Monday, May 27, 2013

It Will Be a Reformy September

Next year, there will be a new evaluation system in place. No one knows precisely what it will be like since Reformy John of Albany has not made up his mind yet. We do know, however, that teachers will be judged by value-added methods. We have heard a couple of reasonable-sounding arguments from union leadership as to why this is a good idea.

1. Principals have too much power under the current system. It's true that, via observations and whatever else makes principals decide, they can pretty much singlehandedly say thumbs up or thumbs down on any given teacher. And it's also true that there are crazy vindictive principals who do so for no good reason. The solution, according the UFT leadership, is to use multiple measures rather than leave it entirely within the hands of any principal.

Unfortunately, adding junk science to the mix does not precisely enhance the process. Here's the story of one teacher who got a crap VAM rating one year and an excellent one the next, through no discernible fault of his own. Here's another, a DC teacher regarded as excellent, but fired for VAM scores. Here's an excellent teacher in NYC, denied tenure for value-added scores.

In fact, with the value-added fairy in the picture, principals may have less power in evaluations. But it's likely their power will be decreased only in their ability to help good teachers. If 40% of a rating is test scores, 60% is still in the principal's discretion. Since you will need 65% to avoid an ineffective rating, you could have perfect VAM scores and still be derailed by a vindictive principal.

2. Under New York State law, co-crafted by UFT leadership, we get to negotiate an agreement. This sounds promising. After all, the crazy reformers will want to be as unreasonable as possible in their ongoing effort to get rid of unionized teachers with salaries and benefits. For example, they've already persuaded our union to embrace a system that has no basis in science or practice, a system that's a crapshoot at best, and voodoo at worst. But won't we be able to negotiate it to make it more reasonable?

That was indeed the hope. However, Bloomberg rejected whatever it was the UFT and DOE had hammered out. Naturally, he blamed the union, and insisted he wanted a system that would hold teachers' "feet to the fire." The UFT then agreed to binding arbitration. Many opposition voices complained that this was not what we were promised, and that this was not the negotiation we'd depended upon. Unity-New Action's responses seemed to indicate that these people were ignorant, and that binding arbitration was indeed part of negotiation.

It's true that binding arbitration is often a part of negotiation. However, it's not true that the dissidents are ignorant or incorrect. This is because an arbitrator is presumed to be objective. I'm sorry, but NY State Education Commisioner John King, who taught one year in a public school, two in a charter, and began his meteoric career trajectory by running charters, is far from objective. He embraces every piece of reformy nonsense that comes down the pike, and has no problem subjecting our children to excessive testing and anything else Bill Gates thinks is good for them. I say our children because Reformy John, like Gates, sends his own kids to private schools, where they aren't subject to this nonsense.

King is a hypocrite, with insufficient classroom and public school experience. He's unqualified for his current position, and not remotely objective enough to make a reasonable decision.

The UFT has failed its membership. Any teacher can be fired in two years under this system, for any reason or none. Tenure is moot. While the UFT can proudly boast it now takes two years to fire a newbie teacher, I hardly see one extra miserable year at a job where said newbie is unwanted and unappreciated as much consolation.*

This is a terrible deal, the worst I've seen in almost 30 years of teaching. I honestly wonder how people who negotiate such things, under the guise of advocating for working teachers, can sleep at night.

*Correction: Jamaica Chapter Leader James Eterno informs me I am mistaken about untenured teachers getting two years, and says it's his understanding that they will not receive such protection. I apologize for my error, and to any untenured teachers I may have disappointed.
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