Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In Case You Misunderstood Their Power for Something Lesser

In case you misunderstood the power of the educational corporate reform movement for something lesser, New York City's recent inability to come to a decision over teacher evaluation will provide the appropriate lesson.

Over the holiday break, New York City Public Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and UFT (the teachers union in NYC) President Michael Mulgrew came to an impasse over a decision on how teachers should be evaluated and how U-rated teachers should be removed (more on that ridiculous process here) when Walcott walked out of negotiations on Friday.

This could (and probably will) cause New York City to miss out on as much as $78 million in federal money designed to aid districts that embrace the federal government's preferred educational reforms.

Walcott wrote a strongly worded op-ed in the New York Post (a newspaper vehemently anti-teacher unions owned by Rupert Murdoch) blaming Mulgrew and the UFT for refusing a "meaningful system for evaluating teachers." Walcott did not go on to clarify what his definition of "meaningful" is. He did say that "the UFT has become so opposed to accountability" that it has failed its basic functions, and that its primary objective is to protect bad teachers.

Mulgrew appeared in a poorly prepared interview on NY1's Inside City Hall during which journalist Errol Louis asked a number of questions that didn't really seem all that coherent when put together. Mulgrew responses were light on substance and failed to articulately explain good reasons for pushing back against the city's preferred evaluation plan. (I emailed Mr Louis to see if he would like to learn more about the pitfalls of standardized testing since his last question so obviously betrayed his ignorance. Perhaps you would like to do the same: errol.louis@ny1news.com.) Something similar happened on the John Gambling show. Although Gambling (who has real qualms with the UFT) had better questions, Mulgrew again failed to convince the listener of his position. The UFT is not exactly portrayed kindly by the media.

Corporate reform in New York City has forced teachers into a corner. They can either accept poorly designed evaluation methods designed to fire teachers rather than support them, OR they can be portrayed as the villains who blocked desperately needed federal aid (in the amount of $60 million) slated for the budgets of extraordinarily poorly performing schools.

So.....the question IS:

Would you, A, rather be fired for failing to write your objective in the required SMART language in the administratively approved white-board box? OR, B, Would you prefer to deny poor and minority children in failing schools more support from more teachers and better materials?

If you misunderstood corporate reform's power for something lesser, I bid you good morning. In my view, corporate reform is in the process of wiping the floor with teachers and their unions in district after district, and state after state. They have more money; they have more time; they have more powerful people; and they have better tactics. While the people who work around education on a daily basis attempt to solve the problems in their schools or districts, corporate reform is figuring out what talking points will be most effective in Newsweek and what political plays will destroy the power of teachers and their unions. Those of us doing meaningful work and understand the potentially devastating effects of corporate reform's solutions (BECAUSE WE HAVE REAL EXPERIENCE IN SCHOOLS) are, in a very real way, too exhausted to mount an effective defense after having dealt with real problems all day long.

In 1986, NYC Mayor Ed Koch appropriately noted that "New York is the city where the future comes to rehearse." It's going to be a long, long fight.

6 comments:

  1. Amen! It's going to take a massive uprising, and it's difficult enough to convince the teachers in my building to fight for anything. Too many teachers still want to keep their heads buried in the sand and pretend that "this too shall pass." We have to find a way to control the message or we will reap the consequences of inaction.

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  2. It's extremely difficult to convince my teacher friends to become more informed and rise up against these corporate reforms. Not that they necessarily don't think it's important, but they are already overloaded with the daily demands of urban teaching and their own families. The fear of retaliation is real for them.

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  3. James: Good post. It's important to educate people about the massive spin-job that the education reformers (and I use that term loosely) are conducting. Keep up the posts!

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  4. Confused in MissouriJanuary 22, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    The NYC evaluation reforms are/will be based on the DC model, correct? I am a teacher in the Midwest moving to DC next year and trying to find a teaching job. Without sounding like an idiot, I guess I'd like to know what the motivation is behind this type of reform. Why can't something like the following work for evaluating teachers?

    My current district just rolled out a new evaluation system that seems to make a lot of sense. We have a rubric with five domains of criteria for effective teaching. The rubric is very specific, and all feedback from observations is tied directly to it. So far I have found it very helpful, especially as a first-year teacher. The district wants us to score in the "effective" category but also celebrates "developing" scores because they help us focus our professional growth. While student success is a concern for the district, teacher evaluation is not tied to test scores. I guess they simply trust that teachers who are scoring "effective" and "highly effective" on the evaluation rubric will be able to produce adequate results. Consequently, evaluation is not a stressful endeavor for teachers in my district. It actually fosters productive discussions between teachers and administrators about how to improve teaching practice, which translates into higher student achievement.

    So what am I missing here? Why do the ed-reform big wigs obsess over test scores? Other kinds of data exist that are more valid and less divisive. Why has this approach gained so much support from government and corporate reformers? I seriously don't get it.

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  5. Confused: I understand your confusion. I think it stems from inexperience with the Billionaire's foundations, namely Broad, Gates, Walton, and a few others... These are the free-market ideologues who have been increasingly influencing education policy, particularly in large, high-profile urban districts. They have no experience in education and a team of economists telling them that good teachers can make big gains in student test scores, which they see as synonymous with student achievement. Districts like DCPS are run by people who generally believe that unions are bad, test scores are the only thing we should care about, and teachers are unskilled, disposable labor.

    Of course, my interpretation is a bit of an exaggeration. Not everyone in DCPS is like this, and, of course, nobody would admit to it. But their actions speak louder than their words. DCPS is a place for educational opportunists, not the experienced and reflective educator who thinks critically about improving schools.

    See the post below for more of my thoughts on educational opportunists:

    http://www.anurbanteacherseducation.com/2011/02/youre-quitter-and-you-suck-at.html

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  6. Another nice post.......thanks for sharing.

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