Archives for category: Teacher Evaluations

Here is a pathetic contrast that says a whole lot about the politics of education, not only in Texas but across the nation. The latest ethics report in Texas shows that “Texans for Education Reform,” a spinoff of Democrats for Education Reform, has hired 15 lobbyists to work the legislature this session. Most will be paid between $50,000-100,000, some less, some more. One will be paid between $150,000-200,000. This group would not call itself “Democrats for Education Reform” in Texas, because the Democratic Party is out of favor; the constituency this group appeals to would not want to be affiliated with any organization that called itself “Democrats.” The name may be helpful in fooling people in liberal states, but it would be a stigma in Texas.

 

Here is the contrast: the main anti-testing group is led by parents. It is called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (known to fans as Moms Against Drunk Testing). TAMSA has hired one lobbyist, who will be paid less than $10,000.

 

The lesson: People who are super-rich are pouring big money into politics to kill off public education and replace it with high-stakes testing, charters and vouchers. They don’t care that there is now substantial evidence that most charters do not have higher test scores than similar public schools. They don’t care that voucher schools don’t outperform public schools. What drives them? They say it’s all about the kids but it seems more likely that they just don’t like public education and want to starve it of resources.

The ever perceptive Peter Greene watched the Cuomo Teacher-Demolition Derby from afar and found it a disgraceful spectacle. 

He couldn’t decide which was worse: Cuomo’s lust to crush the teachers, who stood by watching him coming with an axe in hand, or the Assembly Democrats, who wailed that they voted for Cuomo’s plan with a heavy heart but did it anyway. As someone tweeted earlier today, “Probably they had a heavy heart because they had no spine.”

Greene writes, for starters:

This has truly been the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. An unpopular proposal that guts teaching as a profession and kicks public education in the teeth, sails through the NY legislature.

Yes, “sails through.” There’s nothing else to call a budget that is approved 92-54.

NY Democrats tried to make it look like less of a total victory-in-a-walk for public education opponent Andrew Cuomo by making sad pouty faces and issuing various meaningless mouth noises while going ahead and voting for the damn thing. “Ohh, woes and sadderations,” they cried as they took turns walking to the podium to give Cuomo exactly the tools he wanted for helping to put an end to teaching as a profession in New York state.

I am not sure what Democrats hoped to accomplish by taking to the podium and twitter to say how deeply, tragically burdened they were. I mean, I guess you’d like to know that people who club baby seals feel a little bit bad about it, but it really doesn’t make a lot of difference to the baby seal, who is in fact still dead.

Maybe the lesson here is that the craziest person in the room controls the conversation. The person who’s willing to ram the car right into the sheer rock face gets to navigate the trip, and Cuomo has displayed repeatedly that he really doesn’t care what has to be smashed up. If the world isn’t going to go on his way, it doesn’t need to go on for anybody.

But if teachers needed reason #2,416 to understand that Democrats simply aren’t friends to public education, there it was, biting its quivering lip and sniffling, “I feel really bad about this” as it tied up education and fired it out of a cannon so that it could land directly under a bus that had been dropped off the Empire State Building.

Hell, even Campbell Brown must be a little gobsmacked, as Cuomo’s budgetary bludgeoning of tenure and job security rules has made her lawsuit unnecessary. The Big Standardized Tests results will continue their reign of teacher evaluation, dropping random and baseless scores onto the heads of New York educators like the feces of so many flying pigs. And all new teachers need to do to get their (soon-to-be-meaningless) tenure is get the random VAM dice to throw up snake-eyes four times in a row. Meanwhile, school districts can go out back to the magic money trees to find the financing for hiring the “outside evaluators” who will provide the cherry on top of the VAM sauce.

Ali Gordon, a school board member in the Comsewogue school district on Long Island, Néw York, believes that it is time to stand up and speak out. For her dedication and courage, I name her to the blog’s honor roll.

