Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Next Great Compromise

You can see it coming, can't you? The DOE has agreed to put off releasing the Teacher Data Reports until next month, when the case goes to court. BloomKlein has a history of doing whatever the hell they want, the law be damned (witness Bloomberg's shameless theft of a third term as mayor and his current assertion that the term limit extension should only apply to him). So why didn't they release the TDRs before the union had a chance to sue?

If you buy the argument by my fellow blogger Norm that the UFT is in league with the city, the answer is simple. The threatened release of the reports was just a head fake. If you recall, the city signed an agreement with the UFT saying that they would not disclose TDR information to the public. As such, they would most likely lose in court. At that point, the data would be sealed forever. What to do?

The city doesn't want to come off looking like the bad guys. They need the UFT to support them in releasing this data. So sometime between now and the court date in November, look for the DOE and the UFT to come to some sort of new "agreement". It will probably entail releasing the data some time down the road, perhaps in 2011 when the new evaluations are set to take place. The UFT will agree to release the TDR data as part of some "teacher report card" that includes the TDRs, plus evaluation data, etc. The UFT will claim that this system is fairer because it will give a "big picture" view of a teacher's performance rather than just the narrow TDR view.

By doing this, the UFT can continue to look like a friend of reform while still claiming to be protecting teachers. They'll be able to claim victory even as the reports come out.

Don't think this can happen? Think back to the many things the UFT has signed on to and claimed as a 'victory'. The 2005 contract. Loss of seniority. Changes in tenure evaluations. Race to the Top. The added 37.5 minutes in each school day. ALL of those were claimed as wins for the UFT while they were losses for the members.

Don't say I didn't warn you. TDRs, and along with them your privacy, are the next great compromise.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Caste System for Students and Teachers

I got a lot of interesting comments both on this blog and on Reddit concerning my post about my lousy Teacher Data Report, or TDR (I received many condescending comments, including some from people who may have actually used utensils before, about how I should have explained all the acronyms in my post, despite the fact that the majority of my regular readers are NY [New York] teachers who already know them. I stand corrected.) For those who don't know, TDRs are calculated using VAD (Value-Added Data) which most researchers have concluded is BS (Bull Shit).

One theme that emerged throughout the comments is that good teachers should be assigned to the good students, and bad teachers (like me, judging from my TDR) should be assigned the bad students. For too long, say these commenters, we, as a nation, have neglected the top echelon of students and concentrated most of our scant resources on the under-performing ones. It's high time, they say, that we worked on developing our brightest minds, so that the USA (United States of America) can once again lead the world in rocket science, computer science, and other technologies, and the Chinese, who are, after all, a bunch of Commies, can go back to manufacturing Kewpie dolls. I have to say, these commenters present a compelling argument.

The statistics in movies like Waiting for "Superman" support their position. Of the 793 countries that outperform the US (United States) in math and, surprisingly, even English, most of them tend to fudge their statistics. They do this by chucking bad students out of school at a young age so they can go to work in coal mines and have mistresses, like the guys in Chile. Their top students get blanketed with praise and attention, while the ones who don't do their homework get blanketed in anthracite ash. What could be fairer?

I'm proposing that Obama's DoE (Department of Education) mandate a similar caste system for all school systems across the nation, including the NYC (New York City) DoE (Department of Education, no relation). We need to give our top students only the very best teachers, who can catapult them (the students), figuratively we hope, into the educational stratosphere with countries like Finland, which has produced almost two Nobel Prize winners this century, compared with the dismal American education system that has produced just seventy-three.

Of course, some will say this system is unfair, as it will most likely result in a disproportionate number of minority students getting the worst teachers. To which I can only respond--so what? Chile isn't the only country that has coal mines, you know. These kids may end up with lung cancer, but at least a mistress will be awaiting them as they emerge from their collapsed mines.

Besides, it's time we stopped coddling children just because they come from extreme poverty, abusive households, or disinterested parents. With all that stacked against them, having a crummy teacher isn't going to make much difference, is it? And speaking of crummy teachers, why allow them to ruin the minds of our best and brightest when there are future miners to be educated?

As for the teachers with the lowest TDR scores, I think I have an equally satisfying solution. They claim to want to help children, so I say, let them. They can be the first into the coal mine to check for CO (carbon monoxide).

