Sunday, August 18, 2013


Last weekend progressive educator groups from all over North America met in Chicago to be part of the Coalition of Rank and File Educator's (CORE) social justice union conference. My wife Camille and I were there as part of a ten person contingent from New York's Movement of Rank and File Educators.

While I certainly do not agree with everything that was said during the three day gathering, I sat there in amazement as one of the leaders of CORE in Chicago explained how they were able to mobilize tens of thousands of teachers for last year's strike and for election as well as reelection. CORE's campaign themes and organizational ability are very impressive.

An unbelievable 90% of the Chicago teachers voted to authorize a strike and then eight months after the strike, close to 80% of the voters reelected the CORE leadership team for another three year term of office leading the Chicago Teachers Union. About 80% of the eligible people voted in this year's CTU election. Unlike New York City, I learned in Chicago that retirees do not participate in active teacher union elections throughout most of the country.

Another highlight for me in Chicago was to be able to hear CTU President Karen Lewis speak in person. She addressed a number of themes including how important it is for teachers to work with parents to safeguard public education.

Xian Barrett from CORE addresses conference; next to him is Beth Davies, President of National Union of Teachers UK and Karen Lewis, the President of the Chicago Teachers Union

If we are to win back our dignity, it will take a united labor effort nationally and locally.  If last weekend's conference pushed that momentum a little, then it truly was worth it.

A full report from the conference is here at Labor Notes.

Chicago students do a series of readings at the Heymarket Memorial

Thursday, August 08, 2013


This summer my wife and I, two New York City high school teachers, made a conscious decision that we were going to step away from the madness that is the New York City public schools to enjoy the summer before returning to school under the new evaluation system.

While away enjoying ourselves with relatives, I received an email from the Principal of Jamaica High School telling me that our School Local Measures Committee, along with many others, was scheduled for professional development on August 6 from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm at NYU.  The Department Of Education was even going to be paying teachers per session money ($41.98 per hour with an hour taken out for lunch and a break) to attend the training.

Camille and I reluctantly concluded that learning about the new system would be worthwhile for my Chapter so we came back to New York a day earlier than planned to attend the training session.

On the positive side it was great seeing two of my colleagues from Jamaica at the training and as we have a good relationship with our Principal, we were comfortable sitting and working with him.  Also, the food the DOE provided was quite edible, the view of downtown Manhattan from the 10th floor was magnificent and the power-point binder the DOE people gave us looked very professional.

The negative was everything that was presented to us about the new system to rate teachers. It is clear that the DOE people are just going through the motions and have little idea how the new procedures will work out.

I am going to try to explain some of what I learned about the new evaluation system that is now being called "Advance".  Who came up with this name?   After sitting through 7 hours of "Advance" training, I can say with some conviction that "Advance" will do nothing to advance teacher professionalism but it will produce a great deal of anxiety, high blood pressure and stomach problems for teachers, students, parents and principals. To me "Sickening" would be a more accurate name.

40% of each teacher's annual rating will be based on "Measures of Student Learning" which just means student test scores. This will be divided into 20% State Measures and 20% Local Measures.

For teachers whose courses end in a state exam such as the Regents in high schools, the grades of that teacher's individual students on the exam will be how that teacher will be judged on the 20% State Measures.

Some Regents classes could be exempt.  For example on Page 20 of Part 7 of the power-point for high schools it says, "...a teacher of 4 sections of Chemistry and 1 section of Physics would not have the Physics Regents as part of their State Measures."  However, they could use the Physics Regents as their Local Measure. What if someone has two Regents classes and three non-Regents classes? I'm not sure if they have enough Regents classes to be evaluated on State measures on the student test scores.

Since the majority of teachers do not teach classes that culminate in a state exam, principals can use the school-wide results on the state exams to rate the individual teachers for the State Measures.  The principal can also tie a teacher's rating to grade level exam results for the school or a targeted population such as the lowest third of students.  There will also be city exams that have not yet been created for principals to choose from for certain teachers.