 

She writes:

 

This is my fourth year serving as an elected trustee of the Comsewogue School District Board of Education. Trustees are elected by their community. The position is voluntary- there is no pay. There are no hidden perks, no allowances. It is time-consuming, with multiple meetings and events monthly, dozens of documents to review in preparation for the meetings, as well as correspondence between trustees and administration and of course with the community. In order to fulfill these responsibilities, I miss out on time at home with my husband and four children.

 

It is stressful- particularly as we work to develop an annual budget. No matter what decisions we make as a board, there will always be someone disappointed. But I love every minute of it because I love my community- and I take very seriously the responsibility entrusted to me by the community.

 

I’ve been talking about the issues facing public education for a long time, but it’s not enough to talk. I am suggesting practical solutions could be implemented now.

 

At this point, I want to make clear that the opinions I express here are mine alone- I do not speak for the Comsewogue School District, or the rest of the Board of Education. I can’t stay quiet for fear of retribution from NYSED anymore. I have been warned that a Trustee who speaks out could be removed by the State Education Commissioner. But this is too important: our schools, our children, OUR FUTURE depends on those of us who were elected to represent the best interests of our communities doing exactly that.

 

This is a particularly difficult time for public education, especially in New York. Governor Cuomo and the Board of Regents are pushing ahead with education policy in which the ends do not justify the means. There has been tremendous criticism of Governor Cuomo, and his recent decision to withhold state aid runs and extort the Legislature to pass his education reforms. Our legislators are stuck between agreeing to terrible reforms, and getting more funding for their local schools, or refusing the Governor, which would lead to a late budget and a potential loss of millions of dollars for those schools.

 

The reforms Cuomo is pushing on public schools are disingenuous, dangerous, and wrong. He is working out of the privatization handbook- attempting to dismantle unions, turn the public against educators, and make us believe our schools are absolutely awful. He uses inflammatory statistics to support his claims. In the process, our students are the ones suffering. The obsession with standardized testing has taken on a life of its’ own. It seems the federal and state government cannot think of any other way to move forward in education.

 

But they are not the ones who were elected to determine what happens within your school district. Governor Cuomo was not on the ballot last May when you voted for your local district budget and elected your Board of Education Trustees. Each of Cuomo’s education policies reflect a desire to remove local control from schools. The reason for local control is simple- those who have familiarity with a community are better situated to determine its’ strengths and weaknesses, and to know what works.

 

The needs of an urban school in a high poverty area will differ from that of a rural school upstate. Even on Long Island, schools not far from one another have very different needs. Governor Cuomo and the Board of Regents are searching for a one size fits all answer to a million different issues. They will never work for every community. In the meantime an entire generation of students are being sacrificed for testing data.

 

Case in point, Gov. Cuomo is now insisting on an investigation into the evaluation procedures (APPR) of Long Island districts, because he thinks the system is skewed to favor teachers. He is demanding NYSED look into these evaluations, because he cannot believe so many teachers were rated effective, or highly effective. Those APPR plans were negotiated (as per labor law) and submitted for approval to NYSED. So the very entity which approved the plans is now asked to investigate them. Here is the point Cuomo cannot fathom: teachers on Long Island were rated highly effective or effective in large numbers because they are effective.

 

If Long Island was a state, we would rank #1 in the nation for high school graduation rates, with 90.8% of our students receiving their diploma. In addition, Long Island would rank #1 in Intel Semifinalists and #2 in the nation in Siemens Semifinalists, behind California. Cuomo prefers to ignore these statistics because they do not fit his narrative.

 

So what is the answer? It’s not enough to complain. Name calling isn’t helping. We must propose an alternative vision for our public schools. There are several things than can and should happen now in order to stop the destruction of public schools with misguided education policy.

