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I am an elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Multiple Measured Madness

Multiple measured madness is underway across the country. No where is this madness  more evident than in New York State.

All Hail the Governor!

Last week our own Governor Cuomo “announced a groundbreaking agreement on a new statewide evaluation system that will make New York State a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement.” Standing side by side by side with union leaders they hailed the “state’s commitment to put in place a real and effective teacher evaluation system.”

Governor Cuomo said,”Today’s agreement puts in place a groundbreaking new statewide teacher evaluation system that will put students first and make New York a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement.”  Impressive right? Just like a true ‘lobbyist for students’ would be proud to stand up and proclaim.   Holding teachers accountable, yeah! bravo Gov!

You would never know  that Richard Iannuzzi,  president of New York State United Teachers, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers were standing alongside our Governor as he spouted those words. It’s pitiful that these union leaders would stand by as anyone would say that teachers should be held accountable.

It’s even more disturbing that they succumbed to the Governor’s threats and approved what will become a death knell for public education in New York State. Yes, it will kill public education in New York!

Multiple Measures Madness

There has been an outcry of disgust and dismay across the state regarding the provisions of the deal.  Twitter feeds have been lit up, blogs are being written, teachers are considering their next move, administrators are wondering how to implement, school boards are wondering how to pay for this, consultants are jumping for joy as they await a windfall, students are wondering why another test, parents are confused, local papers are opining as fast as they could, researchers are combing for any supporting research, politicians are plotting their next strategic step, and the madness escalates

Carol Burris’ posting clearly lays out a doomsday scenario that will most like befall many teachers. Diane Ravitch calls the new system ‘madness’. Over 1300 principals have signed a letter asking for the state to hold off on this mandate. They demand more evidence, more research, and a sensible approach towards teacher evaluations. They offered research to back their concerns and were ignored.

What makes this so maddening is the outrageous behavior and comments by our own union.  They seem to be doubling down on their decision to bed with the Governor and have blatantly disregarded the concerns of their membership.  Nothing is more evident than this tweet sent out by Randi Weingarten last night.

  • UFT debunks myths abt new NY teacher eval agreement-bottom line-80% has to be negotiated. 20%,not 100% state tests.. http://bit.ly/A8Vrhe

Debunking myths? Calling concerns myths? From union leaders about union members? Talk about madness.

Debunking the DeBunkers

So let’s really set the record straight Mr. Casey. I’ve read your nasty piece and now it’s my turn.

You claim that multiple measures, evaluations will be more comprehensive, more accurate and fairer. Really, based on what? Your instinct? The state can’t even determine what an effective teacher really is? What’s effective? Is it determined by some value added algorithm? Is it determined by student income potential? Is it determined by whether parents just love their child’s teacher?  It seems as though some arbitrarily thought out multiple measures will be used to determine what effective really means.

You call concerns “alarmist alchemy” yet your own explanation of the magical 100 evaluation absurd. You claim that 60 of these magical points may include observations based on the  Danielson  frameworks. That’s great for Danielson and her company but may not be so great for kids and teachers.  There are major concerns with this approach.

There is a major concern that  many evaluations will not be accurate. Inconsistent applications of the Danielson framework has been a problem in the past.  Let’s say,  teachers follows this arbitrary framework, does that make them effective? Where’s the measure, what’s effective? Will the person doing the evaluation recognize innovation? Will innovation in the classroom be allowed? If it’s not on the check off list is it valid? What’s valid? There is a plethora of education research that contradicts Danielson’s methods and frameworks, some have been successful models some not. But then again, how do we measure success.

Mr. Casey you claim,

 “Burris incorrectly assumes that the entire 40 points in the measures of student learning will be derived from standardized state exams. But the use of value-added growth measures from state standardized exams need not take up more than 20% of the total teacher evaluation – and then only for a minority of teachers, those teaching English Language Arts and Mathematics, grades 4 through 8.”

You have quite selectively stated that standardized exams need not take up more than 20% of total teacher evaluations. “Need not” also means that  they could. Will districts already facing difficult economic times be able to afford to develop local assessments or even pay for their development? You claim it’s negotiable, yet we all know that means trade off based on funding.

You also claim that only a minority of teachers will be effected. Does that mean our union leaders effectively created separate classes of employees. Will we be able to collectively bargain now based on these classes? How does one not affected get to negotiate on the issue?

You also tout that,

A compelling approach to the issue of using value-added scores in teacher evaluations is found in the Hechinger Report blog post of Columbia University sociologist Aaron Pallas. Pallas sensibly suggests that where value-added models of standardized test scores are included in a teacher evaluation, the scoring needs to take into account the margin of error in a teacher’s score.

Quite to the contrary, “researchers have documented a number of problems with VAM as accurate measures of teachers’ effectiveness.”  Yet a very important percentage of teacher ‘effectiveness’ will be determined based on this questionable method. How in the world did our union leaders agree to this?

How does this teacher evaluation take into account outside influences, parental issues, societal issues, medical issues? How does it compensate for the child dealing with a family member that is ill? Or the child that comes to school exhausted? Or the child that is dealing with turmoil at home. what about the child that has a stomach ache the day of a test, or just has test anxiety? How do we account for the child who suffers from allergies every spring? Or the one who came to school upset because their pet died? So many variables out there, yet those who agreed to this terrible deal can’t  address them all.

Casey you closed with, “change is necessary.”

I’ll close with, change for the sake of change is dangerous.

We need to stop the multiple measured madness.

So, what is success?

