Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

The purpose of testing is for students and teachers to learn about students’ strengths and weaknesses. Teachers can look at student performance and learn what they taught well and what they didn’t teach well.

When states, in collaboration with testing companies, keep tests confidential, reeves long nothing to students and teachers but test scores, they vitiate the value of the test. It’s akin to going to your doctor for a checkup and learning nothing but a score, with no context or interpretation of what you should do now.

A reader from Pennsylvania writes:

“What’s worse are the Pennsylvania Keystone Exams. They have not published a single question from any exam given nor any questions from the Classroom Diagnostic tests, practice tests for the Keystone. Instead they have only published a few sample questions some of which are poorly written. When asked about this, an official said that the sample questions were reject questions that would never be used on the exams. Basically students and teachers are being kept in the dark about these high stakes exams which will be used to determine if a student can graduate or not, how a school district is rated and how a teacher is evaluated.”

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.”

Peter Greene sees signs that educators are fed up with the top-down mandates from non-educator Arne Duncan, fed up with the failed punitive policies of NCLB and Race to the Top. Now we know that Washington cares about one thing only: test scores, and now we know that the beneficiaries of Washington’s obsession are the testing companies. We have now had nearly 15 years of test-based incentives and sanctions and ample evidence that this approach has driven joy out of learning and failed to achieve anything that benefits students or society.

As the school year begins, let’s hope that there will be more states following Vermont’s lead by rejecting federal mandates and setting forth their own vision of what good education looks like. Let’s hope that there will be more teachers like those in Chicago and at Garfield High in Seattle who insist on doing what’s right for their students. Let’s hope that there will be more superintendents like those in Washington State who were compelled by NCLB to send home a letter saying “we are a failing school,” but added a cover letter saying that it was not true. Let’s hope that integrity, courage, and candor break out everywhere.

Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Schools in California, issued a statement today declaring his decision to seek appellate review of the Vergara decision. Torlakson is a veteran educator. His opponent Marshall Tuck immediately attacked Torlakson. Tuck, a former investment banker, was active in the charter school movement. Tenure is not the only or the most important issue that divides them. Tuck’s penchant for privatization would undermine public education across the state.

I know Tom Torlakson well. He is humble, knowledgeable, and understands schooling. I hope the voters of California are wise enough to re-elect him.

Tom Torlakson said today:

Friends,

Earlier today I issued a statement regarding my decision to seek appellate review of the Vergara case, which has drawn considerable public attention in recent weeks.

Here is the complete text of my public statement:

“The people who dedicate their lives to the teaching profession deserve our admiration and support. Instead, this ruling lays the failings of our education system at their feet.

“We do not fault doctors when the emergency room is full. We do not criticize the firefighter whose supply of water runs dry. Yet while we crowd our classrooms and fail to properly equip them with adequate resources, those who filed and support this case shamelessly seek to blame teachers who step forward every day to make a difference for our children.

“No teacher is perfect. A very few are not worthy of the job. School districts have always had the power to dismiss those who do not measure up, and this year I helped pass a new law that streamlined the dismissal process, while protecting the rights of both teachers and students. It is disappointing that the Court refused to even consider this important reform.

“In a cruel irony, this final ruling comes as many California teachers spend countless unpaid hours preparing to start the new school year in hopes of better serving the very students this case purportedly seeks to help.

“While the statutes in this case are not under my jurisdiction as state Superintendent, it is clear that the Court’s ruling is not supported by the facts or the law. Its vagueness provides no guidance about how the Legislature could successfully alter the challenged statutes to satisfy the Court. Accordingly, I will ask the Attorney General to seek appellate review.”

Best regards,

Tom

Paul Horton here attempts to understand why the Obama administration is waging war on teachers. He reminds us of Central Falls, when the Obama administration supported firing the entire staff of the high school. He remembers when the administration was neutral during the Chicago teachers’ strike, and Arne Duncan’s support for the noxious Vergara decision. He could have mentioned many other instances of the administration’s hostility to teachers, such as Duncan’s support for the L.A. Times story releasing the names and ratings of teachers. Or the administration’s silence during the large demonstrations against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, or its silence as vouchers spread.

He writes:

“In sum, the war on teachers and due process for teachers is presented by many Democrats as a new war on poverty, and, somewhat obscenely, “the Civil Rights Movement of our time.” Last year Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington D.C. Schools, made speeches at southern civil rights museums that proclaimed that supporting charter schools and making teachers accountable was the key to creating a more equitable America. Closing the achievement gap and not the excuse of poverty was the new focus of the new Civil Rights movement. The National Civil Rights Museum—Lorraine Motel in Memphis recently recognized Geoffery Canada, a Harlem charter school operator and the star of the anti-pubic school documentary, “Waiting for Superman” as a “Civil Rights Hero.”

It was cheaper to wage war on teachers than to wage war on poverty. But that leaves so much unexplained. Why did President Obama embrace the Republican agenda of testing, accountability, and choice? Why did President Obama turn against one of the most reliable members of his party’s base? Horton doesn’t explain.

