Since the 2012–2013 school year, I have earned a score for my teaching — the craft of teaching reduced to a number. This score translates into the rating of highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective. Why have I, and my colleagues, been reduced to a score? Because, in 2012, the Democrats started acting like Republicans. Thanks, Obama! Thanks, Cuomo!
If you are not a teacher in New York State, you might not understand the teacher rating system. Heck, teachers in New York don’t understand the rating system. Basically, since 2012, school districts in New York State adopted an evaluation rubric (many use Charlotte Danielson’s) to evaluate teachers pedagogy and professionalism. Sixty percent of a teacher’s total score is based on administrative observation and teacher’s self-reporting of Domain 4 evidence — professional activities, etc. The remaining forty percent is based on the meeting of school goals and student achievement on state tests. If a teacher’s subject or grade level does not have a state test, they are evaluated by a “cocktail” of tests that their students take. Elementary teachers are also given a student growth score. Beginning with the 2015 Education Law S3012–d, secondary teachers are judged fifty percent by the four domains, and fifty percent by student test scores. Many teachers k-12, also are mandated to write an SLO (Student Learning Objective) that predicts in September how a cohort of students will perform on high-stake tests (both Common Core aligned and state made). If my three faithful readers are still with me, thank you.
In 2012, teachers were presented with the image on the left. I remember being told that we would “visit” highly effective, but we would “live” in the effective zone. Essentially telling over-achieving professionals (like me) to calm down and accept that our HEDI score would probably be in the effective range. It was like the revenge of the Bell curve!
In my previous school, I worked with an assistant principal who entered education after the local Miller Brewery closed. At my end of the year evaluation, he told me that not everyone could get the highest rating, stating: “Not everyone can be the teacher of the year.” (Ironically, the next year the yearbook was dedicated to me.) The HEDI scale is based on this philosophy — there can only be a few top performers.
Why were teacher’s evaluations in states like New York so dramatically changed from local building control to state mandates? The answer begins with the underfunding of public schools, the Race To the Top Initiative, and the rhetoric surrounding “those” teachers — teachers who should not be teaching. You know who “they” are. 2012 was a mixture of an economic downturn, political posturing, and social dissatisfaction with all levels of government — in essence, a perfect storm.
Two years in the Great Recession, The Race to the Top Initiative under the leadership Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, dangled money in front of governors with beleaguered state budgets. Forty states applied for the first phase of Race to the Top, according to the National Council for State Legislature’s website, the criteria for state involvement in the program included:
Development of high-quality standards; — Common Core Standards.
Equitable distribution of effective teachers; — the HEDI evaluation process.
Linking statewide data systems with instruction; — DATA is king!
Turning around low-achieving schools; — -Closing, revamping, renaming schools.
Allowing charter schools to flourish — company run schools in urban areas.
Development of high-quality standards — Common Core Standards.
The Common Core of Professional Standards has their critics. Although I can appreciate the issues that arise from any curriculum, as an educator I see the merit in all students encountering similar content. Education is the great socio-economic equalizer and the Common Core Standards is an attempt to define “good” curriculum standards. I have seen the Common Core impact my own instruction positively — my students actively engage with texts now, they annotate their reading, and their close reading skills have grown immensely. The problem, from my perspective as a parent of school-aged children, is that my children will be tested almost every year of their school careers. These tests often require teachers to teach only the content needed for the test, require lost instructional time to take the tests, and additional forfeited time when teachers are pulled out to grade the tests.
Equitable distribution of effective teachers— the HEDI evaluation process.
The New York State Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) is a farce. In a 2015 piece for Chalkbeat, author Sarah Darville reported that: “In New York City, 10.8 percent of teachers earned a top rating of ‘highly effective’ for the 2014–15 school year, up from about 9 percent last year. Most teachers, more than 81 percent, earned an “effective” rating, while 6.5 percent were rated “developing” and 1 percent earned the lowest rating, ‘“ineffective.’”
Furthermore, great teaching is not easily quantified. Teaching is a life-long craft. The term “master teacher” comes to mind when thinking of a truly dynamic teacher. The journey to a master teacher cannot be boiled down to a score. David Greene writes about this topic beautifully in his piece: “You Can’t Pick Great Teachers From A Tree.” Greene writes:
Great teachers get it; they understand that when you get into teaching you are in it for the long haul. They understand that teaching is a “long time “ proposition, not a layover or a pit stop until you get your chance to go to med school or law school, or get your MBA.
