Friday, February 24, 2012

NY's Evaluation Plan--A Disaster Waiting to Happen

"Bullets are only one small part of the gun," says Mike Klonsky, on whether VAM, or value-added, should be part of any evaluation system. This notwithstanding, there are various ways of looking at New York's new evaluation system, and UFT High School VP Leo Casey may not see eye to eye with Klonsky.

I'd like nothing more than to agree with Casey. This would mean that all my colleagues and I were not in danger of arbitrary and capricious dismissal based on the junk science that is VAM. In fact, I very much admired Casey's recent piece, In Bad Faith, which nailed the DOE on its abject hypocrisy in the negotiation process.

However, I tend to agree with Diane Ravitch and Principal Carol Burris that the new system is an unworkable mess. First, we're talking about VAM, which is unmitigated nonsense. Whether that constitutes 20% or 40% of teacher rating, it's still another Bill Gates-inspired voyage into the wild blue yonder that's subject to wild margins of error. Today, though the UFT assured us it would not happen, teachers all over the city will have their names and highly dubious scores published in local newspapers. This is what comes of trusting Michael Bloomberg's morally bankrupt Department of Education--and don't be surprised if it happens to every working teacher under this new scenario. In fact, there's now a precedent for it.

Furthermore, the second so-called objective measure of 20%, the part that will be negotiated locally, needs to be approved by three-year teacher and charter founder John King, who's shown no evidence he supports or understands anything other than what Gates and his corporate cronies support or understand.

An important point here is the line in the state agreement, explicitly stating, "Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective assessments must be rated ineffective overall." Diane Ravitch writes:

Unless I can't read plain English, this says that the 40 percent devoted to test scores overrides the other 60 percent. In other words, 40 percent is equal to 100 percent. 

I'm as impressed by plain English as Ravitch is, and that's clear to me. Casey explicitly addresses it in the comments:

...if a teacher scores very low on both the state measure of learning and the local measure of learning — 0, 1 or 2 out of a possible 20 in both components — they will not be able to make the cut score out of the ineffective rating, no matter their score on the measures of teacher performance. Given that there are two different measures, and at least one of them can be an authentic assessment of learning rather than a standardized exam, it is hard to make a convincing argument that a teacher who scores so poorly on both measures is effective in the classroom...

Given that VAM is total crap, and we have no idea whatsoever what the remaining 20% will actually consist of, I'd argue that it's impossible to make a convincing argument a teachers scoring poorly on both measures is not effective in the classroom. In fact, we've agreed to this wacky escapade without any successful pilot program, without any idea what the tests will be, without any idea what the VAM formula will be, without any idea what the remaining 20% will be, and largely without the remotest notion of what we're getting ourselves into. We do know, however, that good teachers can get bad ratings under systems that actually exist, and that teachers were fired in DC's VAM experiment under questionable circumstances.

We also know that there is some history here--if the tabloids approve of anything we do, it's a bad deal. The last time the tabloids admired us, for a solid 5 minutes, was in 2005. We approved a contract that precluded grievance of letters in file, killed seniority transfers, and created a seemingly permanent underclass of teachers known as the Absent Teacher Reserve, or ATR. To my recollection, neither Casey nor any UFT official anticipated that Joel Klein would hire new teachers even as current ATRs lingered in limbo.

And last year, there was an agreement to preclude layoffs that entailed sending ATR teachers from school to school, week to week. At that time, multiple UFT contacts assured me there was no way the DOE had the wherewithal to actually schedule such rotations. The DOE is inept, they said, they could never do it. We now know the UFT was wrong then.

Casey is correct that there is much to be negotiated. He's right that no agreement is perfect, that there are gray areas and many things yet to be determined. It's admirable that he's out there on Edwize personally answering every single comment, few if any of which have been remotely favorable.

But I must tell you, as it's abundantly evident to me--the UFT is wrong now too. In a particularly humiliating turn of events, the New York Principals have shown themselves to be much smarter than we are. They oppose this measure, and you should too. If you do, take a moment to sign their petition.

Can we ever live down having principals analyze this thing better than we did? One thing I know for sure--it would be a lot easier without this preposterous system hanging over our heads--like the Sword of Damocles.

Update: Yoav Gonen, NY Post Education reporter, tweets on how amazingly unreliable VAM-based TDR reports released today are: Maximum margin of error for a teacher's percentile ranking on is 75 in math and 87 in ELA
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