Friday, September 23, 2016

Not Insane---A Supervisory Blueprint

Chalkbeat writes about the "authentic" learning standards pushed by UFT President Michael Mulgrew. I am not at all sure there's any validity to judging teachers by student work, be it tests, portfolios, projects, or whatever, and I've seen no evidence supporting this presumption. In fact, there's a lot of evidence pointing otherwise, including that of the American Statistical Association, which suggests that teachers affect student work by a factor somewhere between 1 to 14%.

When the junk science rating law was passed, Mulgrew boasted of having a hand in writing it. The official position was that we were very smart to place this in law, as it would now be firmly in place (proven wrong when Cuomo and the Heavy Hearts made it worse). It was supposedly a good thing, a counter against crazy supervisors. I know multiple teachers whose ratings have been dragged down by this junk science, some all the way down to ineffective. (In fact, I know one who got crappy ratings from a UFT rat squad person, and much better ones from a working supervisor. That's ironic, because the rat squad was supposed to be a check against crazy supervisors.)

What makes someone want to be a supervisor? Well, there are those who want to help. Maybe some principal respects a certain teacher and asks that this person get trained and contribute. Maybe some people fall into supervisory positions and catch up to keep the jobs. Of course, some people were recruited by Joel Klein's Leadership Academy and were trained to actively go after working teachers. You read a lot about these supervisors in the NY Post, about how they're removed from one position after another, and are given new positions either in schools or shuffling papers at Tweed.

Then there are those who want to "get out of the classroom." In my humble opinion, anyone who wants to do that is unfit to lead. The classroom is the center of school activity. It is where the most important work takes place. Anyone who can't or doesn't want to do that ought not to be rating teachers. Unfortunately, a whole lot of people like that opt to take supervisory courses and are now running around with iPads passing judgment on those of us who actually do the work. I have seen incontrovertible video evidence of supervisors saying any damn thing they like, whether or not it actually took place in the classroom.

On the other hand, supervisors who are not insane can be supportive and reasonable in a system that is (or is not) supportive and reasonable. I'd like to see a focus on hiring and retaining such people, as I think that would lead to retention of teachers and more effective education of students. When I read Carol Burris I know she's smart and capable. She was a teacher, she was a principal, and now she's a writer and movement leader. You will not see that from any supervisor who checks off boxes and settles personal vendettas via teacher ratings.

Mulgrew's intentions notwithstanding, the issue is not which variety of junk science we use to rate teachers. We can jiggle forms of junk science but it won't fundamentally improve the morale of rank and file. No matter which form of junk science we use, crazy incompetent supervisors can jettison anyone they choose. I've seen brilliant, inspired teachers walk because they simply could not take the pressure of working for people who were nuts.

If UFT leadership wishes to really support us, they need to take a bold stand against unproven nonsense of any stripe. You can't just jiggle around nonsense and hope that today's nonsense is better than yesterday's. At the UFT Executive Board, MORE/ New Action proposed moving to get rid of incompetent supervisors. Leroy Barr likened our proposal to a scatter gun, which I assume to mean would attack supervisors indiscriminately.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. If our proposal was not specific enough, let's adjust and tailor it. We could start with little things. Barr mentioned PINI, principals in need of improvement. Let's restore and expand that. Let's re-open the Apples and Worms section in NY teacher and tell members who is and is not doing a good job.

Let's insist that supervisors be not insane. Let's stand together and show working teachers we have their backs. Alternatively, we can continue painting and repainting the lipstick on the pig that is APPR.

If UFT Unity doesn't like our proposal, it behooves them to work with us to find a workable alternative. If not, we'll know that crazy vindictive supervision is not a priority for them.
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