Saturday, August 30, 2014

Rumor Mill: Final Ratings Released Next Tuesday

This is just a rumor. I hear tons of rumors. I ignore most of them, but if I think one is true (or pretty close to true), I'll blog it.

This one says that our final ratings, including the 40% based on tests, will be given to send, via DOE email, at 5 PM on Tuesday.

Yep. VAM scores out on Tuesday.

Carry on

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why I Support the Common Core

This one is long overdue. 

I'm proud to rub shoulders with some of the most intelligent and influential bloggers and activists in NYC and beyond. As I lay claim to neither their influence or their intelligence, I find myself in the unique position of being able to carefully listen to their tutelage, while not having to accept their positions as some type of dogma. 

Many of them do not support the Common Core. They believe the standards to be a divisive tool of corporate education reformers who are hellbent on privatizing out public school system. For many of their writings, the matter is as simple as that. This is an oversimplification of course and the matter is, obviously, far more complex but at the end of the day, they don't support the core.

As a parent, I have to say that the Common Core, along with the high stakes tests that everyone is making a big deal about really does suck big rotten eggs. I am opposed to those tests and will be opting my seven year old out, in one way or another, from the imposition of them. But I am a well-informed enough parent to see that the Common Core is not, by itself, the problem.  In fact, those tests were harming children long before the CCSS were drafted and will be around after the CC are gone. The problem is these tests and that problem is made all the more worse when they are linked to a terrible curriculum matching the standards. A curriculum and tests, however, is not the Common Core. When my daughter's school dumped the corporate curriculum for Math and Language Arts last year, and opted for another approach, she started to enjoy learning again; but she was still learning along the Common Core.

As a teacher deciding whether or not the Common Core is good, I have to think about what's best for my students. A few factors go into that consideration. My own knowledge about pedagogy and getting ready the real world is only one of those factors (whether my students are enjoying learning is another, but not all learning should be fun. High School is also hard work, so that factor isn't the only consideration that should be made).  Another, really important, factor is how the parents of my students feel about the standards. Parents of my students want their children to experience a good education more than I. They also want them to be ready for that real world. I am proud to have chosen a career where I teach primarily students who are Black and Latin. So as I read the polls about the popularity of the CCSS (or lack thereof) my eyes immediately turn to how people of color feel about these standards. That consideration is as close as I can get to figuring out whether or not the parents of my students support the core.

No one makes a big deal about this, but it is a very big deal.

Two polls about the core were released just this week (here and here). Another was released last month. Some of the postings I've read about this week's polls are here (and here and here and here). They all address a CCSS that are unpopular and nearing their death in many states. The unpopularity of the CC is a particular point that is being made in much of what I've been reading about those polls.

But no one is making a particularly big deal about exactly how popular the CC is among members of the Black and Latin communities. Of the two polls released this week, just one -the Education Next Poll even bothered asking respondents to identify themselves by race or ethnicity. And that poll had some results that surprised me. For instance, 69% of Black Americans polled and 62% of folks who described themselves as 'Hispanic' actually support the Common Core.

Yes they do!!!

This matches a Sienna College Poll last July Showing that 60% of 'African-American/Blacks' and 49% of 'Latinos' felt the CC should "continue to be implemented". This, to me represents a fairly strong popularity for the core among the parents of the students I teach.

I don't know how you see yourself, but I don't see myself as any type of wise man. I don't see myself as some sort of 21st Century philosophe. I'm not going to spend my time weeding through the complexities of academic standards pretending that that's what I'd rather be doing for a living.  It is not.  I am, happily, just a classroom teacher. I'm proud to be just a lowly paid public servant (who's colleagues get kicked in the teeth in the press virtually every day).  And while I feel that the core will ultimately create less winners in America and more losers thus dividing the races along economic parameters even more than they are today (if you could imagine there being such a thing), I have to go with what I think the parents of my students want -not what I wish they'd want; what they do, in fact, want.

It seems clear to me that the parents of my students want the core, so I'm behind them. But I'm not writing just to say that. I'm also writing to say that if you teach student of the same background as I, that you should be aware of who does, as well as who doesn't support the core.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a three page reading rubric to write ;)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Whatever To Wherever My Comment on Ednotes Went

Norm Scott is a very busy guy and probably just missed the comment I published on his blog. Alas, it didn't get published. It happens (I once missed a comment posted to here from my wife; "I know you're blogging again. Knock it off", she wrote. For two whole weeks, I couldn't figure out why she wouldn't speak to me).