Chris Roberts, a new teacher in Ohio, was attracted to the message of StudentsFirst. He was impressed by what he read and by “Waiting for Superman.” He joined and was invited to apply for their Teachers for Transformation Academy. He was offered a stipend of $5,000 to be StudentsFirst Teacher for Transformation Fellow in Ohio. But in his fourth year of teaching, he had an epiphany. He realized that StudentsFirst was wrong about everything that mattered to him as a teacher. He turned down their offer and the $5,000. And he wrote an eloquent letter to explain why.

This is a small part of a powerful letter:

“Now after four years in the classroom, my view of education has changed. Now, I am not so convinced that the StudentsFirst agenda is what is best for students. Those “older teachers” whom I felt didn’t deserve the seniority protections were actually some of the most helpful people I’ve ever come across. Their years of experience meant they had a wealth of classroom management advice to share. They weren’t stubborn curmudgeons as portrayed by those trying to “reform” education. They are some of the most caring, loving people I’ve known. Are there a couple of bad eggs every once in a while? Yes. But that is the case in any profession. You occasionally will find a bad doctor, hence malpractice suits. But instead of “reforming” the medical field and basing doctors’ evaluations on patients’ health, politicians instead push for tort reform to make it harder to sue doctors. I guess you could say that Republicans are pushing to protect bad doctors. One of the problems that I see with eliminating seniority protections boils down to money. Schools are strapped for money, it is nearly impossible to pass a levy and the state seems content with defunding. The more experienced teachers tend to be the most “expensive”. Despite their ratings and evaluations, I could see many schools getting rid of those teachers not because they perform poorly, but because it would be cheaper to bring in a new hire. Students could suffer from this.

“As a parent, I have a problem with the evaluation systems being pushed by StudentsFirst and other corporate-driven reformers. With teachers’ evaluations being based on progress on student test scores, that means students must be tested to an extent never seen before. In every single class, multiple times a year, students are taking more standardized tests. My six-year old daughter told me this summer that she was afraid to go to first grade “because of the tests”. She is afraid she won’t do well on them. That is pathetic. Children should be excited to go to school and learn, but school has become more about tests rather than learning. School is about getting a certain score on a certain test. Education policies are killing children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn. I can’t help but wonder if this is intentional. Are there certain people out there who want to destroy public schools through excessive testing, defunding, and unfunded mandates in order to make people “want” privatization of schools? It sometimes seems like it. Whether intentional or not, unfortunately StudentsFirst’s agenda aligns with this style of reform that we have been seeing take over the public education conversation. Although I believe in free market capitalism, I see that in the case of education the more private corporations get involved in education, the worse our schools get. There are large corporations making these tests, the politicians force these tests upon our schools, and the test companies also make the textbooks and curricula for the schools to follow. It is a terrible marriage of big business and big government and children are the ones taking a hit. Teachers are becoming scripted robots and these corporations are making billions from our tax dollars, which could instead be going towards improving our schools. I, for one, do not want my children subjected to so much testing.”

A reader directed me to a website where people rate their work experience and their employer. Former and present teachers at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy posted devastating critiques of their experiences. SA must have gotten wind of what was happening on this website, because as you will note, the reviews suddenly turned from bleakly negative to enthusiastically positive, echoing the reformers’ talking points.

A recent article in City Limits said that Eva’s Harlem Success Academy charter schools had consistently high rates of teacher turnover, higherthan the public schools or most other charter schools. HSA denied it, although the writer was using state data. There was much speculation in the article about why teachers quit her schools at such a high rate. Read the reviews.

Judge for yourself. What do you think?

Helen Zelon of “City Limits” wonders why teacher turnover is so high in nyc charter schools.

She writes:

“According to data from the New York State Department of Education, charter schools in New York City lose far more teachers every year than their traditional school counterparts. In some schools, more than half of faculty “turn over” from one school year to the next, according to NYSED school report cards.

“Charter advocates at the New York City Charter School Center and at Success Academies, the city’s largest charter network, say that at least some of the turnover is due to movement within school networks—teachers moving up the leadership ladder, for example, or to seed the faculty of new schools, which have opened at a rapid clip in recent years.

“But even so, it’s hard to explain a churn of more than half the veteran faculty, which is the case at 15 percent of charter schools for which the state reports data….”

“The situation is not much better for veteran teachers, who are often the minority in charter schools: Of the 70 schools, 10 lost more than half of their veteran faculty in the ’11-’12 academic year; 24 schools saw more than 40 percent of experienced teachers exit.”

Zelon adds:

“Near the top of the turnover chart is the Success Academies system led by former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. With 22 schools and 10 new schools opening in August 2014, it is the city’s largest charter chain.

In Harlem Success Academies 1-4, the only schools for which the state posted turnover data, more than half of all teachers left the schools ahead of the 2013-14 school year. In one school, three out of four teachers departed.”

Spokespersons for HSA said the data were wrong.

Why is attrition so high? Long working hours; teacher burnout; TFA who made a two-year commitment and never intended to stay longer.

