Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Best Data Money Can't Buy

Some days, it must suck to be Bill Gates. All those billions, and the one thing he can't change is facts.

As it turns out, Tom Kane, former NJ governor and current member of Gates' education reform team, headed a study called "School Choice, School Quality, and Post-Secondary Attainment".  Even the title of the study would lead you to believe this was a gold mine for ed deformers. Quite the contrary.

As Anthony Cody of EdWeek reported, the study actually supports the status quo that the deformers are attacking. Student who were moved from lower quality to higher quality schools showed almost no difference in performance. It turns out that you can't change student performance just by changing schools and testing, testing, testing. You can, however, improve student performance by starting schooling early and getting kids off to a good start in reading (gee, who'd have thunk it?)

Cody's blog post also points out that the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system, winner of this year's Broad Prize, actually stunk up the joint. The system, much touted by Arne Duncan and his ilk, "...failed dismally in meeting its academic targets for the 2010-2011 school year. Emily Dalesio of the Associated Press wrote on July 21 that “preliminary schoolhouse data show fewer than three of 10 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools met the targets set for them in the academic year that concluded in June.”"

Other than on EdWeek, I haven't seen anyone discuss these revelations. Maybe much of the education media, supported by the largesse of Bill Gates, saw fit not to bite the hand that feeds it. But make no mistake about it--this is big news. Yet another of the deformers magic bullets, school choice, has been shown to be a pipe dream. 

Even Bill Gates, as rich as he is, isn't entitled to his own facts.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Later Data

If you haven't heard the news, Teacher Data Reports are dead--gone. And good riddance. They were totally unreliable, based upon a value added formula that had an admitted margin of error of 37 percent, although the swings in individual numbers could be even higher. I have blogged about my own case, in which I went from single digits one year to the very highest ranking the next, all while teaching the same material to the same kind of kids in the same way.

The whole thing was a bloody mess, and needed to go. But the question remains--why did it go now? His Imperial Mayorness and his stooge Joel Klein couldn't wait to try to get the numbers published despite the fact that they agreed in writing to oppose any attempt to make the numbers public. In addition, the city appears poised to win the FOIL case the UFT filed to stop the numbers from coming out. Why are they suddenly so anxious to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

The word from the DOE is that ending the TDR reports will save $200,000, which is such chump change to this mayor that it seems beyond belief that this was a cost cutting matter. No, there's more to this than meets the eye.

My own guess, which is pure speculation, is that a contract may be in the offing, and this too-little-too-late gesture is an olive branch to the union. I mean, let's face it--the DOE almost never does anything that pleases the union or its members. The DOE is to the UFT as John Boehner is to Barack Obama, i.e., whatever the latter wants, the former does the opposite.

So is the DOE dealing the UFT a winning hand on data reports to give the union cover for accepting a sub-par contract? It could be. It's likely the city wants a deal before the PERB recommendations come out, which must be about to happen some time soon.

Whatever the reason for this about-face by the city, it is a welcome one. The bad news, of course, it the state is working on its own evaluation system the will be ready in a year, and there's no guarantee that it will be any better than the system it is replacing.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Challenge Accepted

I haven't posted for a while. For those of you who felt this was a refreshing change for the better, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I am back. I was feeling a little overwhelmed with the beginning of a new school year, and I'm sure many of you feel the same. Each year--even the good ones--brings its fair share of challenges. This year there are more than usual for many of us.

I love my school and my students, so I hope this post doesn't come off as petulant rant. Nevertheless, there are many items that all teachers will have to deal with this year, along with the personal ones we are each presented with in our classrooms. For example, Teacher's Choice is gone. I hated that program, because I have always felt insulted that teachers had to buy their own supplies. The lowest office worker at Bloomberg, Inc. is surely given the necessary paper clips and sticky notes, so I had a hard time accepting that teacher's should be forced to go buy their own with the pittance allotted by the city. Now even that pittance is gone.