Anyway, Ednotes has something about the MORE caucus weighing in with a statement on the UFT's presence at a march this coming Saturday. Mentioned in the post was the internal 'debate' MORE was having over what to say (what to say? what to say? Whatever to say? Omigosh). He ended his post this way

I have such antipathy for Al Sharpton that I have a problem taking part in something he is leading. That the UFT has been funneling money to his organizations all these years does not make me happy. I stopped watching MSNBC when they gave Sharpton his own show.

Which reminds me of the joke my right-wing brother in law once told me.
Standing in front of you is Sharpton, Hitler and Stalin. You have a gun with only 2 bullets. Which ones do you shoot?
Answer: shoot Sharpton twice.

(the comment I dropped that didn't get published is below).

Not a big fan of that last line (although I am ever a fan of you). 

I have some concerns over the debate within the caucus. I suppose it's better than Unity that MORE does debate, but to take a vote is a bit different from reaching consensus. Taking a majority vote requires the creation of a minority who is upset that they didn't get their way. Reaching consensus, which requires far more work, means that the people who would be in the majority take the added step of reaching out to the people who would be in the minority and do what it takes to bring them into a position where they can be ok with what's about to be done. We used to work to reach consensus. I believe that's because we used to care enough about what other folks thought to listen. 
Used to. While I am less concerned about any one debate, I am greatly concerned about the processes through which MOREistas do their MOREista-ing. In this case, I'm afraid that just because one (very cool) blogger calls this a debate, doesn't quote make it so.

You can so what you want (or not) I won't be replying.

(whereas "Used to." should have been "Used to?" and "quote" is, of course, "quite". Pardon my typos, I'm on a summer kind of flow.)

Anyway, to say that there is some tension within MORE is like saying there's some water in a river. Sure it's there, but you sort of need to in order to have it. That said, how that river flows is important. Listening is important.

Ed (who is prone to friendly reminders from time to time and is way too cool to spend anymore time on such trivia as this)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Having A Tumor Without Tenure

So it's June 20th ("Regents' Week" in New York high schools) and I'm having coffee with the most wonderfully kind teacher of my school. We're in his classroom, talking about our wives, when he starts giving me some awesome advice about marriage. He has this beautiful baritone voice and speaks in this fabulously slow, deliberate manner so, as is my habit when I listen to his wisdom, I lean my head into my right hand and just take it all in.

At that moment -I mean at that very moment- I feel some type of bump thing under my ear. My colleague's voice fades just a bit as I begin to concentrate my attention on this area just under my ear. I pick up my head up and touch  it with the tips of my two fingers and quickly conclude that I have a lump.

My colleague's voice fades almost completely away now as I feel all around this lump. It's about 3/4 inch in diameter, comes up about 1/2 an inch off of the side of my face and is planted right there under my ear. There is nothing on the other side, nothing under my neck and nothing anywhere else. I can no longer hear a word coming from my colleague. I see a face and a moving mouth but no sound comes out. All I can think about it is 'wtf is this lump?'. It doesn't hurt, doesn't feel sore and isn't accompanied by any fever or discomfort. The skin around it is not brown or discolored. It doesn't feel like a huge zit and doesn't hurt when I press on it. Yet there it is.

One month, five doctor appointments, an X-Ray and an MRI later and I am informed that I have a tumor in my right salivary gland. I didn't even know I had one of those.  I'm also told that there is no certainty as to whether it is cancerous or benign (although, I'm told, it's probably benign). Finally, I'm informed that I'll need surgery to fix this broken gland of mine.

And just like that, I am tossed into the merry Go 'Round that is our American Healthcare System.

I dont suppose my ride will be a long one. I have recently seen this happen to someone close and  the full cycle of death by cancer is a vicious one. There are endless appointments, countless doctors who you see but don't know, as well as more trips for procedures, surgeries and/or scary tests than you can, or care to, count. And then there are the drugs -endless amounts of drugs. They have drugs to drain your fluids and drugs to fill you with them. They have drugs to poison you and drugs to make you feel better after having been poisoned. There are drugs to make you sleep, drugs to wake you up, drugs to make you eat and drugs to make you stop vomiting when you've eaten too much after injecting the poison.  Witnessing these things was one thing. But by mid-July, after just 20 minutes with my head shoved into an MRI machine, I came to realize the full scope of what I suddenly hoped I was not in store for. If it's bad -I mean if it's really really bad- I'll begin this slow process where I'll first stop being myself, then stop being able to work and finally stop being anything at all. If it's more than what it probably it is (because it probably is just a benign tumor), I will have to consider how to navigate the terrain through these lenses.

