Sunday, April 12, 2015


There was an extremely comical but still nauseating piece that came out on Chalkbeat NY last week noting how teachers in the so called Renewal Schools were twice as likely to receive low ratings as teachers in other schools.  Well duh. Renewal Schools are labeled that way usually because they have students who have greater needs who are more likely to fail tests.

I have news for Chalkbeat: Teachers in phasing out schools were even more likely to receive adverse ratings compared to those in Renewal Schools because we had an even greater percentage of pupils who had high needs that were basically impossible to meet.

Let's take a look at some of the almighty data from a few schools that were in their final year of phase out last year.  These schools were supposed to only have students who had the potential to graduate during the 2013-2014 school year.

According to the data from the State Education Department, Jamaica High School must have had the worst teachers on the planet as 88% of us received an annual rating of either developing or ineffective.  That is many, many times greater than the average in city schools. 

Now let's look at Beach Channel High School, another school in its final year of phase out in 2013-2014.  Their teachers had no overall composite ratings last year, according to the state, but 75% received developing or ineffective on the state testing portion. Truly shocking?

We'll go out of Queens and head to Manhattan where there were no state or local test scores for the phasing out Norman Thomas High School.  This is very interesting.  How were they exempted from the state law on evaluations? 

Examining some data at another closing school, Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn, reveals that an astounding 30% of teachers were rated ineffective overall last year. That's almost 30 times higher than the average rate for the city.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

Is a Chalkbeat feature coming?  Where are the NY Post, Daily News, NY Times or other anti-teacher publications calling for all the teachers to be immediately fired?  Where are the astro-turf school reform organizations funded by the billionaires?  Lots of teachers to bash here and plenty of meaningless data to back it up.

Before some reporter looks at this and writes another ridiculous story, let us inject some reality about how the data from closing schools illustrates some of the absurdity of the current teacher evaluation system.

The pupils we were teaching at Jamaica High School in the final year of phase out were a mix of a few honors students and regular kids combined with a high percentage of special education, English language learners, students with interrupted formal education and overage pupils who fell behind in credits.  We started the year with under 100 pupils and four and a half rooms in the huge building that we shared with four other schools.

Those kids in the last graduating class at Jamaica were wonderful and a pleasure to work with, even though we knew it was going to be next to impossible to help many of them graduate. Some pupils were programmed incorrectly because we didn't have a sufficient number of students to give them classes appropriate to their levels. These students were lost.  Many were pushed out of the school while others were compelled to sit in front of a computer to make up classes with a teacher who had students taking several different subjects in the same room. Students complained to us that they wanted real classes. 

In spite of obstacles that were thrown in front of them, most who remained all year graduated. Teachers and students did an outstanding job in spite of extremely adverse conditions. I am sure other phasing out schools had similar circumstances.

All of us in closing schools should have been exempted from the new evaluation system because we had so many high needs students and such small student populations.  Therefore, the sampling size for our ratings, including subgroups, was way too small to have any statistical significance.

One of my friends made this argument to the UFT repeatedly.  He told UFT officials we should all just receive satisfactory or unsatisfactory ratings (all of us would have been satisfactory based on observations) but the Department of Education wouldn't move. The evaluation system is truly junk science in so many ways but particularly in phasing out schools. It is no surprise that 88% of us received low ratings but it is basically meaningless.

Looking ahead, I have a not so bold prediction to make that I will try to confirm with the data in September when this year's ratings come out:

The percentage of teachers who taught last year at Jamaica High School who will receive adverse ratings will be significantly lower this year since those of us still in the system are in schools with different student populations compared to last year's final class at Jamaica. 

What will this data prove?  The Cuomo evaluation system tells a teacher a great deal about who is sitting in front of him/her and next to nothing about anyone's ability to provide instruction.

This will only exacerbate next year under Governor Cuomo and the Legislature's crazy reforms that will actually increase the weight of state test scores in teacher evaluations. Cuomo Junk Science 2.0 will be even worse.  My colleague Arthur Golstein calls it farcical.  Examine the simple chart created by Geoff Decker of Chalkbeat (the chart looks accurate unlike Chalkbeat's often biased pro-charter school reporting) to judge for yourself how ludicrous the system is.

Final ratings under a new default evaluation system will be determined by matching ratings from testing and observation subcomponents according to the matrix above.


reality-based educator said...

One thing this definitely proves is that Gotham Schools (sic) isn't a "news" outlet for education - it's a PR firm for the corporate education reform agenda (which its financial backers support.)

Anonymous said...

If I handed my high school English teacher any of the articles written by Chalkbeat's Decker I would have been removed from the class and sent into a remedial setting. Basic journalist tenants are completely ignored. He often gets his "facts" from one source and uses those facts to spin the information for that source. He uses no investigative techniques. His articles are one sided and infuriating for fair minded readers.

Anonymous said...

Tenets, not tenants.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

That is exactly the attitude that leads to low public opinion of teachers. They already think we are not the brightest bulbs around, with easy jobs and lots of vacation time.
So yes, sloppy writing should be called out, especially when the writer is being critical of someone else's sloppy writing.

Anonymous said...

Writing a comment on a blog is not the same as being a professional journalist.

Anonymous said...

Decker definitely gets an ineffective as a journalist. When I got my journalism training in college I was told to speak with people from both sides of an issue. Obviously, Decker does not do that.
We also recognized that a good way for agencies or organizations to get their views into print was to send press releases to news outlets.
The kind of one sided reporting that you get from the city papers, from WNYC and from Chalkbeat looks a lot like press releases for ed reformers or the city.
At the very least theses outlets ought to interview someone from the union. Looks like they didn't even both to get a quote from Mulgrew or an education professor.