The Local 20% can also be the same state exams (Regents for high schools) but instead of the teacher's individual students being used as the guide, the second 20% can be based on a targeted population such as the lowest third of students or the grade-wide average. It can't be the same population as the State 20%.

Alternatives such as the Advanced Placement Exams will be allowed but most students are not in AP classes at the majority of schools. Other third party exams were supposed to be developed by August 1 but, as mentioned previously, they are not ready yet.

The school based Measure of Student Learning Committee (four chosen by UFT Chapter Leader and 4 chosen by Principal) can make a recommendation that the principal can either use or not for the Local 20%.

If the committee decides, and the principal agrees, to ignore the DOE targets for student growth and makes their own goals for each student, the DOE will only give teachers credit if the students meet the target goals. If the pupils exceed the goals, then teachers do not get any credit. Teachers only receive credit for exceeding expectations if they stick with the DOE's growth model.

If the committee does nothing or the principal rejects recommendations, then there is a default measurement which will use the school's scores on the Regents or grade 4 or 8 State Math and ELA exams for the local measure of each teacher.

It would have been helpful if we could have asked questions to the presenter but she cut the first question off immediately by saying that if she took the time to answer questions then the presentation would go past 4:30 pm and we would have to extend the time.  There was not much interest in extending.  Instead, DOE facilitators were situated by each table and would answer specific individual questions for particular schools but we never heard the overall concerns.

Remember, if a teacher is ineffective on these 2 Measure of Student Learning parts of the annual review, then he/she will automatically be rated ineffective overall according to the state.

Since the test scores basically are the main priority in the annual rating, the new Danielson observations kind of becomes secondary.  Needless to say, these observations will be a burden for teachers and administrators as instead of a minimum of one observation per year for teachers on maximum pay scale or one per term for other tenured teachers in the old evaluation system, the new minimum is four observations.

One will be a full period formal with a pre and post observation conference and three will be unannounced and last at least fifteen minutes. The teacher can also choose to have at least six informal observations instead of the one formal and three informal. The administration must give some kind of feedback but can have up to 90 school days to write the observation reports.  There is no maximum number of observations.

Teachers earn 60% of the rating based on scoring points on the Danielson Framework which breaks teaching down into 4 domains with 22 total components. Even though it isn't supposed to be, Danielson is as subjective as the old observation system.

To summarize Danielson briefly, if the Principal likes or at least respects the teacher, he/she can easily find ways to give the teacher sufficient points to pass under Danielson.

At the end of the school year, all of the observation points and the test score results will somehow be added up to magically give each teacher a rating of either highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.  Two consecutive ineffective ratings will lead to a presumption of incompetence and shift the burden of proof to tenured teachers to show he/she is not incompetent in termination proceedings.

As this system is very difficult to fully comprehend (even after sitting there all day listening to the DOE presentation) or explain and is being developed as we go along, I recommend people document everything from day one and keep a computer record and paper file of everything related to "Advance".

My overall view has not changed after the professional development. The state evaluation law is clearly biased against teachers.   If the Legislature intended that a teacher rated ineffective on growth in student test scores must be rated ineffective overall, then conversely if a teacher is rated effective on the student test scores, shouldn't the teacher then be automatically rated effective overall?

If a principal or assistant principal wants to play "gottcha", it will be easy under Danielson observations and the growth the students of that particular teacher show on test score results won't save the teacher's rating. At least the test scores will be available as evidence if administration tries to fire that teacher. How much weight arbitrators will give to the test scores cannot be known now.

I realize this is a very short and incomplete report on the evaluation system which leads to many more questions than it answers but I can state with certainty that "Advance" is bad news for teachers and principals.  Basically, it is an unworkable mess that will prove nothing about teacher effectiveness.

The number one priority of the United Federation of Teachers and our state affiliate New York State United Teachers this year should be to get the State Legislature to repeal the system.  Compared to "Advance" the way we have been evaluated up to now has been highly effective.