Archives for category: Teacher Tenure

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.

Jersey Jazzman calls out journalist Jon Chait for being against political correctness except when it serves his purpose.

It seems Chait was deeply offended when I said that former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is no educational expert. Her campaign to eliminate teacher tenure won’t improve education, I dared to say. We might, as a test case, compare the academic performance of states that have tenure with states that don’t, but that involves a rudimentary knowledge of actual research.

It is highly offensive to those bashing teachers to suggest that their campaign to remove teacher tenure and to provide merit pay has no evidence behind it and is illogical. They don’t like it when you point out that VAM sounds good but doesn’t work. If they read the statement of the American Statistical Association, they would be informed, but that requires research, or if you open the link, reading.

Mercedes Schneider has some questions for Campbell Brown. Brown, who once worked for CNN, is now the face of the “reform” movement, at least the teacher-bashing wing of it. She has created an organization that filed a lawsuit opposing teacher tenure in Néw York. Her ostensible motive is to get sexual predators out of the classroom.

Schneider reviews the teachers’ contract in question and wonders whether Brown knows that it was negotiated by Joel Klein. She also wonders why Brown has been silent on the same issues regarding a certain mayor of a certain city in California.

Schneider is perplexed by Brown’s selective indignation. She cites the case of a Department of Education hire (not a member of the teachers’ union) who confessed to multiple charges of statutory rape. Brown’s silence is deafening. She quotes from Patrick Walsh, a teacher-blogger in Néw York City.

Leonie Haimson lists here the best and worst education events of 2014.

She cites the demise of inBloom as one of the best and the Vergara decision as one of the worst.

What would you add to her list?

The race for state superintendent in California cost over $26 million, far more than the governor’s race. Tom Torlakson, the incumbent, was supported by the California Teachers Association. Marshall Tuck, the charter school executive, received large sums from billionaires. The key issue between them was teacher due process rights. Torlakson appealed the Vergara decision; Tuck prouded not to do do.

The Network for Phblic Education, which endorsed Torlakson, analyzed the spending behind Tuck’s campaign.

“Heavy hitters in the “education reform” movement, namely Broad, Walton and Fisher, really stepped up to the plate for Tuck by donating millions to multiple Independent Expenditure Committees, (AKA Super PACs) as well as smaller direct contributions to Tuck’s campaign. The biggest Super PAC contributing to Tuck was the deceptively named “Parents and Teachers for Tuck for State Superintendent, 2014.” The Super PAC’s funding came from no less than a baker’s dozen of privatization focused billionaires, and assorted elites from the financial and technology sectors, with a net contribution of almost 10 million dollars.

“Parents and Teachers for Tuck also received contributions from a host of other Super PACs with names like Parents and Teachers for Putting Students First, Education Matters, EDVOICE, and Great Public Schools for Los Angeles. A closer look at these Super PACs tells us that they too are funded by essentially the same cast of characters behind Parents and Teachers for Tuck, with additional millions from the Broad, Fisher and Walton families lining the coffers of each of the Super PACs.

“But you’d be hard pressed to find a public school parent or teacher who contributed to any of the Super PACs for Tuck.”

My Review of TIME’s Cover Story on Teacher Tenure

 

 

In the past four years, TIME and Newsweek have published three cover stories that were openly hostile to teachers.

 

On December 8, 2008, TIME published a cover story featuring a photograph of Michelle Rhee, dressed in black and holding a broom, with the implication that she had arrived to sweep out the Augean stables of American education. (Detractors thought she looked like a witch.) The title on the cover was “How to Fix America’s Schools,” suggesting that Rhee knew how to fix the nation’s schools. The subtitle was “Michelle Rhee is the head of Washington, D.C., schools. Her battle against bad teachers has earned her admirers and enemies—and could transform public education.” The story inside was written by Amanda Ripley. We now know that Michelle Rhee did not transform the public schools of the District of Columbia, although she fired hundreds of teachers and principals.