Linking statewide data systems with instruction; — DATA is king!
DATA is a four letter word. Data. My students are not a set of scores. They are people. They are developing people who are shaped by biology, community, and family resources.
I don’t need DATA to drive my instruction. I don’t need to look at my student’s eighth grade ELA exams to know if they are struggling with reading and written expression. I know my students as individuals. I respect them as human beings with diverse issues, challenges, and gifts. It is my job and my responsibility to learn my students. Socrates said: “Know thyself,” I say, “Know thy students!”
Furthermore, how my students perform on a state exam, given in a humid gymnasium in June, is only one snapshot of their potential and is not indicative of intelligence. Stop telling teachers that DATA is king.
Turning around low-achieving schools; — Closing, revamping, renaming schools.
Annual yearly progress. Failing schools. These are reasons schools are closed. It’s another version of the carrot and the stick approach — schools need to perform to remain funded. Not surprisingly the schools that have remained open are in predominantly white, suburban areas and the closed schools are located in poor, predominantly non-white communities. A question has always nagged me about these failing schools: Are these schools low performing, or are they performing the best that they can be given the obstacles the children and teachers face?
I don’t have an answer. I am privileged. I work in a well-funded, suburban school. I attended well-funded suburban schools. My children attend a high-quality rural school (which needs more funding). My life is charmed in comparison to teachers and students in the Syracuse, NY schools neighboring where I teach and live. I am also confident that there are excellent teachers and thriving students in the Syracuse City Public Schools, but I can’t speak to that experience. No, I just “hear” about the urban plight, the white flight, and read about the occasional reports of school violence. I also have students in my sophomore classes who have transferred from the urban schools — these students often struggle to fit in academically and socially in my prosperous school district.
Allowing charter schools to flourish — company schools in urban areas.
So what is the solution to failing schools, ineffective teachers, and low performing students? The solution can’t be found in the existing system. No, to teach in the 21st Century, we must have 21st Century solutions and market-based institutions. Hence, the company run charter schools. There are quality charter schools that are also public schools that adhere to the same standards of teaching and learning as the public schools. One example of a quality charter school that serves the need of many non-traditional students is Allison Berkowitz Read’s account of her teaching in a virtual school. In her piece, entitled “Rules of Engagement: Teaching in a Virtual World,” Read points out:
Charter schools are not all private schools. My school is a public charter school. About 70% of our population qualifies for free and reduced lunch, and more than 20% are special needs. My school does not shop for students in the priciest districts. Many of our students come to my school out of desperation: a student with an IEP that is not being honored; a student from an inner city school district where guns and violence take precedence over learning; a student who was bullied mercilessly because he or she is obese, or shy, or is LGBTQ+.
However, for every “good” charter school, there are many privately funded schools. The proponents of school choice claim that choice increases quality — that parents being able to “shop” for schools is the wave of the future, and we, the outdated, public school teachers need to get on board. Brandilyn Dixon writes about the fallacy of charter schools in her piece: “Competition Increases Quality: The Biggest Myth of School Choice.” In her piece, Dixon points out three important truths concerning market-based schools:
1. They open in former school buildings, renovated health clubs, abandoned warehouses, or shopping centers.
2. They don’t produce results.
3. They close, leaving hundreds of families to go out shopping for a new school.
These five components of educational reform have met their original objectives — education has changed, just not in a positive manner. Education has been transformed, but not rehabilitated. What has changed is that high stake testing of children as young as third grade has become the new normal. These corporate produced tests and student results continue to be tied to teacher evaluations. Fantastic teachers have left the profession and intelligent young adults have stayed away from university education departments, causing huge decreases in teacher preparatory enrollment. The United States is facing an incredible teaching shortage. This shortage has even led to a few states abandoning the need for teaching credentials altogether.
So where does American education go from here? If a state like New York, that still continues to value public education is struggling with the definition of educational reform, where do states that have already abandoned publicly funded education go with the leadership of an Amway saleswoman?
The July 22, 2017 march for public education is critical. Please consider liking this post, following the medium.com publication, following on Twitter, liking the page on Facebook, participating in the march, and donating to the march.