I don't mention this because I think it matters much for an Edu blog. Nor do I mention it because I think this extreme possibility will happen to me (again, odds are that it won't). I certainly don't mention it for attention or sympathy. I only bring it up because I'd like you to see the landscape from my perspective as I begin talking about my job protections.

You see, at this point in the summer, it looks as though the surgery will take place sometime after the start of the coming school year. This means that I will probably have to miss at least a few days of work. My license is not in a shortage area. 'High School Social Studies Teacher' is a dream job, you see. The fact of the matter is that there are ten guys who are just as smart (and five who are just as handsome) who could quickly move in and do what I do for literally half of what it costs to pay my salary and the healthcare benefits that will probably save me.

I also need to say that I have seen school leaders move to get rid of teachers for something like missing work in order to address needed health issues before. I haven't seen this once or twice mind you (although I haven't seen it "a lot" or "often" either), but I have seen it enough over my thirteen years in the classroom to have clear recollections of being thankful for my good health on more than one occasion. And I've seen it enough to count myself grateful that I do not currently work under such school leaders. Those observations make me feel grateful for having the job protection of tenure.

I know what the process for a ruthless principal is to get rid of someone with sudden health issues. A principal I worked for between 2001 and 2005, and another I worked for for one semester in 2008 both followed it well. Before the health issues, the teacher is a fine and productive teacher. Suddenly, the health issues arrive and the teacher is not able to wait until the summer to take care of it. Soon after, the administrators share concerns about the teaching practices of this teacher. Before you know it, administrators and their lackies, label this person as a 'bad teacher'. From there, it's a quick ride out. I've witnessed three teachers be forced into an early retirement, one forced into a resignation from the system altogether and just this year, heard that another was forced into a medical pension that she did not wish to take.

The principals didn't force these teachers into these positions on the grounds that they were sick. Of course, that would be reprehensible. Rather, they forced my colleagues into these positions because they were 'bad' at what they did. Of course, the rub is that they were only labelled 'bad' after they became sick. Any dimwit can tell you that that's how things work in the real world.

I make this point because just yesterday, Whoopi Goldberg jumped on the bandwagon of 'fire the bad teachers'. I have to admit that, at face value, it is an honorable bandwagon to jump on. No one, and that includes me, wants a bad teacher teaching. A slightly closer look will reveal that Ms. Goldberg is embracing a specific form of commentary -one that happens to be called the "Bad Teacher Narrative". That's the commentary that chooses to discuss only the bad apples that populate our classrooms and no others. It's a useful narrative, in that focusing on the bad apples allows people to take hard earned privileges away from all of us.  Julie Cavanaugh, the lady who ran for president of my union last time around  once mentioned that “The ‘bad teacher’ narrative as a way of explaining what’s wrong with our school system gets really old,”. Looks like she was wrong. It's not old for Ms. Goldberg. On her show yesterday, Whoopi seemed to imply that tenure for all teachers should be removed simply because a few of us (anywhere between 1% - 3% according to testimony during the Vergara Case) may be bad. Of course, she doesn't consider how any one of us can arrive at the label of being bad. Some of us, like my colleagues under a ruthless principal, can be fine, but then become bad suspiciously after becoming sick. Others can befall this label for other reasons that are nothing short of dishonest and corrupt. Whoopi didn't seem to address this. No one who embraces the 'Bad Teacher Narrative" ever seems to address this.

At this point, I would like to point out that, should Campbell Brown's lawsuit designed to repeal teacher tenure in New York State be successful, I, along with the 'bad teachers', will be an 'at-will' employee until the New York State Legislature acts. This may stand in opposition to some things you have read in the past. The fact, however, is that New York's Civil Service laws do not apply to teachers and will not kick in as some sort of magical backstop should Brown's suit be successful. If she wins, teachers throughout the state will be "at-will" until some type of new laws are passed in the legislature. That is a fact.

And it leads me to an important point.  That without tenure, I'd have a lot more to worry about this year than just this damn tumor.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Conversation with Ben Spielberg Continues

Ben Spielberg (who is, apparently not the son of Steven) was kind enough to respond to my thrashing of his points of view regarding how tough unionists should be as we (yes I said we) support tenure.

I thrashed him here.
He kindly responded here.

My responses are below.

First thing's first. Readers should know that Ben graduated from Stanford (so he's super smart and comes from an Upper Mid-Class background). He has also written for Huffington Post (so he's a better writer than yours truly) and has been featured on EduShyster's blog (so he does have his bona fides with regard to not being down with the edu-reformers).