Think of all the money we'll save on canaries.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mr. Talk Goes Viral

No, I don't need any antibiotics. One of my posts has gone viral.

I wanted my post on the (un?)intended consequences of teacher data reports to get some attention, but who knew the thing would explode? I owe the debt to one 3v1|D4v3 on Reddit, who linked to this blog under the heading "Top Teacher is Asked to Take over the Challenged Kids Class. Find Out Why He Said No the Next Year."

For the record, I never claimed to be a top teacher, but I do lay claim to being a hard working one who always tries to improve. I've never shunned difficult students and I have a record of more than two decades of satisfactory performance. Make of that what you will.

I mention all this because of the astounding fact that this blog has received more than 100,000 hits in the last ten hours. On a normal day, I might get 200. There are more than 450 comment on Reddit. See for yourself.

This tells me that people do care about education. On a lovely Sunday afternoon, 100,000 people took the time to read about what's happening in NYC's schools. That is amazing to me.
Thanks to all who stopped by. I hope to see you again.

Friday, October 22, 2010

(Un)intended Consequences

After the DOE decided to ignore their agreement with the UFT to keep Teacher Data Reports confidential, the effect was immediate. But I'd like to start further back than that, and return to last year, when I first saw my stinky TDR.

The effect on me was immediate, because I knew why I'd gotten such a low score. Besides the fact that the formula is wildly unpredictable, I had the added disadvantage of teaching extremely needy kids in an otherwise excellent school. I have no one to blame for that but myself; when my AP asked whether I'd take on the most challenging students they had, I agreed. I had some crazy idea in my head that helping the students who needed it most was what a teacher should do. So I did it. I've done it most of my career.

Now, because my school is so good, it was compared to other schools that are equally good or better. And there is simply no way that the kids I had taken on could compare to the average child in a "comparable" school. It didn't matter that I got the average child in my class to read (and document the reading of) well over 30 books each. It didn't matter that I managed to get a bunch of unruly and disinterested children to follow routines and learn to respect both the learning process and each other. No, all that mattered, as far as the DOE was concerned, was that I could not bring these children as far along as kids without learning and behavioral problems.

So when I got my TDR last year, I did something I am still not proud of. I quit.

No, I didn't quit teaching. I just quit volunteering to teach the very children who needed me most. When my AP asked me to take them on again (which he would not do unless he knew I'd been successful), I said no. This year, those kids are with another teacher who has difficulty just getting them to sit in their seats. (This is not a knock on her. She is new and these are tough kids).

I sometimes regret my decision even though this year I have a group of motivated students who will no doubt vault me back into the rarefied air of the "excellent" teacher. I might have gone back to teaching the toughest kids next year, because I think teaching is all about reaching the toughest-to-reach children. That was before the DOE decided they wanted to release the TDRs to the public.

I have a family to support and they are my primary duty. I can not take a chance that I will lose my job over some erroneous data.

There are other consequences of the TDRs that became apparent to me immediately. I've had discussions with at least three excellent teachers who have told me that they are now planning on leaving the DOE for sure, because they can not see how they will ever be able to put in enough years to retire from this system. They feel everything is stacked against them. Because it is.

Another consequence is that no one wants to teach the grades or subjects that are targets of the reports. I have a feeling that a LOT of teachers are going to request K-2 assignments or look to leave middle school so they don't have to be subjected to public humiliation should their numbers not stack up with whatever new system the DOE devises.

Those are the unintended consequences of the TDRs. Or, I wonder, did the DOE know exactly what would happen? Could it be that they want teachers to leave and to feel under the gun at all times? Could it be that they want no one around long enough to collect those pesky pensions?

Perhaps these consequences aren't so unintended after all.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Rant Against the DOE

I was going to post a long, angry rant against the DOE for their decision to trash hard working teachers by releasing the flawed Teacher Data Reports to the media. As readers of this blog may recall, I got a crappy score despite the hard work and care I put into my teaching. I'm sure I'm not alone.

What will the release of this data mean? Not much, other than a bunch of unhappy teachers and parents. It will do zero to improve education. It will create confusion and bad will in schools, which is precisely what Bloomberg and Klein want. Their only goal is the dismantling of public education and unionism as we know it. Bloomberg and Gates and Oprah and all their billionaire pals care nothing about education or teachers; their only concern is that they don't want their billions to help pay the cost of teacher salaries and pensions.