 

First, Governor Cuomo must separate his education reforms from his Executive Budget Proposal. If he believes strongly enough in these reforms he should be willing to let them stand alone as legislation and allow a healthy debate in the process. The Legislature would then be tasked with evaluating these reforms based on their merit, through committee hearings, and public input. Our democracy has three branches of government in order to prevent one person from having too much power. Cuomo should not be allowed to circumvent the separation of powers established in our Constitution.

 

The Legislature should ensure that new appointees to the Board of Regents have knowledge of, and experience in public education. There are four Regents whose terms are expiring, and interviews are being held now, with Legislators expected to vote in early March. The Board of Regents establishes education policies for the state, and it is imperative that they understand public education in order to fulfill these responsibilities.

 

Parents must educate themselves as to what is happening in their schools. They should ask questions, attend Board of Education meetings, local education forums, and contact their representatives. Every parent must make an educated decision regarding state testing in grades 3-8. This will be the 3rd year my children have refused to take the state exams. I believe this is the strongest weapon parents have in the fight to save public education. As the number of test refusals grows, the reforms dependent upon those numbers will falter. We will starve the testing machine.

 

School districts must respect a parent’s right to refuse testing on behalf of their child, and Boards of Education must adopt a policy to outline what accommodations will be made for students who are not taking the tests. A sit and stare policy is cruel and unacceptable.

 

Every one of us has a vested interest in public education. It’s not just cliche to say that these students are our future- it is reality. We must work together in order to move forward and find solutions to elevate public education without destroying things that are already working. I can’t sit by quietly anymore and hope that someone else will make it happen. I have a sworn duty to represent the interests of my community, and that includes speaking out against policies and people who endanger the well- being of our students and faculty.”

Sorry to bombard you with emails about the budget deal but this is a big deal. Cuomo didn’t get everything he wanted–such as more charters (he may get that later) and tax credits for private and religious schools (aka vouchers), but he seems to have won some victories in his battle to grind teachers’ faces into the ground. Anyone who knows the research on teacher evaluation knows that Cuomo’s plan for “independent evaluators” (people from outside the school who spend a few minutes observing the teachers) and tying teacher evaluations to test scores has no basis in research or experience. It is not clear what the teacher evaluation plan will look like, because the budget deal is leaving it to the bureaucrats at the State Education Department to iron out the details.

 

This is what was just reported:

 

Assembly Democrats balked at a number of the education reform measures Cuomo had pushed.

 

But as the details emerge of the agreement from a senior administration official, Cuomo does appear to have won the inclusion of some of the education proposals, albeit with changes.

 

The agreement includes a new teacher evaluation criteria that will include both state-based tests as well as principal and independent observation. School districts can opt for a second test for teacher evaluations developed by the state Department of Education, according to an administration official.

 

However, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Sunday night said the deal would vest more power in the Department of Education to set the evaluation criteria.

 

Fully fleshed out details on the evaluation criteria are expected to be included in budget bills.

 

Teacher evaluation criteria would be tied to tenure: Three out of four years a teacher must be given a rating of at least “effective” in order to receive tenure.

 

On the inverse, teachers that are deemed to be “ineffective” for two years in a row could be removed within 90 days. Teachers rated ineffective for three years in a row could be removed within 30 days.

 

School districts must implement the new evaluation criteria by November and doing so is linked to state education aid, the administration official said.

 

An administration official insisted on Sunday evening said the new evaluation criteria would need to be included in new contracts between teachers and districts, but would not be subject to collective bargaining with local units.

 

“It’s in the law,” the official said.

 

The budget includes a plan for school receivership. Schools deemed to be struggling or “failing” have a school district put forward a turn around plan to the state Department of Education, which could either approve the plan or have the school taken over by an independent monitor.

 

A city official briefed on the plan pointed some local control components for the city education chancellor.

 

The first batch of schools up for review would have to be deemed “failing” over the last 10 years, with the second batch deemed “failing” for the last three years.

 

The fight over education policy in the budget was one of the more pitched in recent years, as Cuomo tangled with the highly organized teachers unions both in the city and statewide.