So when I say thrash, what I mean is thrash in the same way you thrash a teammate in the locker room during half time.

One more thing: I am not sure if he is a highly regarded or highly effective teacher, but his union did decide to make him an instructional coach (and he seems to be of good temperament), so I'm going to go ahead and presume that he his an excellent teacher. That's important. I'm highly effective and this back and forth should take place among two people who know what excellent pedagogy means and understand teacher unionism.

Ok, so. Issue #1:

Ben'sOriginalStatement: ” it’s clear that low-income students sometimes have teachers who aren't as high-quality as we would like”

MyReply. –>>High income students sometimes have the same. Why bother making this point?<—

Ben'sCounter: I make this point because reformers consistently highlight it and I think it’s important to acknowledge that their concern has some merit, even if their reasoning is completely wrong. I go on to explain that, while this fact is true, it doesn’t have relevance to the case or to teacher employment law. You are absolutely correct that high-income students sometimes have ineffective teachers, and I highlight that fact frequently in discussions of teacher employment law. As I wrote during #VergaraChat ( “Research suggests my experience is accurate: teacher quality is similar at low- and high-income schools.” If you read my earlier ( articles ( on Vergara, you’ll note that I consistently agree with you on this point.

MyCounter:  I would ask you here to be tough and think twice before acknowledging a point that these blasted reformers make. Their end game is pretty clear: They want orgs like TFA to give jobs to college grads. Tons of jobs. Tons and tons of jobs. The people who run these nonprofits live the same lifestyles as for-profit CEOs. Whatsmore, the nonprofits simply feed into the for-profit entities. Here is one example of how this works:

A Charter School, which does not make a profit, is run by a certain person in a low income neighborhood here in New York. That person, several weeks before opening the charter, purchased two foreclosed buildings from the city of New York for $1 a piece (through a program that existed under mayor Giuliani's administration). He then refurbished the buildings and sold them to his own personal LLC.  That for profit LLC leases the space to his not for profit charter network for at market values. In addition to making a large amount of money leading the charter, the person now also collects rent, at market value and for profit, for every location where the charter network exists. The LLC, which now has several big name investors as co-owners, is now the 8th or 9th largest landlord in this particular low income community.

This isn't made up or anything. This is how things work out here. I don't know how you accept these people at face value but when a reformer says it's about improving instruction, they're not thinking about instruction. They're thinking about profit. And when smart guys like you start stipulating to some points they make (with little evidence) simply because they repeatedly assert it, then they start thinking about scalability.

We know what closes the achievement gap, don't we? It happened in the 1970s and it can happen again: it's about making sure that whole schools aren't 'poor'. It's about placing kids like you in the same classrooms as kids like me (I was poor). I thought we all knew that closed the achievement gap. You want to do something politically tough? Start talking about bussing again. Start analyzing school choice against how well it has integrated students of different backgrounds. End the new segregation -and I'm not just talking racial. End the economic segregation  such that poor kids and rich kids are in the same classrooms again, then offer wrap around services to that poor kid, and you'll see the achievement gap shrink -again.

But please don't just say "ok" to these people as they ignore so much to focus on such a small sliver of the education process instruction counts for less than 10% of the student's overall life experiences. Make them talk about the other 90%!!!


 Ben'sOriginalStatement The research does not suggest, however (and the plaintiffs did not show at trial), that there is a causal link between teacher employment law and either teacher quality issues or inequities between low-income and high-income schools. “

MyReply–>The research also does not link ineffective teachers at poor schools. I had expected you to defend tenure along those lines: There is nothing by way of research to suggest that ineffective teachers overpopulate poor schools. <—

Ben'sCounter I would again point you to my earlier articles, particularly, for a full explanation of my position (I agree with you). Here’s an excerpt:

(I strongly suggest you read the excerpt. Ben is correct).

MyCounter: I thank you for making this point earlier. It, however, needed also to be said right there in your post. It, apparently, needs to be said to these people at every opportunity! There are issues and there are defining issues. That no apparent connection had been made between tenure statutes and teacher quality is an issue. But the defining issue here is -clearly- do bad, tenured teachers teach at 'poor' (I hate that label) schools? The answer, based even on your (and my) own mutual anecdotal experiences as teachers is absolutely not. In fact, most folks at these schools aren't even tenured! And in fact, based on empirical research: nobody knows at all. NO study has been done.  That's the defining issue of this topic. I urge you to take them to task along those lines.