Not enough bad things can happen to these people, who think nothing of trying to wreck the lives and reputations of those who've dedicated their lives to educating children. They are reprehensible slugs and if they perished from the face of the earth tomorrow, the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, due to the complicity of Randi and Mulgrew, who could have ousted Bloomberg in the last election when they had the chance, the only way we'll be rid of them is if they all fall off a cliff. Given the likelihood of that happening, I guess all we have to look forward to is the next Machiavellian scheme to destroy teachers that these bastards can devise.

I guess I wrote that rant after all.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Instant Pundits

I watched John Legend stick it to teachers once again on the Bill Maher show the other night. Bill, to his credit, refused to bite, stating (correctly) that most teachers go in it for the love of teaching and the bad ones are only a small part of larger societal and political problems facing the schools. Legend would have none of it. He stuck to his tired Superman stat of how only 1 in 2500 teachers loses their license, compared to something like 1 in 97 lawyers or something. Did it ever occur to Legend that that stat may be skewed due to the fact that almost half of all teachers are either fired or leave voluntarily before the end of five years? That's almost 1250 in 2500 teachers who either lose or give up their licenses. How many doctors and lawyers leave their professions?

Of course, we can't expect John Legend to think of everything. Despite a great public education that allowed him to graduate from high school at the age of 16 as salutatorian and subsequently go on to Harvard, Legend has decided that public schools stink. He has become a pundit on education. How did that happen? He sang a song in "Superman". By that reasoning, Elton John should be a pundit on the crisis in the Congo because he sang "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" in The Lion King.

It seems to me the bar has been set pretty low for pundits these days. If you have a little celebrity or a lot of cash, you can be an instant pundit, especially on education. Unfortunately, you also end up sounding like an idiot, but that doesn't faze most of them.

To be a real pundit, you used to have to actually have experience in a subject. For example, John Legend would have been an excellent pundit on how to look ridiculous in a cowboy hat.

In that spirit, I'd like to offer a few helpful suggestions to today's ed deformers as to what field of punditry they might enter based on their actual life experience and expertise:

Bill Gates:
  • being a dweeb
  • "borrowing" ideas from Steve Jobs
  • forming monopolies and crushing competition
Michelle Rhee:
  • getting engaged to an alleged pedophile
  • alienating entire communities
  • marrying guys named Kevin
Oprah Winfrey:
  • surviving on thigh fat alone for months at a stretch
  • pimping mostly crappy books
  • making middle class women squeal at the thought of maybe winning a toaster
Joel Klein:
  • inflating things, such as test scores and his own ego
  • scalp waxing
  • being a toadie for a billionaire
Michael Bloomberg:
  • controlling the lives of others, especially those on food stamps
  • settling harassment cases out of court
  • overturning laws he doesn't like, such as term limits
I'm working on a few others, such as Randi Weingarten on Fence Straddling and Davis Guggenheim on Weeping for Public School Children as You Drive Your Own Kids to Their Exclusive Private School in your Mercedes. Any other suggestions are welcome.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Michelle Rhee Flies Out...

...on the same broom she rode in on.
Now that she'll no longer be chancellor, I wonder what her plans are for that broom? If anyone has a good idea what she can do with it, be sure to let her know!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Superman Gets Riddled With Bullets

As I mentioned a while back, the Harlem Children's Zone schools didn't fare so well with the recalibrated ELA and math tests. They also didn't score well on the city's report card, with one school scoring a C and the other a B. Remember, these are the schools touted ad nauseum by Waiting for Superman and the Oprah show as the model we all should follow. Here's some reporting by the Times that makes the point a bit sharper:

But most of the seventh graders, now starting their third year in the school, are still struggling. Just 15 percent passed the 2010 state English test, a number that Mr. Canada said was “unacceptably low” but not out of line with the school’s experience in lifting student performance over time. Several teachers have been fired as a result of the low scores, and others were reassigned, he said.

Even more shocking than these pitiful results is the fact that these schools are blessed with advantages that city public school teachers can only dream of, to wit:

In the tiny high school of the zone’s Promise Academy I, which teaches 66 sophomores and 65 juniors (it grows by one grade per year), the average class size is under 15, generally with two licensed teachers in every room. There are three student advocates to provide guidance and advice, as well as a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor, and one-on-one tutoring after school.