 

Both the New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers accused Cuomo of strengthening charters at the expense of public education and as way of rewarding the deep-pocketed campaign contributors who also support charter networks.

 

Governor Cuomo, who did not attend public schools and whose children did not attend public schools, who has never been a teacher and who knows nothing about how to evaluate teachers, is wreaking his vengeance on the state teachers’ union for failing to endorse his re-election. It does not reflect well our society when elected officials make decisions about how to run schools, how to reform schools, how to evaluate teachers and principals, and when to close schools. There are not qualified to do so.

 

 

The Wall Street Journal reports on some details of New York’s just concluded budget deal:

 

 

The centerpiece of the budget, an ethics overhaul, will require state lawmakers to disclose sources of outside income exceeding $1,000 a year, as well as the services they perform to receive it. And it will force those who work as lawyers or in other client-based jobs to disclose the identity of their clients, with exceptions to be approved by the state ethics agency…..

 

The governor’s push to overhaul public education, partly through instituting a new teacher-evaluation system, was one of the most contentious holdups. The budget agreement puts the job of refining the teacher-evaluation process in the hands of the state education department, and ties it to teacher tenure, which will be available after four years instead of the current three.

 

A joint statement released Sunday by the governor’s office and legislative leaders noted that the deal boosted school aid by $1.4 billion—to $23.5 billion—without specifying changes that the governor said in his budget request that he would require as a condition of increasing school funding.

 

But the spending plan contains few other major policy initiatives—a consequence of the governor’s insistence on including the package of ethics overhauls.

 

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, appeared to sacrifice leverage on other agenda items when he prioritized ethics overhauls, saying he wouldn’t sign off on a budget deal that excluded that package. The bulk of it did end up in the budget.

 

But cut out of the spending plan were many other items Mr. Cuomo highlighted in his combined state-of-the-state and executive budget address this year, including raising the cap on charter schools; mayoral control of schools, which New York City Mayor Bill de Blasiohas advocated; a measure that would bar minors from being tried as adults; and a plan for an independent monitor for police-brutality cases.

 

There are two court cases challenging teacher tenure, one brought by TV journalist Campbell Brown, the other by New York parent Mona Davids. The change in tenure from three years to four years puts New York in a very different position from California, where the Vergara decision overturned a tenure period that was only 18 months long (two school years of nine months each) before teachers were eligible to receive the right to due process.

The Néw York Times says Hillary Clinton will be forced to choose between the Wall Street big donors and the teachers’ unions.

The real choice is between Wall Street money on one hand and millions of parents and teachers who are fed up with high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools, on the other.

Then it refers to the Democrats for Education Reform as a “left of center group,” even though its program is indistinguishable from that of Republican governors and it was denounced by the California Democratic Party as a front for corporate interests.

Audrey Beardsley, one of the nation’s leading experts on teacher evaluation, recently visited Néw Mexico and there found an unhappy, test-obsessed school system.

She says Néw Mexico has gone “high stakes silly.” She attributes this to state commissioner Hanna Skandera, who was deputy commissioner in Florida when Jeb Bush was governor. Hanna never taught. She believes in the Bush gospel of testing.

What’s more, teachers in NM must sign a contract promising never to disparage the tests in school or in public. Beardsley tried to make sense of the state’s VAM program but couldn’t. Then she learned that a group of rocket scientists at Los Alamos tried to understand it, and they couldn’t either.

Can you imagine the legislators of  your state inventing a new way to evaluate their profession, without inviting any members of the profession to have a say?

 

Can you imagine the legislators telling the medical profession how to evaluate doctors, but not asking the advice of any doctors?

 

Let’s not talk about lawyers, because most of them are lawyers, and they wouldn’t dream of evaluating themselves.