There isn't any daylight between he and I and the next point, so I'm moving on.

 The next issue was brought up by me during Ben's Vergara chat Twitter discussion.

I complained you all but stipulated that there was 18 month period for tenure in your state (there isn’t. There is two years period. The eighteen month period for SOME teachers who served in different capacities does not count in the manner that Treu asserted, yet you never objected and even went so far as to correct me when I stated that. I know. I was angry. I was on a roll. 

Ben'sCounter Your description is inaccurate (here’s a link to the Twitter conversation for those interested: – I never stipulated what you say I did. I wrote that, in California, teachers are “probationary until year 3, but a decision needs to be made by March 15 of year 2.

MyCounter: So this is rhetorical, but Ben, you stand accused here of having 'all but stipulated' saying this. Not of saying it. That really means doing almost everything up to stipulating the 18 month limit. Not actually stipulating. But you did all but stipulate it.

Now as the whole world seems to be stipulating this 18 month limit fallacy, it is of little value for me to beat the horse again.

So I'll beat it lightly! Two points to make here:

1. In New York outside of the city, all employment decisions are made by a certain date as well. What the districts do is fire everyone by that date (pink slips and all). Then, they make their decisions in their own time and either rescind or do not rescind their originally decision. Now I'm not suggestion CA districts can or should do this in the same manner. I am only offering this as an example of what happens what managers manage. It's their job. It isn't impossible to do. Everyone is fired as of March 15 (in NY it's usually May 15) but then the district can change its mind here and there (which the TA would be happy to hear).

2. Wasn't this just recently (as in this very legislative year) amended to reflect this? Isn't this 18 month decision timeframe brand new? My understanding is that it was changed AFTER the case had begun. Is that accurate?

As I said, I am the only one (I think on Earth) making this point. But as a math math person, I'm sure you're aware that every problem needs an outlier. So I guess I'll play that role here.

Next issue:

I complained I don’t know what passes for a teachers’ association out there in CA, and I don’t know where you arrived at your idea of social justice unionism, but here in New York, people who accept the responsibility of representing teachers don’t stipulate to things that aren’t accurate, or are questionably accurate, simply because they want to get along with the very people who are trying to take away teachers’ jobs. Getting along isn’t that important…a seat at the table with a Georgetown professor, former government official and a local TFA organization, is not worth all that. Integrity toward your role as a member of a TA counts -very much.

Ben'sCounter I want to link my post on social justice unionism ( for some context about how the San Jose Teachers Association operates. The main points I’d like to make in response to this comment are

1) I have not and do not intend to agree “to things that aren’t accurate” for any reason.

2) I think I can speak for everyone on the SJTA Executive Board when I say that “integrity toward [our] role[s] as…member[s] of a [teachers association]” matters a great deal to us.

The main thing that I think we disagree about is the value of having conversations with reformers and other people with whom we disagree. Reformers are often the aggressors in conflicts with unions and, unfortunately, often push reforms that negatively impact students, teachers, and schools. But most reformers – not all, but nearly everyone I’ve spoken to – are well-intentioned people who are similarly passionate about improving the educational experience for students. I agree with you wholeheartedly that sacrificing principles or arguments for a “seat at the table” would be terrible (in fact, I recently decried that sort of political decision-making here:, but that is definitively not what SJTA or I do. Instead, we engage with people, indicate a respect for their intentions, and convey why many of their proposed reforms do more harm than good. We also suggest what we believe to be better courses of action. This approach has worked very successfully in SJUSD. I would be interested to hear why you think we shouldn’t talk to people about these issues and try to change their minds (as long as we don’t sacrifice our principles along the way).

MyCounter: Of course, the tone with which I said that was argumentative and, for that, I apologize.

I think much of this disagreement comes down to an age old debate of whether teachers should be part of a professional association, such as the NEA, or part of a union, such as the AFT. As you may be aware, there can be  drastic differences between those two entities. In fact, this has been an historic issue among teachers everywhere there has been a labor movement in the US: 'Should teachers belong to an association of professionals or a union?' They mostly pick association (as evidenced by the size of the NEA when compared to the AFT), but our 1962 (and 65) labor contract showed us here in NYC, that great things can happen when you kick out the association and join up with a union.

 Also, your NEA represented NYS teachers up until 1971. Read this, it'll say that they did a pretty crappy job of it (it's one opinion). It says that low wages, low teacher voice and low teacher respect ruled throughout the time NEA represented NYS teachers.