After David Greene, veteran teacher and mentor, read the review of Elizabeth Green’s new book (“Building a Better Teacher”)y esterday, he asked me to publish this excerpt from his new book, “Doing the Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks.” Here it is. It won’t get the publicity that Elizabeth Green’s book will get. But it is backed up by many years in the classroom.

It begins like this:

“Who remembers their favorite test from school? You know, the one that inspired you to become who you are now, or saved you from the wrong part of yourself? Who remembers the test that made you want to come out of your shell? Which test gave you the courage to try new things and challenge yourself? For me, it was the 1966 Regents Comprehensive Examination in Social Studies.

“Ok, only kidding. We all know that it is teachers who inspire and challenge us to be our best. It isn’t testing, or much of what is now being called teaching. We also know which teachers did that. We might remember some incidents in their classes, or things they said or wrote to us. Do we remember the everyday things? The attitude they brought to the room? Their techniques?

“When I see former students (from the Bronx to Scarsdale), they don’t tell me about the Goals or Aim or Motivation from October 23rd, 2002. They will tell me about my energy, my excitement, my caring, and my prodding them to do their best, not to settle for mediocrity. They tell me about a particular project that inspired or challenged them to think critically, or do things they never thought they could. They even remember what they learned while doing those things. What they don’t know is how all of that was planned.”

Elizabeth Green, one of our leading education journalists, has just published a book titled “Building a Better Teacher.”

In this thoughtful post, Andrea Gabor points out the strengths and weaknesses of Green’s book. Gabor believes that Green makes a strong case for those who are doing a god job of teaching teachers.

Gabor writes:

“I picked up Elizabeth Green’s new book, Building a Better Teacher, with great anticipation. By the time I finished reading the nicely written, highly detailed descriptions of some of the latest efforts to improve teaching, I was alternatively gratified, intrigued and more-than-a-little frustrated.

“Let’s start with why I was gratified: Her book argues that good teaching can and must-be taught. This would seem to be mere common sense. But what Green calls the “black box” of teaching has been long neglected not only by university based schools of education, but also by education-policy makers.

“Green’s narrative seeks to debunk the notion that the secret to improving U.S. education is to place a superstar teacher in every classroom. She argues, instead, what many education reformers would consider heresy: That improving education is about teaching teachers, including ordinary ones, how to improve. Being a good teacher, Green painstakingly shows us, is extraordinarily difficult. And teaching someone to become a good teacher is even more difficult. Writes Green: “By misunderstanding how teaching works, we misunderstand what it will take to make it better—ensuring that, far too often, teaching doesn’t work at all.”

“Green argues that by making accountability (via test scores) and autonomy (the notion that teachers are professionals who should be treated accordingly) the two dominant theories of teacher improvement, policymakers and pundits “have left us with no real plan. Autonomy lets teachers succeed or fail on their own terms with little guidance. Accountability tells them only whether they have succeeded, not what to do to improve. Instead of helping, both prescriptions preserve a long-standing culture of abandonment.”

Further:

“Green’s subject is hugely important. But to make her argument she must navigate the minefield of the highly politicized education-reform movement. And, at times, she seems to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid offending education reformers who have made accountability—not improvement of either teachers or pedagogical methods—the centerpiece of both private education-reform efforts and the nation’s education policy.”

Gabor was disappointed by Green’s deference to the “reformers,” especially those who think that young people can become effective teachers with only five weeks training. Gabor is also uncomfortable with Green’s lengthy treatment of Doug Lemov, “the managing director of Uncommon Schools, a charter chain, and author of best-selling books that have become the gospel of the no-excuses behavioralist approach embraced by most charter schools. This approach holds that what disadvantaged kids need more than anything is strict discipline, even if it sometimes verges on being ‘punishing, even cruel.'”

Gabor clearly admires Green’s appreciation for the study and practice of teaching. She especially enjoyed what Green learned about Japanese teaching. Japanese educators borrowed American ideas–starting with John Dewey–that Americans had forgotten or ignored. The same things happened in business, Gabor notes, where the Japanese learned from the work of W. Edwards Deming, but his own countrymen did not. Deming had many great insights, one of which was that the system created the conditions in which individuals can succeed or fail. Thus, accountability begins at the top, not the bottom.

Green is CEO of an education journal called “Chalkbeat.” Gabor implies, though she doesn’t say so outright, that Green must walk a fine line between reporting what she knows and not offending her funders, who include the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Although she doesn’t like test-based accountability, she can’t bring herself to criticize Eric Hanushek, who is the father of the test-based accountability movement. Also, she writes admiringly about the charter movement and its devotion to improving the craft of teaching even though charters are known for high rates of teacher attrition.

I know and like Elizabeth Green. She is a talented journalist and a gifted writer. And yes, she does have a dilemma, one which is shared by many media outlets. The survival of independent journalism is now dependent on foundations that have an agenda. Can independent journalism exist if it must be funded by those with an agenda? Unless this situation changes, good writing in America will become–if it isn’t already–samizdat.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 109,214 other followers