 

Here it is: a new plan to evaluate teachers, but no one knows what it means. Of course, the writer of the article assumes that the teachers’ union is the main opposition to legislated evaluation. They forget that parents don’t want test scores to be the most important way to judge the quality of their child, their school and their teachers. They don’t want the school to give up the arts so there is more time for test prep. They don’t want Albany telling their principal how to decide which teachers are best. Legislators don’t credit them with caring about their children.

 

Newsflash to Albany: Parents love their children more than you do.

The New York Times has a front-page story today about the widespread opposition to Governor Cuomo’s absurd teacher evaluation plan, which would base 50% of the evaluation on student test scores, 35% on the snap evaluation of an independent observer, and only 15% on the school’s principal. The story focuses on Southold, New York, whose superintendent David Gamberg (as reported this morning in the first post) sent a letter to parents explaining their right to opt out of the state testing. The story also shows that parents are opposed to the increased emphasis on high-stakes testing, which will steal time from instruction and cause many schools to drop the arts and other subjects that matter to students.

 

Unfortunately, the only research cited in the story (though not by name) is the controversial Raj Chetty study that made the astounding discovery that students with high scores are likelier to go to college and likelier to make slightly more money than those with lower scores. The story does not mention the warning by the American Statistical Association that student test scores should not be used to rate individual teachers, and that doing so might undermine the quality of education. Nor does it mention the joint statement of the National Academy of Education and the American Educational Research Association, offering a similar caution about the inaccuracy, instability, and invalidity of ratings derived from test scores.

 

Junk science is not good science, even when it is endorsed by such eminences as Arne Duncan, President Obama, Scott Walker (Governor of Wisconsin), Rick Snyder (Governor of Michigan), Rick Scott (Governor of Florida), Jeb Bush (former Governor of Florida), and Andrew Cuomo.

This letter was sent to the blog as part of a comment:

 

 

Dear Governor Cuomo,

 

I have a problem and I hope you can help. Last week, my child decided to stay up all night and binge watch Gossip Girls on Netflix instead of studying. As a result, she failed a test she had the next day. I’m struggling with exactly how to word the letter of complaint to her teacher, because clearly, this is his fault. Were he an “effective” educator, she would have made a different choice. Where did he go wrong? How can I make him understand that he needs to do a little better if he wants to keep his job?

 

The above might be funny if it weren’t so close to the absolutely appalling plan you have proposed for evaluating teachers. You can’t be serious. I have to believe you know it’s a terrible plan as well, or you wouldn’t feel like you had to hold school districts’ funding hostage in order to get it passed.

 

I am a parent, a school board member, a taxpayer, and a registered Democrat. (I’m ashamed to say I even voted for you, twice.) I’m also a product of NYC Public Schools, and even without standardized testing, the Common Core and APPR, I managed to be the first person in my family to attend college.

 

You’re missing an important part about kids in your plan: they are not widgets. You can’t standardize them. I have three children, and they’re all different. They all make different choices. I don’t care how they perform on your tests. I care that they remain intellectually curious, that they are confident problem solvers and that they spend their days with teachers who have the freedom to academically challenge them while honoring their differences. Is it possible that you and Regent Tisch really don’t see how you’re ruining that for them and for all the children of New York State? Our teachers need more freedom, not less. Our districts need more flexibility, and more funding – not less.

 

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a Q&A session with our local legislators and was asked what alternative I would propose to the APPR if I disliked it so much. Here’s my answer: LEAVE US ALONE. Our district, like many others across the state, is the best judge of our teachers, our students, and the education we provide. If you feel like you want to help, let me suggest you appropriately fund our districts and put an end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment. You might want to take a look at the real issue impacting education in this state: educational inequality. My son has 18 children in his 5th grade class. In a similar classroom less than 3 miles away, there are 32. Do something about that. Maybe then I could feel proud to have voted for you.

 

Today, I’m rating you ineffective.

 

Sincerely,

 

Elizabeth Soggs
New Hartford School Board Member, Parent, Voter and Taxpayer
New Hartford Central School District

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