But something happened in 1971 that changed all that (and has bearing on our discussion here). Some idiot conservative in the NYS Senate launched a successful legislative attack against tenure.  Teachers woke up one day and tenure had been greatly weakened. The response was for the union (who did exist and was in competition with the NEA) to grow in strength and stature.  Eventually, that union exacted political revenge against that political and came to represent all 694 school in districts in New York State. The NEA had been kicked out. Soon, NYSUT won back the tenure rights that had been lost and improved teacher wages throughout the state. That's our ("union") side of the argument, of course. I'm really interested in what your ("association") side of an argument like that would be.

But here we are, 43 years later, and we are -again- dealing with an attack on tenure. It has occurred in a state where there is (at least one) association (no teacher union in San Jose strictly speaking) and has (again?) been successful. It is now coming to New York (a state filled with unionists who have no problem taking to the street and marching up to Albany and protesting outside a courthouse). I don't think it will be successful here.

But the tone with which I approached that historical 'association' vs. 'union' discussion was argumentative and, for that, I do apologize.

I can only urge you to fight!! Argue!! Agitate!!! Be a contrarian every now and then!!! Don't let them try fire Ms. Crabtree and 'Get Kotter' in the name of 'improved instruction' without making -forcing- them to address the issue that what they're really talking about is firing teachers.

Sixth, and finally, you wrote:

I extend an open invitation to the next meeting of the social justice caucus of the UFT

Awesome! Please let me know when it is – I am in the process of moving to Washington, DC, but I would love to come if I can make it work with my schedule.

Thanks again for engaging and have a good one. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

That's awesome!! I'm at and will reach out to the MORE folks for some dates (I'm guessing sometime in September?)

Tenure & Academic Freedom in California Pre Vergara

I was reading over some stuff getting ready for my response to San Jose Teachers' Association member Ben Spielberg and I tripped on the actual text from CA Code 44932 (the things that a permanent (tenured) employee can be fired for in CA) (The highlight has been added by me):

44932.  (a) No permanent employee shall be dismissed except for one
or more of the following causes:
   (1) Immoral or unprofessional conduct.
   (2) Commission, aiding, or advocating the commission of acts of
criminal syndicalism, as prohibited by Chapter 188 of the Statutes of
1919, or in any amendment thereof.
   (3) Dishonesty.
   (4)  Unsatisfactory performance.
   (5) Evident unfitness for service.
   (6) Physical or mental condition unfitting him or her to instruct
or associate with children.
   (7) Persistent violation of or refusal to obey the school laws of
the state or reasonable regulations prescribed for the government of
the public schools by the State Board of Education or by the
governing board of the school district employing him or her.
   (8) Conviction of a felony or of any crime involving moral
   (9) Violation of Section 51530 or conduct specified in Section
1028 of the Government Code, added by Chapter 1418 of the Statutes of
   (10) Knowing membership by the employee in the Communist Party.

You can be fired simply for belonging to the Communist Party in California!??! Am I wrong about this?? I'm no Communist (not even close), but I thought that the Red Scare was over.


That's not all. Section 51530 is all about Communism. It says:
51530. No teacher giving instruction in any school, or on any
property belonging to any agencies included in the public school
system, shall advocate or teach communism with the intent to
indoctrinate or to inculcate in the mind of any pupil a preference
for communism.
Now on one level, this sounds harmless and patriotic enough: Just don't teach your students to grow up to be Communists. It  also goes on to say that we can teach about the facts behind Communism. They just wanted to stop the "the advocacy of, or inculcation and
indoctrination into, communism ". That's all they were worried about.

In other words, I'm allowed to 'teach the facts' of communism. Just not to the extent that my students can, of their own volition, choose or decide that they want to be Communists when they grow up.

If they do become Communists, I lose my job.

And what is Communism? Well, according to the law:

For the purposes of this section, communism is a political theory
that the presently existing form of government of the United States
or of this state should be changed, by force, violence, or other
unconstitutional means, to a totalitarian dictatorship which is based
on the principles of communism as expounded by Marx, Lenin, and

I'm sure if this means that California teachers are allowed to teach a different political theory that seeks to overthrow the US government and replace it with a totalitarian dictatorship. I'm guessing no (Sidenote to the NSA: and might I say that during this, the day of the Espionage Act, I am so fine with NOT EVER teaching ANYTHING that may overthrow this US Government. Thanks!).  Anyway, I saw no law like the one I just described.