 

 

Newsweek had a cover on March 5, 2010, saying “The Key to Saving American Education: We must fire bad teachers,” a phrase that was written again and again on the cover, as if on a chalkboard. The story began with the false claim that “Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world.” Simply untrue; when the first international assessments were administered in 1964, American seniors scored dead last of 12 nations and in the fifty years that followed, we never outscored the rest of the world. The Newsweek story celebrated the mass firing of high school teachers (without any evaluations) in Central Falls, Rhode Island, a calamitous event that was hailed by Secretary Arne Duncan as a bold stroke forward.

 

 

And now TIME has added another cover story to the litany of complaints against “bad teachers.” This one, dated November 3, 2014, has a cover that reads: “Rotten Apples: It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher: Some Tech Millionaires May Have Found a Way to Change That.” The cover shows a judge’s gavel about to smash an unblemished, shining apple. The story inside was written by Haley Sweetland Edwards. In addition, the magazine includes a column by Nancy Gibbs, Editor of the magazine, commenting on the story.

 

 

The underlying theme of all these covers and stories is that “bad teachers” have ruined and continue to ruin American education, harming children and the nation. They claim that unions and rigid tenure rules are protecting these terrible teachers. Get rid of the “bad teachers” and America’s test scores will fly to the top of the world. That seems to be the assumption behind Arne Duncan’s insistence that teachers must be evaluated to a significant degree by the test scores of their students. Those who get higher scores get extra money, while those with low scores may lose their tenure, lose their job, lose their license.

 

That seems just to the folks who edit Newsweek and TIME, to the tech millionaires and billionaires, but it seems very unjust to teachers, because they know that their ratings will rise or fall depending on who is in their class. Students are not randomly assigned. If teachers are teaching English-language learners or students with disabilities or even gifted students, they will see small gains; they may not see any gains, even though they are good teachers. Their ratings may fluctuate wildly from year to year. Their ratings may fluctuate because of the formula. Their ratings may fluctuate if the test is changed. To many teachers, this system is a roll of the dice that might end their career. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 89% of teachers oppose test-based evaluations of their quality. This is not because teachers object to evaluations but because they object to unfair evaluations.

 

The most recent TIME cover and story should be viewed in three pieces, because the pieces don’t fit together snugly.

 

First is the cover. Someone, my guess would be someone with more authority than the writer, approved a highly insulting cover illustration and accompanying language. Should the perfect apple (the teacher) be crushed by the judge’s gavel? Is the profession filled with “rotten apples”? Is it “nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher”? Nothing in the accompanying story demonstrates the accuracy of this allegation.

 

Then comes the story itself, written by Haley Sweetland Edwards. Edwards contacted me to ask me to read the story and judge for myself, rather than be swayed by the cover (the implication being that the cover is sensationalized and thus emotional and inaccurate, although she did not use those words). She sent me a pdf. file whose title, interestingly enough, was “shall we let millionaires change education.” Now, THAT would have been an interesting story, and the kernel of it is in Edwards’ article.

 

She writes about the battle over teacher tenure:

 
“The reform movement today is led not by grassroots activists or union leaders but by Silicon Valley business types and billionaires. It is fought not through ballot boxes or on the floors of hamstrung state legislatures but in closed-door meetings and at courthouses. And it will not be won incrementally, through painstaking compromise with multiple stakeholders, but through sweeping decisions—judicial and otherwise—made possible by the tactical application of vast personal fortunes.


“It is a reflection of our politics that no one elected these men to take on the knotty problem of fixing our public schools, but here they are anyway, fighting for what they firmly believe is in the public interest.”