We all know the line about success. It’s something we want, it’s something we work for, it’s something  we’re rewarded with, it’s something we measure by, and it’s something we judge by.  We all know of ‘successful’ people, ideas, programs, communities, schools, etc. that we can point to and proclaim success. So if we all know it, or think we know it when we see it, and we’re always supposed to be working towards it, what is it?  What is success?

I’ve been reading A Republic of Noise  by Diane Senechal . Her chapter “ The Cult of Success” really has me thinking about the whole concept of success. (I leave it up to you to read her fine work for yourself.) I’ve been wondering, do we really measure success accurately? Can we measure it ? Do we know it when we see it? Is there such a thing? Is failure and success polar opposites or are they really side by side?

Success seems to be the universal standard to which all in education seems to be measured by lately. Successful students, successfully achieve a certain percentage on a standardized test on specific day. Students must successfully communicate, successfully solve problems, successfully write, read and understand. We even have new schools touting ‘success’ in their actual names, “Success Academies”, “Schools for Success”, you get the idea.

So what is success? If we look at it in simple terms, is it as simple as answering a problem correctly? Is that success? We’ve solved a problem and then what happens? Are we done? Of course not, successful people move on, forge new frontiers, meet new challenges. Right?

What happens if we didn’t answer the problem correctly? Did we fail? Is that a failure? Do we stop? Of course not! In reality, we move on, learn from the mistake, forge new frontiers, meet new challenges. Don’t we?

We all have said, learn from your mistakes. Many advancements in every aspect of human history has been the direct result of mistakes or failures. Remember Columbus? Is failure and success opposites?

Who is more successful, the business tycoon or the hard working middle class father who toils in a factory day in and day out. Doesn’t that all depend on what we call success? The business tycoon may have more money, but may have a life with little personal interaction and spends most evenings battling loneliness. While the hard working factory worker, feeds his family pasta three days a week on a tight budget, yet is surrounded by a tight knit family and community that shares similar values. So who is the real successful person?

There are literally thousands of similar anecdotes that can be conjured up to poke holes in the misconception of success.

In education today the big push is to identify successful schools and teachers and quite simply get rid of all the others. The debate rages on how to measure success. Standardized testing has emerged as the miracle tool to measure success. One test on a specific day is suppose measure the success of a child, a teacher, a principal, a school, a school district, and a community. We have new “Common Core Standards” state that if followed, ”Students also acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success.” Ironically these new Common Core Standards recommend that students read The Fallacy of Success” by G. K. Chesterton (1909).

Chesterton states, “To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful ” He goes on near the end of his essay to state, ”At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish; they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness.”  Pretty good!

President Obama in this year’s State of the Union even drew a correlation with effective teachers, increased income of students, and success.  That’s pretty bold considering, as a society, we have conflicting views of success.

Chesterton sums it all up nicely for us, “Nobody would dare to publish a book about electricity which literally told one nothing about electricity; no one would dare publish an article on botany which showed that the writer did not know which end of a plant grew in the earth. Yet our modern world is full of books about Success and successful people which literally contain no kind of idea, and scarcely and kind of verbal sense.”

Written in 1909, Chesterton effectively sums up the current debate in education. We have so called experts, that haven’t spent any time in a classroom dictating their definition and measure of success.  The only outcome that can be effectively measured so far is the millions of tax payer dollars being funneled to these so called experts and their cohorts.

I guess that’s why they think they’re successful.

The Real Super Bowl

Super Bowl Sunday has finally arrived. And Yes!!  My beloved NY Giants are in it!

Regardless of which team you cheer on to victory, everyone is fully aware that Super Bowl Sunday has arrived. The media has been buzzing, stores have stocked up on supplies and team paraphernalia, the advertising industry has paid millions for 30 seconds of air time, families and friends are gathering, people all across the nation are focusing on the big game,and even presidential candidates are weighing in on the game. The nation is ready. The game is about to happen.

Wouldn’t  it be something, if our nation became as excited about the education of our children as it does over a football game?

What do you think would happen if the media covered education with the same detail as it covers the Super Bowl. During the game, we’re treated to data that has been analyzed, debated, scrutinized, and shared to help us understand the game. During the game, commentary is given to help those not familiar, understand the nuances of the game. Instant replays are deployed to review what and why certain plays were all about. They’re played over and over and even slowed down to include every important aspect of the game. For weeks after, if not years, game situations will be discussed and analyzed.  Just imagine, what education would be like if the media actually presented educational outcomes and their causes in a way that was fitting for the Super Bowl.

The public invests in the Super Bowl. The competition to host the Super Bowl is extreme. Some think it could be a $400 million windfall for the host city.  Combined with the millions spent nationwide on advertising, merchandise, food, and anything else associated with the big game, the Super Bowl creates a huge lift in revenue for many.

Can you imagine the revenues that could be generated, if there was a similar investment and buzz on educating our nation’s children? Would we have teachers working without pay as is the case in Pennsylvania? Would we have schools in a state of disrepair? Would we have classrooms that are overcrowded? Would we have states like NY imposing arbitrary tax caps on education? Would we have kids living in poverty?

The Super Bowl is played every day in every classroom across the country. Teachers coach their students to advance on the field of knowledge, and yes, sometimes they fumble, fall, drop the ball and get tackled by a problem. But just like coaches in today’s game, teachers are there to get their teams into the end zone.

Just imagine if what teachers do every day was treated like the big game?  

Would outside influences be allowed to hijack our game plans and our schools? Would superficial stats be tolerated?  Would a school be judged based on a specific performance on a specific day? Would new mandates and rules be implemented without fully analyzing the affects?  Would our team be allowed to take the field without the necessary nutrition? Would our teams be allowed to even play the game without the necessary equipment?

You want to see the real Super Bowl? Visit a classroom.

Go Giants!

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