Nor am I sure if I am allowed to teach about communism as expounded by Marx, Lenin OR Stalin. You see Marx's communism was slightly different than Lenin's and Stalin's Communism was completely different than the other two when you count the, you know, massive amounts of deaths caused. You'd have to either be a Communist or a history teacher in order to know that. I'm no communist, but as a history teacher here in NY, I must teach the difference, so I am aware of it. I just don't know if they're lumping all three of these guys in together!

Nor am I sure if there is a similar statute here in New York State (and I am not about to go and check!).

All I can be certain about is this: The more I learn about what tenure was in California, the more I learn about what is was not: It was not, in that state, the academic freedom for social studies teachers to teach whatever he or she wished. It was not the freedom to teach anything but the facts about communism. Anything beyond that got you fired.

 "A single termination is a tragedy. A million is a statistic."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Treu's Toys; Playing With "Evidence"

Judge Rolf M True (pronounced /troi/ like the ancient city of Troy), the dude from California who took tenure from tens of thousands of teachers, 'played around;, as we say here in NY, with a few things in his stunning Vergara decision (here). In one instance, he played with around with the Equal Protection Clause of California's Constitution. He also played around with the effect that one to three percent of bad teachers may have on students across the state. In addition to that, he greatly played around with whether the students who were named in the lawsuit were even damaged to the point where they should be suing (more on all of these things later). I'm calling these' things he played around with Treu's Toys and my first post is about how he played around with the definition of research and the general understanding of evidence.

I have to start this discussion with an exchange in the comments section of the ed website Chalkbeat (the first quote comes from Geoff Decker's article):

Geoff Decker: Chalkbeat: "The plans come two weeks after a judge in California said data showing that poor and non-white students in California are more often taught by low-performing teachers convinced him that the laws violate the state’s constitution."

Me: This is untrue. Judge Treu in California never linked poor performing teachers with poor schools in his decision

Geoff Decker: Chalkbeat: (after platitudes) 'The judge's decision ... definitely cites research linking the distribution of crummy teachers to poor schools."

commenter Flerp: It's a garbage opinion [BUT here's the passage where Treu links bad teachers with 'poor schools' ...]

"Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this Court that the Challenged Statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students. As set forth in Exhibit 289, “Evaluating Progress Toward Equitable Distribution of Effective Educators,” California Department of Education, July 2007" ...

So do bad teachers teach disproportionately at low performing, or what Decker described as "poor" schools? Judge Treu said yes. But his answer is largely based on what he described as "substantial evidence".

The question then is "what substantial evidence"? Treu answers this for us this in his decision. According to Treu, substantial evidence is what is "set forth in Exhibit 289, “Evaluating Progress Toward Equitable Distribution of Effective Educators,” California Department of Education, July 2007" ...".

Now Geoff Decker -a highly respected education reporter here in New York City- identifies this as 'research'. But is this research? Is the document “Evaluating Progress Toward Equitable Distribution of Effective Educators,” California Department of Education, July 2007" actual research?

To the point where it can be cited as evidence?

Unfortunately, I've got to establish three things here: 1) I have to establish what research is (yep. True's decision was that bad). And second, I have to discuss exactly what this exhibit -number 289- that True pointed to was all about. Finally, I have to talk about "Evidence" that was introduced during the case. And then I've got to ask you to decide; should this document be accepted as evidence?

Let's start with research -which is a very tricky thing!! In order for something to be research, it must be empirical. It must study a specific topic and it also must be peer reviewed. Merriam-Webster defines research as " studious inquiry or examination; especially :  investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws". And all research, even social research, must follow the process of the Scientific Method (shown in the chart here only because the chart looks really really cool).

Was there a study conducted proving that crappy teachers -who have tenure!- are over populating schools that serve high need schools? If there was, I certainly missed it -and I usually don't miss studies like that!

But if so, did Treu cite it as substantial evidence?

 Research based evidence saying that says a disproportionate amount of the lousy tenured teachers teach all of the poor and/or minority students?  If, like Mona Davids and Sam Pirozzolo,  you believe to Geoff Decker and Rolf Treu, you may actually think the answer to these things is yes!

But is it?

Well, it all comes down to this one document that Treu cited.

"Evaluating Progress Toward Equitable Distribution of Effective Educators,” California Department of Education, July 2007 ..."