 

Now, think about it. What she has written here is that a handful of extremely wealthy men work behind closed doors to usurp the democratic process. No wasting time with voting or legislative action. They use their vast personal fortunes to change a public school system that few of them have ever utilized as students or parents. True, David Welch, who is bankrolling the legal challenges, attended public schools but it is not clear in the story whether his own children ever went to public school or if he himself has set foot in one since his own school days long ago. Then follows a rather star-struck account of this multi-millionaire as he sets his sights on ending due process for public school teachers, engaging a high-priced public relations team, creating a well-funded organization with a benign name, and hiring a crack legal team. Now, he is repeating his strategy in New York and other states; he is Ahab pursuing the bad teacher. The Vergara decision is presented as a culminating victory, where everyone hugs and kisses at the outcome, even though not a single plaintiff was able to identify a “bad teacher” who had actually caused her any harm.

 

 

The story fails to note that Judge Treu, in his Vergara decision, cited a witness for the defense, education scholar David Berliner, who guessed that maybe 1-3% of teachers might be incompetent; when the judge jumped on that number as a “fact” in his decision, Berliner retracted it and said he had not conducted any study of teacher competence in California and it was a “guesstimate” at best. Too late. Berliner’s guesstimate became Judge Treu’s “proof” that the bottom 1-3% should be fired before they do more harm.

 

Up to this point in the story, David Welch and his fellow millionaire/billionaire reformers are treated heroically. But then comes Edwards’ ending, where she concludes with almost two full columns undercutting value-added assessment and the very idea that tests of students can accurately gauge teacher effectiveness.

 

Edwards writes about how No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have led most states to create teacher evaluation systems tied to test scores that determine tenure, layoff decisions, and bonuses. She writes: “This two-decade trend has not, of course, been free of controversy. But what began with protests over ‘high-stakes testing’ and cheating scandals in various public-school districts [my note: including Michelle Rhee’s] in the mid-2000s has morphed in the past six months into an outright mutiny, driven in large part by the controversial rollout of Common Core State Standards, which are linked to new state curriculums, more-difficult tests and new teacher evaluations.” She points out that teachers have filed lawsuits in several states. “Many argued that policies focusing on cold, statistical measures fail to take into account the messy, chaotic reality of teaching in communities where kids must content with poverty and violence.”

 

Edwards then goes on to cite the numerous studies challenging the validity of value-added assessment. She mentions the American Statistical Association’s report on VAM, a review by the American Educational Research Association, even a study published by the U.S. Department of Education finding that “VAM scores varied wildly depending on what time of day tests were administered or whether the kids were distracted.” Had she started the story with this summary, it would have been a very different story indeed. It would have shown that the millionaires and billionaires have no idea how to judge teacher effectiveness and are introducing chaos into the lives of teachers who are doing a hard job for less than the millionaires pay their secretaries.

 

Edwards wrote, I am guessing, a good story about the invalidity of VAMs and the insistence of the tech millionaires/billionaires that they know more about education than teachers and that they are ready to deploy millions to force their views on a public education system about which they are uninformed. For them, it is a power trip, not reform. Again my guess is that her editor rewrote the story to make the millionaires look heroic, because what they are doing is not heroic. Anyone who has any regular contact with public schools expects it will be harder to recruit good teachers as a result of the Vergara decision. But the millionaires don’t know that.

 

 

The third part of the TIME story is the four-paragraph column by Nancy Gibbs, Editor of TIME. She calls it “Honor Thy Teacher,” an ironic title for her piece and for the cover illustration, which Dishonors All Teachers. Gibbs begins by thanking three teachers– Mrs. Flanagan, Miss Raymond, and Mr. Schwartz–who “seeded” her imagination and shaped her character. But she then goes on to say that “one Texas study found that cutting class size by 10 students was not as beneficial as even modest improvement in the teacher.” That is bizarre. I wish she had identified the study or its author. I don’t know of any teacher, even the best, who would not prefer to teach smaller classes; I don’t know of any teacher who thinks he or she can do their best when they have 35 or 45 children in the class. Gibbs then goes on to reiterate the familiar claim that other countries draw their teachers from the top third of graduates while the U.S. draws almost half of its teachers from the bottom third. Again, I would like to see her citation for that datum. Perhaps the three teachers she thanked at the outset—Mrs. Flanagan, Miss Raymond, and Mr. Schwartz—were drawn from the bottom third.

