Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mulgrew Misses Mark in Daily News

I'm reading Michael Mulgrew's piece in the Daily News and agreeing with much of it, but I find myself confused by the great disparity between his words and actions. I agree, for example, that it will not be possible to Fire to the Top, and that getting rid of teachers will not help our students. Mulgrew gives examples of schools that have had tremendous turnover. I can understand why people don't want to work in these places. In fact, as someone who absolutely loves being a teacher, as someone who hates to say this, I even understand why people don't want to teach at all.

Mulgrew advocates fixing schools that are perceived to be broken. A bigger problem, though, is determining precisely what that fix entails. If, for example, we are judging these schools purely on test scores, it's important we get to the source of the low scores. I'm not sure, from the column, that Mulgrew rejects the notion of failure based on test scores. In fact, Mulgrew helped craft the current APPR system, the one that is making working teachers almost universally miserable. Mulgrew not only accepted test scores as a factor to rate teachers, but went so far as to thank the Heavy Heart Assembly for accepting Andrew Cuomo's plan to exacerbate the situation, a plan the governor wanted specifically so as to fire more teachers. Make no mistake, placing the burden of proof on the teacher at 3020a hearings can and will achieve that goal.

Now Mulgrew seems to think the whole firing teachers thing is problematic. Why, then, did he not lay down the gauntlet when Cuomo turned the heat up on junk science evaluation? In fact, why didn't Mulgrew take a position against Cuomo when Zephyr Teachout opposed him in not one, but two primaries? Come to think of it, why didn't Mulgrew oppose him when he ran the very first time, a Democrat proclaiming he would go after unions? Isn't that fundamentally counter to what we stand for as unionists?

Mulgrew doubles down on the assumption these schools are failing, and prescribes the following:

Customize curriculum and instructional practice. Traditional teaching methods and approaches haven’t worked in these schools. The system has to abandon off-the-shelf curriculum, revamp the training that teachers get and focus on delivering lower class sizes, individualized instruction and curriculum that’s tailored to the students’ current knowledge and skills.

Is this not the same Michael Mulgrew who said he would punch our faces and rub them in the dirt if we tried to take his precious Common Core from him? Does Mulgrew actually assume that it is "teaching methods and approaches," rather than outside factors like poverty, special needs, or lack of English ability that cause low test scores? (To his credit, Mulgrew later asks for wraparound services, which actually may help.)

I also strongly agree with Mulgrew that smaller class sizes are key to delivering better education. But despite the valuable lip service provided here, the only instrument that has regulated class sizes for the thirty years I've been teaching has been the UFT Contract. In all that time, and for decades before, neither Mulgrew nor any of his predecessors has even tried to negotiate down what are, in fact, the largest class sizes in the state of New York. Mulgrew may argue that we went for money instead, but we haven't seen a whole lot of that, and what we will get will be ten years after the overwhelming majority of city workers got it.

Here's the thing--history has established there are many ways to raise test scores. You can cherry pick the students. You can dump those who don't work out. In fact, you can dump entire cohorts, like Geoffrey Canada did, and American Express will still pay you to do commercials. Or, of course, as we're seeing more frequently lately, you can cheat.

As none of those options are available to us, Mulgrew is now blaming others for failures. Mulgrew told the DA he had staked our reputation on turning around these schools. But Mulgrew accepts the reformy criteria for failure and success, i.e., test scores. And that is a crucial error.

It isn't the schools that are failing these children, and it isn't the teachers either. It is the nation, the state, and the city that allows them to grow up in poverty. It is a country that pays starvation wages and makes both parents take multiple jobs to make ends meet. It is a country that allows people to spend so much time working that they neglect their families, a country that allows Americans to suffer and die as a result of not having health insurance. It is a country that takes junk science in lieu of education, and it is union leaders like Michael Mulgrew who not only accept but enable and encourage such nonsense.

These are the issues we need to face if we want our kids to succeed and excel, be your standards reformy or reasonable. This is why I turn down perks and jobs to represent members rather than leaders. This is why I decided to join MORE/ New Action and oppose Mulgrew in the coming election.

This is why I'm a teacher, and this is why I'm staying until they shoot me down with junk science.
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