Are you kidding me? Two teachers in a class? Class sizes of 15? And you get those dismal results? This is a disgrace. THIS is the solution to all our educational problems? This is the model the entire nation is supposed to follow? And let's not forget that in order to get even these awful results, Canada dismissed an entire grade that wasn't meeting his "standards".

In my school, we have class sizes that range from 28 to 35, with just one teacher per room. We don't have any huge grants from billionaires or backing from Oprah, but our passing percentage was over four times higher than the results posted by the Times. And yes--we are those dreaded public school teachers who must be gotten rid of in favor of the charter school teachers that Mr. Canada prefers.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ed Deformers on Ice!

When I posted that I thought the ed deform movement had jumped the shark, I heard some rumblings. Then I started telling my fellow teachers how I felt, and there was talk of breaking out the strait jacket for me. But I don't think I'm crazy--or at least not for believing that the deform movement has run out of steam.

Think about it. The deformers have had a major documentary released from an Oscar winning director. They had two Oprah shows humping their cause. They had a week dedicated to them by MSNBC. They have Mark Zuckerberg tossing out 100 million dollar door prizes to cities that will do his bidding. They are backed by enough billionaires to start a softball team. Billionaire-owned newspapers have fallen all over themselves to get on the bandwagon. And yet...what has changed?

Not much, that I can see.

So, given that the ed deformers' media blitz has been a failure despite all the fanfare, what could the deformers possible do next to try to sway public opinion? Oprah and documentaries didn't work. What's next? Dancing with the Ed Deformers? America's Next Top Deformer? How about Ed Deformers on Ice?

The only tangible result of all fanfare is that Michelle Rhee got her ass voted off Survivor: DC.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Has the Reform Movement Jumped the Shark?

You might think it's just wishful thinking, but I believe the "reform" movement may have shot its bolt. There have been not one, but two, Oprah shows in one week lauding the deform movement. The long awaited (or dreaded) propaganda flick "Waiting for Superman" finally arrived in theaters, accompanied by countless sound bytes about how sad it all was on the nightly news. The Education Nation programming pimping the deform movement ran for a week on MSNBC, with follow-up shows on the Sunday news programs.

You'd think that with all the bad press teachers have gotten lately, we'd be sprinting down the streets a step ahead of angry mobs of parents with dripping knives. But for the most part, nothing has changed. Most people are still happy with their local schools. Voters in DC ousted Mayor Fenty, which virtually guarantees that Michelle Rhee will soon be picked up by the slack of her pants and sent skidding down the pavement by Vincent Gray. Charters have underperformed public schools both in NYC and nationally, and they even got lower scores on their progress reports despite the fact that Joel Klein, deformer extraordinaire, put his stamp of approval on those evaluations.

So, have the deformers jumped the shark? If Oprah, movies, unprecedented press coverage, and tens of millions of dollars haven't swayed public opinion, what will? The deformers have created a lot of sound and fury. Let's see whether it signifies anything.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ow, Canada

Charter schools are the answer. Joel Klein says so. Mayor4Life says so. Arne Duncan says so. Heck, even Oprah says so, so you know it must be true.

Except it isn't. Most charter schools fare about the same as public schools, and 37 percent of them are worse. Klein and Bloomberg have always wriggled around this statistic (didn't these guys used to love data?) by claiming that charters in NYC were a different story. When the revised test scores came out a while back, NYC charters dropped more than public schools. And now, charter schools have fared worse than public schools on the city's very own measure of quality--progress reports. It seems charters scored ten points lower than public schools on a scale of 100 points. It's going to be awfully hard for BloomKlein to put a positive spin on these numbers, considering they created the system themselves.

But surely there were bright lights among the charters, weren't there? Perhaps, but I decided to take a look at the Harlem Children's Zone schools, run by Geoffrey Canada, hero of the film Waiting for Superman. Surely these schools escaped the carnage, with their smaller class sizes and multi-million dollar facilities?

The Promise Academy Charter School got a B.
The Promise Academy II got a C.

My school got a A. And we're one of those nasty "traditional" public schools.

Ow, Canada.