 

Does Nancy Gibbs know that between 40-50% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years (perhaps those in the bottom third)? Does she know that education programs are shrinking because young people no longer see teaching as a desirable career, given the contempt that people like Gibbs and legislators in states like North Carolina and Indiana and millionaires like David Welch heap on teachers? Does she know that teachers in California must acquire a liberal arts degree before they can enter education programs? Does she know that many experienced teachers are leaving the profession because of the highly public attacks on teachers by people like Arne Duncan, David Welch, and Michelle Rhee? Which side is she on? Does she side with Mrs. Flanagan, Miss Raymond, and Mr. Schwartz, or with the tech millionaires and billionaires who want to reduce them to data points and fire them? Has the thought occurred that the tech millionaires want to replace teachers with computers? It makes sense to them. The rest of us would like to see greater support for teachers, greater emphasis on recruitment and retention of those who have the responsibility for instructing the nation’s children.

Nancy Flanagan, a teacher with more than 3 decades of experience, a National Board CertifiedTeacher, says that tenure does not make it impossible to fire bad teachers. She knows. She has seen it. She says the cover of TIME was far worse than the article (true).

What good is tenure? It creates a fair process for decisions about termination.

She writes:

“As a long-time classroom practitioner–going back to the early 70s–I would say that this recent tidal wave of entrepreneurial experimentation with the purposes and structures of public education is the single most dangerous issue facing American families with children. When deep-pockets venture capitalists start thinking they can run an essential public service more “efficiently,” look out.

“Here’s the funny thing. Teacher tenure has never really been a fortress that protects incompetent hacks and abusers. It has functioned as a set of rules by which undesirable teachers could be–fairly–jettisoned, then have the decision to release that teacher stand. It gave teachers a reasonable period of time to establish their long-term worth (with the option to open the trap door quickly, in the early stages, for egregiously inept or shady folks). It also gave administrators and school boards a defined set of reasons why a teacher might reasonably be let go, after the district committed to hiring him.

“How do I know that it’s not “nearly impossible” to fire bad teachers? Because my medium-sized, semi-rural district did so, repeatedly, during the 30 years I worked there. The tenure system worked there, long before state-mandated, data-driven, high-tech teacher evaluation models were established–when we were using what everyone now describes as meaningless checklists. It worked when the probationary period, set by the state, was two years but it worked even better when that probationary period was bumped to four years–more time to evaluate a new teacher’s worth as a classroom practitioner, and make a good decision for the long term.”

She adds, in this thoughtful article:

“”Unions protect bad teachers” is a false meme. Unions also protect good teachers. Unions protect students from tech millionaires and venture capitalists, and having their personal worth, and that of their teachers, evaluated by test data.”

The TIME article ends by citing a growing number of studies that show how flawed test-based evaluation of teachers is.

We all need protection from the whims of tech billionaires, who are using their wealth to control our public institutions, even the electoral process. Our best line of defense: get out and vote.

This is the worst constitutional amendment to appear on any state ballot in 2014.

missouriballotissue

It ties teacher evaluation to student test scores. It bans collective bargaining about teacher evaluation. It requires teachers to be dismissed, retained, promoted, demoted, and paid based primarily on the test scores of their students. It requires teachers to enter into contracts of three years or less, thus eliminating seniority and tenure.

This is VAM with a vengeance.

This ballot resolution is the work of the far-right Show-Me Institute, funded by the multi-millionaire Rex Sinquefeld.

He is a major contributor to politics in Missouri and to ALEC.

The Center for Media and Democracy writes about him:

“Sinquefield is doing to Missouri what the Koch Brothers are doing to the entire country. For the Koch Brothers and Sinquefield, a lot of the action these days is not at the national but at the state level.

“By examining what Sinquefield is up to in Missouri, you get a sobering glimpse of how the wealthiest conservatives are conducting a low-profile campaign to destroy civil society.

