Friday, July 03, 2015

If We Win Nothing, We Still Win

What is progress? Is progress when we get to speak freely about the abysmal quality of state tests? If so, we haven't precisely made any. Apparently, teachers are now free to discuss the contents of tests after they are made public. The problem, of course, is that pretty much everyone is free to discuss pretty much anything that is public. So what have we gained?
“We’ve loosened the gag but not untied it completely,” said Karen E. Magee, president of the New York State United Teachers union. “But it is certainly progress.”
All due respect, I have no idea why. Ms. Magee, like many union leaders, sees something positive here. It's actually ridiculous to call this progress.

Another test-security rule that Ms. Phillips and others have complained about is one that says teachers who proctor the exams cannot read them. That rule remains in place.
You're not even allowed to read the exams. So if some hapless kid has a question, you say, "Sorry, kid, but state law prohibits me from looking at your paper." How idiotic is that?

I wonder whether it's part of Magee's job description to keep that sunny outlook and find good in everything. Our local union President, Michael Mulgrew, does much the same. In fact, an email I received from Magee seems very much to echo his talking points.

Months of tireless activism by NYSUT's mobilized leaders and members, in unity with parents and our coalition partners, convinced the Legislature this week to reject a toxic, test-and-punish agenda and begin to turn the tide on over-testing!

We beat back the education tax credit that would have been a giveaway to rich supporters of private schools, stopped the push to make the tax cap permanent, and made progress on testing and transparency. This good news underscores the momentum our solidarity continues to build in advancing NYSUT's agenda -- positioning us well for the challenges that remain.

But I'm not feeling the joy. Not only have we made zero progress on the test thing, but also we've gone backward on evaluation. Our strategy to beat that back, if indeed you could call it one, was to ignore the evaluation issue utterly and focus on budget. The tactic, as put forth by UFT President Michael Mulgrew, was to get on Twitter and talk about what #AllKidsNeed, and to #InviteCuomo to our classrooms.

Now there's nothing wrong with that. I participated. (Mulgrew did not.) But the thing that bothers most of the teachers with whom I speak is, in fact, the evaluation system. No one likes it. Everyone is on edge. And while we can focus on what we did not lose, yet, it is not yet time to declare victory and have a party.

We're looking at a new system designed specifically because not enough teachers were being fired under the current one. That is the only reason this system came into being. Mulgrew can point to the matrix and claim tests don't count for 50% of teacher ratings. Maybe they count for 30%. Maybe they count for 49%. Or maybe he's wrong, because there are only two axes, and one of them is testing.

But does that even matter when we're in a system expressly designed to fire more teachers? If this system doesn't fire enough teachers, are we going to get a system that tries to even more teachers? Will that merit a thank you as well?

Mulgrew thanked the Heavy Hearts for voting for this system. If everything we do is wonderful, if we're in the best of all possible worlds, if whatever happens is progress, how do we know when something goes wrong? How do we know when leadership is acting in our interests?

In fact, if we rely on leadership to keep us informed, how do we know anything at all?
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