Monday, May 27, 2013

Fighting the Wrong Battle on Teacher Evaluations

Let's start with the obvious: Agreeing to allow value-added scores (VAM) to be part of the teacher evaluation system was a mistake. VAM is wildly unreliable as an indicator of teacher quality; as I have frequently pointed out on this blog, I went from being one of the worst teachers in NYC one year to being one of the best the next year if you go my my TDA rating, which is based on VAM. There were no consequences to my initial low score, as the new evaluation system was not in place at that time.

Had it been in place, my low single digit TDA score would have placed a target on my back. Admins simply can't (or more accurately, won't) ignore it when teachers are poorly rated no matter how good the teacher is, because they know a second poor score will lead to a 3020a hearing for that teacher. Worse still, it's likely that the new evaluation system will make it mandatory for teachers with low VAM scores to be rated ineffective.

And that's all bad. But it's not really THAT bad.

You see, admins have always had the ability to give you a crappy evaluation if they wanted to. I've seen many fine teachers rated U for consecutive years and sent off to incompetence hearings. Usually it happened because the teacher was involved in union activity, or went against the administration in some way. I have seen teachers falsely accused of sexual or verbal abuse because admins wanted them removed from the classroom (I know of one case where the admins coached a child to lie about a teacher. The teacher was found not guilty, but nothing happened to the admins).

So teachers have often been targeted, and the new evaluation system won't change that. What's really wrong with the new system is that it will likely allow for a teacher to be removed after two consecutive ineffective ratings regardless of the validity of the charges.

According to the new system, if a teacher is rated ineffective two years in a row, whether due to VAM or politics or because the principal doesn't like the fact that you wear jeans on Fridays, the onus will fall on that teacher to prove he or she is not ineffective. And good luck with that, considering your principal will have two years of phony data or trumped up evaluations to show that you stink.

Imagine our criminal justice system working this way. Instead of the current due process system in which the accused must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, let's instead assume a teacher-evaluation model system in which anyone arrested two times would be automatically found guilty unless he could establish his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.

Burden of proof is the real issues in teacher evaluations, but it's one that the union isn't even bothering to fight for. We have already conceded. The right to a fair hearing with due process is the entire point behind tenure; without that, tenure is meaningless and all of us are one rogue admin away from losing our jobs.

Why isn't the union fighting to retain meaningful tenure and due process rights? A clue lies in one of the other proposed provisions in the new evaluation system--that 13% of cases chosen by the union will be heard by a more independent tribunal. The union will almost certainly choose to protect its own--i.e., chapter leaders loyal to Unity. The rest of us can whistle.

Why would the union choose to protect only 13% of its members and not the other 87%? Well, just follow the money. It costs the union money to defend teachers under attack. This system will give them the ability to throw most teachers to the wolves while protecting their own, and save money to boot. They will spotlight a few high profile cases in New York Teacher and claim they are fighting the system, but the truth is most accused teachers will lose their jobs with no meaningful representation. They will be replaced by other teachers who pay the same amount in union dues every year. The union loses nothing.

Don't expect the UFT to engage the city on this--the real battle we should be fighting. Instead, they will blame VAM or Danielson or Bloomberg for teachers getting fired in droves. They will not blame themselves for agreeing to an evaluation system that eviscerates the tenure system that currently protects teachers from vindictive principals. No one at UFT headquarters will be adversely affected by this and the dues will keep rolling in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The real problem IS the VAM. At my school, the state exams are opened when they arrive so that "trusted" admins can open up and package the tests and answer sheets into the various testing groups (ELLs, special education, etc.) to speed up testing day for the teachers. The admins make sure that certain teachers who can be trusted not to whistle blow are allowed into the room to preview the test and prep their kids! If you are the teacher who has the kids who cheated the following year, guess who is rated ineffective based on student growth?