“Sinquefield told The Wall Street Journal in 2012 that his two main interests are “rolling back taxes” and “rescuing education from teachers’ unions.”

“His anti-tax, anti-labor, and anti-public education views are common fare on the right. But what sets Sinquefield apart is the systematic way he has used his millions to try to push his private agenda down the throats of the citizens of Missouri.”

Steven Singer, teacher, was outraged by the cover of TIME that said it’s nearly impossible to fire bad teachers but tech millionaires have figured it out.

He writes:

“It is IMPOSSIBLE to fire a bad teacher.

“Unless of course you document how that teacher is bad.

“You know? Due process. Rights. All that liberal bullshit.

“Thank goodness we have tech millionaires to stand up for the rights of totalitarians everywhere!

“A slew of Microsoft wannabes is taking up the mantle of the bored rich to once again attack teacher tenure.

“They claim it’s almost impossible to fire bad teachers because of worker’s rights.

“You know who actually is impossible to fire!? Self-appointed policy experts!

“No one hired them to govern our public schools. In fact, they have zero background in education. But they have oodles of cash and insufferable ennui. Somehow that makes them experts!

“I wonder why no one wants to hear my pet theories on how we should organize computer systems and pay programmers. Somehow the change in my pocket doesn’t qualify me to make policy at IBM, Apple or Microsoft. Strange!”

And be sure to read the imaginary editorial meeting where they decided to let know nothing millionaires tell schools how to do their job.

The leaders of the BATs sent the following letter to TIME magazine in response to the magazine’s insulting cover story about American teachers:

They wrote:

As delegates of an organization that represents the collective voices of 53,000 teachers, we take issue with the cover selected for the November 3 edition of Time. We believe that the image is journalistically irresponsible because it unfairly paints teachers and teacher tenure in a negative light.

The gavel as a symbol of corporate education, smashing the apple – the universal symbol of education – reinforces a text applauding yet another requested deathblow to teacher tenure. Instead of clarity, this continues the misconception that tenure ensures a job for life. It does not. It ensures “just cause” rationale before teachers can be fired.

In addition, the cover perpetuates the pernicious myth of the “bad” teacher and tenure as the prime enablers of larger failures in American education. This is a false narrative. These failures are due to structural inequalities and chronic underfunding in our educational systems, not due to teachers and teacher tenure.

The cover feeds this narrative with the misleading statement, “It is nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.” A few months ago talk show host Whoopi Goldberg made similar statements suffering under the same basic misunderstanding of teacher tenure as something akin to what college professors enjoy rather than a simple guarantee of procedural due process which is its function in K-12 education.

Nevertheless, opponents of teacher tenure have consistently invoked the “bad teacher” argument as pretext to attack not only teachers but also teacher unions, arguing that they place the needs of students second to the protection of underperforming teachers.
In fact, teacher tenure has served as an important protection to allow teachers to advocate for students— especially with regard to maintaining manageable class sizes, safe instructional spaces, the needs of students who are English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities.

Given the massive increase in student enrollments, one of the greatest shortfalls is in the number of teachers themselves. A simple accounting of all the teaching positions lost in the great recessions reveals that the nation would need 377,000 more teachers in the classroom just to keep pace not to mention combat the shameful shortage of teachers of color.

In its haste to disparage teachers, the cover inadvertently tells a larger truth. The instrument used to destroy teacher tenure is wielded against the entire profession. It seeks to obliterate due process for all teachers rather than to ensure its proper use.

More significantly, the cover uncritically situates the tech millionaires as saviors without revealing their own self-interest in the tenure fight, the creation of a nation of corporate-run franchise schools taught by untrained teachers and measured by high stakes test developed and administered by those same millionaires.

In an age where transparency in politics and journalism is sorely needed, we regret Time’s decision to proceed with a cover so clearly at odds with the truth.

The Badass Teachers Association
(Created by BAT Administrators and edited by Marla Kilfoyle, Melissa Tomlinson, Steven Singer, and Dr. Yohuru Williams)

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