Sunday, April 12, 2015

Do "Failing" Schools Mean Failing Teachers?

There's an interesting point of view in the Daily News. Apparently, the issue with the "Renewal" schools in New York City is that they have an inordinate percentage of "lower quality" teachers. This assumption, of course, is based on the research of reformy Chalkbeat NY, nee Gotham Schools, which finds it noteworthy when E4E can muster 100 signatures on a petition demanding more work for less pay, but can't be bothered to cover a massive demonstration against Cuomo's policies.

First, let's look at the definition of a "lower quality" teachers. This particular person is someone who scores developing or ineffective on a rating system even Andrew Cuomo labels "baloney" (notwithstanding his enthusiastic support for it at its inception).  Unlike Cuomo, those of us who actually believe in science and research called it junk science from the start. That includes people like Diane Ravitch. In fact, even Randi Weingarten, who ran around the country helping to negotiate crap evaluation systems eventually admitted "VAM is a sham."

These systems are all a result of the Gates MET study, a convoluted piece of crap that set out to prove yet another theory emanating from Mr. Gates' fruitful hind quarters--that we need to replicate whatever teachers do in classrooms in which students receive high test grades. This, of course, is the central theory behind reforminess. Public schools, Gates theorizes, are no good because kids don't score well enough on standardized tests.

The fact is, though, that every so-called failing school contains high concentrations of high-needs students. There are kids who live in poverty, kids who have special needs and kids who don't speak English. And please, before some preachy moron gets the notion I'm giving up on those kids, the fact is I spend every day of my working life trying to help those kids. And what my kids need is help learning English, not help passing a test.

I spent a few years teaching ELLs how to pass a test. Some genius in Albany declared that it didn't matter whether or not kids knew English, and in order to graduate high school they needed to pass the English Regents exam anyway. I was drafted. I made kids pass and didn't teach them fundamentals of English language because it wasn't necessary for the test. Kids who passed may have assumed it meant they knew English, but I can assure you they did not. It meant they knew a highly formulaic four paragraph essay good for nothing but that version of the test, and it meant they knew how to look for correct A, B, C, D answers in Regents texts. It meant absolutely nothing more.

I was happy for kids who passed, but I did not fool myself for a moment that it was because I was a great teacher. It was because I made them write until their hands fell off. It was because I made them rewrite everything, no matter how tedious, and it was because I read and critiqued every word they wrote. It was no fun, neither the kids nor I liked it, but they tended to pass the stupid test in higher numbers than they would have without it. Of course their actual writing was no better than before, and they surely failed college writing tests in droves.

Here's the thing--if you are the principal, charged with running a so-called failing school, are you gonna say yes, the school is failing, and all the teachers are excellent. It is therefore an anomaly, a veritable miracle of nature. Are you gonna say the students are no good? Are you gonna tell the truth, that you in fact have high concentrations of high needs kids and there is really nothing you can do about it? Is that gonna get you that desk job at Tweed that will afford you the much-needed time to work on your oragami? Those paper airplanes are not gonna fold themselves, after all.

Of course not. You're gonna observe the teachers and blame them. It's remarkable, in fact, that the negative observations are a mere 20%. Now, you can accept the observation system as the Ten Commandments and assume principals in troubled schools have no self-interest whatsoever.

Or, you can face the actual issue of rampant poverty in NYC and the United States. You can face the fact that non-English speakers tend to settle in cities, where there is work. You can face the fact that most of them cannot, in fact, afford to live in Scarsdale. You can face the fact that the necessity of working 200 hours a week to support one's self and family is not conducive to thoughtful and thorough parenting.

Or, you can accept Bill Gates' formulaic solutions, which are to education as my ELLs' four paragraph compositions are to writing. That is what much of the public does, and that is what many editorials, up to and including those of the NY Times, encourage.

It's on us to get the truth out, and we have our work cut out for us.
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