Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Teacher Evaluation Will Show Whether Biden Is Friend or Foe

For a while, I was wondering why we would even bother negotiating an observation system with the city. I mean, here we are, all of us, doing a job none of us had trained for or even conceived. How can our supervisors come in and determine exactly how much we suck at these jobs? For one thing, they've never attempted them themselves. I mean, sure, they have a lot of experience telling teachers they suck and exactly why, but supposedly they themselves were teachers at some point. 

In my school, supervisors don't teach at all anymore. That's too bad, You'd hope they'd be out there setting an example of best practices for us, rather than simply talking about it. 

However, even if they were doing that, I don't know a single supervisor with experience teaching online. I don't know a supervisor with experience teaching masked students who are socially distanced either. Maybe in other schools supervisors teach, and maybe some of them have as much experience as we do, i.e, very little.

Who on earth is qualified to design a system to rate those of us doing these new things? I'd argue not even we are, let alone our non-teaching supervisors. If you've been doing this work for less than a year, unless your soul is frozen colder than Mitch McConnell's heart, you're still on a steep learning curve.

Of course, that was no impediment to Charlotte Danielson, who's actually conjured up a Framework for Remote Teaching. You may recall Danielson saying that her framework ought not to be used as a checklist. Well, that hasn't stopped her from collecting a bajillion dollars from districts that used her work just that way. Obviously, it hasn't stopped her from expanding upon their use either. Who exactly designed this new framework? Was it teachers with years of experience in it?  As online charters are awful, and real teachers have precious little experience, I'm gonna have to go ahead and doubt it. 

And yet here I am talking about rating teachers, along with a whole lot of people across the country. Why? Well, that's a by-product of the Obama administration's education policies. You may recall that Joe Biden was Vice-President back then, as we all Raced to the Top. And the policy borne of that era says that teacher must be rated, and said ratings must be based somewhat on student performance, like standardized test scores. 

Yet there aren't any standardized test scores right now, and haven't been any for almost a year. And if there were, it would be really hard to assess this year as we did normal years. That, of course, doesn't even take into account that the standardized tests are total crap anyway. So how, in a year like this, are we supposed to fairly rate teacher performance?

Honestly, I don't think it's possible. Yet federal law requires it. Federal law requires that UFT and DOE work something out. Now there could be an exception, but it would have to come from the feds. (That's not to mention the need for approval by the geniuses in Albany, but that's step two.) Given that Joe Biden needed all the help he could get, and given that he certainly got support from the AFT and NEA, one would think he'd be inclined to show gratitude. Of course, one would've thought the same of Obama, and what we got from him was Arne Duncan, just a whisper less nuts than Betsy DeVos. 

Can we count on Biden? Honestly, I have no idea, but our national unions ought to at least ask him for an exception. This could be the first test of whether or not he's any different on education from Obama. I was at an AFT candidate's forum in Pittsburgh, and he told us that he didn't believe in depending so much on standardized testing. Here's a good chance for him to put his money where his mouth is.

Biden says he wants to see schools reopen within his first 100 days. If he does, he'll make sure the vaccine becomes more widely available, and moves at a much quicker pace than it's been doing so far. However, even if he's successful, that will mean this school years is a veritable slush of online learning, socially distanced classes, and maybe ordinary classes. That's a huge maybe.

I usually pass around 80% of my students. I'm not sure whether that's good, bad, or indifferent, but that's the way I roll. I'm around 70% right now. Theoretically, of course, no one is failing. Those not passing get NX. The last I heard, the DOE was holding individual teachers responsible this year for NX students. That means that next semester we could be burdened with not only our regular caseload, but also following up on students who didn't pass. Mulgrew objected to that, and I followed up with a question for last week's Executive Board, but I forgot to go, and I thus have no idea where we are on that. 

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I'm typical. That would mean that a teacher with 150 students in February would also have an extra 45 to follow up with, thus diverting her attention from the task at hand, whatever it may be by then. How the hell is this teacher supposed to deal with the already bizarre conditions on the ground with that excess workload? As a matter of fact, how are any of us dealing with anything? I don't actually believe the DOE will be able to force us to do this extra work, as we have no agreement about it. Nonetheless, just the thought of it raises my blood pressure.

Given the shitshow that this school year has been, it's not reasonable for us to swallow one more drop of Danielson, no matter how thoroughly she's polished it. We all know how much time she's spent teaching during the apocalypse, and that's none whatsoever. We all know how much her lip service to not using her rubric for ratings means, and it's clear her bank balance is more important to her than integrity.

It's time for Biden to put up or shut up. And if he fails us, we need to negotiate a system that does as little harm as possible. Given the relatively high percentage of insane supervisors here in Fun City, that will be an uphill battle. We've adopted a policy of do no harm, or at least as little as possible, for New York's schoolchildren. We ought to expect no less for New York's teachers.

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