Arthur Goldstein has taught ESL students in New York City for decades, and he has one of the best blogs in the city, state, and nation, written from the view of a teacher.

In this post, he lacerates the administration of the New York City Department of Education for a grading policy that further diminishes the discretion of teachers to make judgments about what their students need and how they are progressing. I can’t help but think about the paradigm of all national systems, where teachers are carefully selected, well prepared, treated as masters of their profession, and trusted to do what’s best for their students.

The new NYC rule, Arthur says, is “you will differentiate instruction the same way for everyone.”

He writes:

“That seems to be the main thrust of the new grading policy. A big thing, for me at least, is the policy on what is and is not acceptable for participation. I had been doing precisely the thing that the DOE seems to loath—granting a participation grade at the end of each marking period. I essentially gave a positive grade for students who raised their hands and were active all the time, a negative grade for those who spent most of the time sleeping, and various degrees in between for others.

“Now here’s the thing—DOE gives an example that you give credit each day when a student brings a pencil and notebook. That is, of course, measurable. It’s also idiotic, as it’s a preposterously low standard. I think the reason they gave that example was because it was very easy for them to think of. And thus, we part ways. I actually think about grades a lot. To me, bringing a pencil is only a marginal step above breathing.

“But they don’t need to think about it. They just need to sit in air-conditioned offices and tell us what to do. Why bother considering the real lives of lowly teachers, let alone the students they ostensibly serve? Treat everyone the same.

“So if someone places a student in my class, tells me she has a 70 IQ, and the girl looks appears so fragile that if you touched her she would break, well, rules are rules. If she doesn’t participate each and every day, screw her, she gets zero. If one of my students is from a country where they have classes of 50, if she’s been taught all her life to sit down and shut up, if she’s so painfully shy that she actually trembles when you ask her a question, give her a zero. Everything is black and white in the ivory towers of the DOE.

“Your opinion cannot be quantified. Let’s say you teach strings. Let’s say one of your students comes in and plays a beautiful piece, with perfect vibrato. She makes you feel as though you have reached nirvana. I come in and scratch out something that sounds like I’m strangling a cat.

“But we’ve both brought in our violins and cases, and how the hell are you gonna prove she plays better than me? Is it on the rubric? And who’s to say I didn’t find my own piece to be breathtakingly beautiful? Who the hell are you to judge me without a rubric? And if you do have one, and you tell me how badly I played, maybe I’ll just report your ass under Chancellor’s Regulation A-421, verbal abuse. You made me feel bad. So screw you too.

“After all, the supervisors are using rubrics. They come in with that Danielson thing and check boxes. These boxes contain the evidence. Plus they have notes. So who cares if the notes came from the voices in their heads and nothing they say actually happened? I’ve seen supervisors outright make stuff up.”