"Substantial Evidence"

The document has an abstract. It does not say "Hey! Hi! I'm an empirical study and I'm here to prove that crappy teachers are tenured in the schools where there is a high amount of poor and/or minority students!! Nice to meet you!!" What it actually says is:

This document is intended to assist local educational agencies (LEAs) in thinking about how teacher qualifications and characteristics can be used to ensure that poor and minority students have access to highly qualified and effective teachers. It also provides guidance for LEAs as they develop strategies for recruiting, developing and retaining highly qualified and effective teachers and administrators

That doesn't sound like research to me. You'l have to see for yourself: Here's the (publicly available) Exhibit 289 from the Vergara trial below. Feel free to click through it for a few moments. Then you tell me whether or not it is "substantial research"

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I don't know about you, but I see a hiring guide. In fact, I see a hiring guide designed to help local school districts (LEAs) figure out how to hire the most qualified teachers. 

I need to say this again: You are looking at a hiring guide written by the state Dept. of Education and written for local school districts. Its job is to help local school districts hire good staff.

This is not research.

Whether or not it is "Substantial evidence [making] it clear ...that ...[tenure laws] disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students." is something we have to look in a few moments.

But this -what Treu pointed to as you decided- is a hiring guide. It is, in fact, an outdated hiring guide. But it is a hiring guide nonetheless.

Now I know this *hiring guide* says "qualified and effective" on it. And here -yet again- I have to explain some more in order to peal back *yet another* layer of this 'big lie'. So pardon me ....

You see, you and I know that Qualified teachers (teachers who have qualifications (or high qualifications)) and Effective teachers (teachers who are effective at what they do are two) are two completely different things. This 2007 document is barely aware of that.

The section about effectiveness starts on page 9 of the document. Scrolling to page 9 and actually reading over pp 9 -11 will help you understand what this document's authors understood teacher effectiveness to be.

It makes the assumption that qualifications and effectiveness are on in the same. The writers of this document do attempt to use research to establish what 'effective' teachers look like during a job interview. But that research is from 2002 (when even I was young and handsome) and says (with emphasis added by me)

Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) U.S. Department of Education 2002) showed that students in high-poverty secondary schools were 77 percent more likely to be taught by teachers without degrees in the subject they were teaching than were their affluent counterparts

That sounds like qualifications to me. How about you?

But in the year 2014, Treu knew this. And for him to blatantly come out and call it 'research' is nothing short of willfully ignorant. I'll the commenter Flerp (a NYC lawyer and parent) describe it:
 a garbage opinion, just horrendous

You're so incredibly patient to keep reading. Thanks! I'm also there!! So far, I've established 'research' and I've helped you understand the main document that Treu accepted as evidence (Exhibit 289) is not actually research. Now lets' talk about what other evidence he may have accepted, but chose not to accept.

In my last post, I took a very cerebral member of the San Jose Teacher Association -a union brother (whom I've never met)- to task on whether or not he was being stringent enough in fighting against this decision and for tenure. He was kind enough to respond (our discussion will continue shortly) with, in part, a link to this piece which he published way back in February. In it, Ben Spielberg writes:

Yet very little evidence, if any, suggests that teacher quality at low-income schools is worse than teacher quality at high-income schools. 

plaintiffs’ own expert witnesses have acknowledged in their research that “the quality of teaching…does not differ substantially across schools.” 

That last part quotes from and links to the famous Chetty Study. Among other things, that study looked at teacher effectiveness and value added measurements. My understanding is that it is was introduced as evidence during the Vergara trial, so Treu had access to it. Curious why judge Treu didn't quote it in his decision? So am I. Here's a larger portion of that quote (from page three) of  the Chetty study:

An auxiliary implication of this result is that differences in teacher quality explain a small share of the achievement gap between high- and low-SES students. This is ... because teacher VA [value added data] does not differ substantially across schools in the district we study.

Let me come back to the English language for a just moment. This, right here, what you just read is evidence stating clearly that teacher effectiveness (as measured by VA data) does not greatly change from high achieving students to low ones. It says that teacher quality does not "disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students".

Treu ignored this evidence! Instead, he embraced evidence from a frekkin' hiring guide -put out by CADOE way back in 2007 (and by the way, that quote is from the very first paragraph. Lazy jerk didn't even bother reading the rest)!!

So to review:
1) What the press saw as research was, in fact, not research at all.
2) The judge ignored a conclusion from real research, the Chetty study (where the plaintiffs themselves all but admitted the teaching quality isn't any worse for "poor and/or minority students" than it is for other students) and, instead, embraced a state DOE hiring guide from 2007.
3) Tens of thousands of school teachers in California may not have tenure because of it.

I hope I've been able to explain how, with regard to the Vergara decision, the term "evidence" was just another one of Judge Treu's Toys.  I'd like to close with a somewhat related quote and ask you consider how that chapter in American history is working out:

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." -George W. Bush