Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Great Uncoupling

We have a Blue Senate in NY State, for real this time. Most of the IDC, the fake Democrats, have been toppled and are yesterday's news. I'm particularly happy to see the back of Tony Avella, who presented himself as a bold progressive and sold out to caucus with the Republicans. I worked with UFT to get him elected and he stabbed us in the back. Not only that, but after losing the Democratic nomination he ran as an independent, heedless of the risk a Republican would take the seat. I hope he has to get a real job now, but I suppose the people to whom he sold out have something for him somewhere.

I'm most excited about the possibility we can enable universal health care in our state. The Assembly has passed it four years in a row, and we'll see whether the new Senate follows suit. Not a lot of people know that this was how Canada got universal health care--system by system, province by province. Perhaps our unions and employers could be in charge of supplemental coverage rather than basic coverage. For example, my brother-in-law in Quebec gets free prescriptions and free medical insurance when he travels outside his province as benefits from his union.

What UFT will talk about, and what is much more certain, is a law releasing us from being rated on the basis of test scores. There is a soon to expire moratorium affecting English and math tests, but that doesn't affect high school teachers. I guess the state agreed that those tests were crap but wasn't ready to acknowledge that others were as well.

Actually I'm unfamiliar with a whole lot of state tests, so it's possible some are not crap. I know that the one I'm rated on, the NYSESLAT, is total crap. Right now it's so easy that students who can barely utter sentences in English test out of ESL. For me and my colleagues, that hasn't hurt. We look like geniuses. But we can't depend on that. Right now the Regents need to prove that their system of providing little or no direct English instruction is helping English Language Learners. That's why the test is so easy and meaningless. But that could change.

In fact, we have years of history to suggest change is inevitable. A decade or so ago, it was important to establish that Michael Bloomberg's reforminess was successful. After all, the man had bought Gracie Mansion fair and square, and went so far as to buy a change in the law voters had twice affirmed so he could do so a third time. So naturally, the tests had to be dumbed down to emphasize his educational genius. After all, how could anyone with all that money be wrong?

I distinctly recall Diane Ravitch comparing the NY State tests to the NAEP exams, and saying the tests were definitely rigged. She was written off as a crank, because again, how could Bloomberg be wrong if he had all that money? A year later, the press came around and it was a revelation. They were shocked, shocked, that the test results were not valid.

Then came Common Core, and it was time to get tough and show everyone how stupid we really were. Reformy John King announced that a very low percentage of students were prepared, and waddya know? That very same percentage flunked the test. Now it's pretty well established that when students do well, it's because Michael Bloomberg is a genius, and when they do badly, it's because teachers suck and parents are irresponsible, what with all their opting out and insisting on a voice in how their children are educated.

The only real constant here is that the tests are rigged. And while it's nice that the NYSESLAT makes my colleagues and me look good, there's a very high probability the Regents could rig the test some other way. Then we would look bad and get terrible ratings. So I support the movement to uncouple tests from teacher ratings. Sometimes, believe it or not, it is the students themselves who determine whether or not they pass tests. I have firsthand knowledge of this. The first time I studied geometry, or perhaps the second, I spent the entire semester looking at the girl who sat to my right, while the teacher blathered on about triangles. For all I know, she was the best teacher in the world, but I didn't care about triangles then and I don't much care about them now either.

Some people say that this isn't enough, and that we should junk the entire evaluation law. Those people are right. The law is grounded in a determination to fire teachers, and Andrew Cuomo has said so ad infinitum. In fact he famously called it "baloney" when too few teachers for his taste were rated ineffective. Cuomo justified this by citing the test scores.

So it's a good step to uncouple test scores from teacher ratings. It's not as good as junking the entire system. But at least we're moving in the right direction.
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