We also must now deal with Common Core, and untested framework that seems to me to be, to put it in educational terms, stupid. It has uprooted my school's curriculum, which has worked very well thank you, and turned it on its head. No one really knows what to teach or how to teach it, and that one day of PD was mostly spent telling teachers that we'd be accountable for the CC without really telling us what it is. For example, in English, we no longer teach units, because that makes far too much sense. We must now teach to themes, or overarching ideas, or culminating questions, or something like that. No one really knows. All we know is that we have to do it or else.

Speaking of untested frameworks, we also have the infamous Danielson Framework for teacher evaluation, which sounds like a torture device from the Spanish Inquisition. Of course, it's nothing of the sort. Devices from the Inquisition tended to kill you rather quickly, whereas Danielson makes you linger for two years before you can be fired.

On top of all this, we have the ATR fiasco, no contract and no raise for over two years with no end in sight, the constant threat of layoffs, TDR scores that don't reflect reality, bedbugs, PCBs, and dirty oil heating our classrooms.

Personally, I have much larger classes (at least 6 more per class than usual), a bunch of kids who don't speak English, and one boy who may be allergic to me because the last three times he has been in my class he's projectile vomited all over my floor.

The city is basically asking us to teach kids with no supplies, no money, no respect, larger classes, new curriculum, new evaluations, lack of training, and overcrowding.

Well, we're New York City teachers, dammit.

Challenge Accepted.

Friday, September 2, 2011

What I Learned In Kindergarten, And What Education Leaders Missed

I've always been a pretty big fan of Robert Fulghum. If you remember, he wrote one of the first essays to go viral on the internet, way back when people emailed such things to each other rather than post them to Facebook. It was called All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. You can read it here if you've never read it before. Yes, it's sappy and sentimental, but it's oh-so-true.

The premise of the essay is that if we all behaved as we were taught to in kindergarten, the world would be a better place. Here are some examples of things Fulghum exhorted us to do, and how education leaders have failed us.

Share everything.
Almost nothing is shared with teachers. The rich get richer while teachers get laid off. Our billionaire mayor has seen fit to get rid of some of the most poorly paid school workers while offering no-bid contracts to his cronies. Bloomberg has eliminated Teacher's Choice, so teachers will have to dig into their own pockets to supply our kids with materials they need to succeed. Teachers know how to share. Billionaires don't.

Play Fair.
The DOE and UFT agreed--in writing--to keep teachers' TDR scores confidential. The DOE even agreed to side with the UFT in court should it come to that. Instead, they went back on their agreement and are now pushing for the release of the scores. This will unfairly hurt many teachers, but the DOE doesn't care. Bloomberg would like for teachers to be publicly humiliated, but when his deputy mayor was arrested for domestic violence, Bloomie hid that fact from the public. If the deputy mayor had been a teacher, that wouldn't have happened.

Clean up your own mess.
You'd think the DOE would feel obligated to enforce a minimum of cleanliness in schools, but you'd be wrong. The rate of bedbug infestations has tripled in the last year. And instead of stopping the use of dangerous dirty oil in schools, the city decided to spend 70 million dollars on it (but don't worry--that will only last until 2030). To be fair (play fair!), the city is promising to only take ten years to rid school lighting fixtures of cancer causing PCBs.

Don't take things that aren't yours.
NJ Governor Chris Christie would like to solve the state's pension shortfall by shafting teachers and other workers who have contributed their share to the system over the years. He withheld a 3 billion dollar payment that the state owes to the pension fund. That money was not his--it was money that was promised to the pension system through collective bargaining. Christie rationalized this by saying the state can't afford to pay for the things it promised, even though he refused to ask his millionaire and billionaire pals to pay an extra cent. I wonder what Christie's kindergarten teacher would say about that?

Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
There's none of that in the public schools. It's all testing, all the time.

I'm sure I could go on and on, but you get the point. The government in general and educational leaders in particular have forgotten the most basic lessons that they should have internalized long ago. One hopes they at least remember to flush.