent Hispanic.

“Morales’ anti-privatization platform also called for a revitalization of the teachers’ union. “In the past, the union had defended its teachers, but it did so in a way that was not out in public. I want to be a teacher advocate where I attend school committees and speak on behalf of teachers,” he says….”

“A key factor in Morales’ decision to run was the massive expansion of high-stakes testing in the classroom. “My kids spend between 25 and 28 days per year just doing tests. The administration is obsessed with increasing reading and math scores, so their answer to that is to increase instruction time in those areas,” he argues.

“As a result, he says, local students are losing valuable learning opportunities in non-tested areas. “The effect is that kids in the suburbs where test scores are higher are getting a well-rounded education, and kids in Holyoke are not,” he says.”

Barbara Madeloni, the new president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association promised to fight for Morales.

Please support Gus Morales by signing this MoveOn petition.

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