Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ya! Teachers' Choice Is Back (And Yet, I'm Totally Upset)!

While New York City can afford more than ten million dollars on a three-year contract to McGraw-Hill to electronically monitor grading for high school Regents' Exams (a task that was heretofore done by teaches during the regular school day), the money that teachers are reimbursed to purchase their own supplies has taken a turn upward that should embarrass any common sense observer.

Teachers' Choice, the City Council funded program that reimburses teachers for committing the already humiliating act of purchasing our own supplies, has received its funding allotment for the upcoming school year.

Teachers are to be reimbursed a pitiful amount of $57 for going to the store on their own time to purchase their own supplies for the 2013-2014 academic year. Social Workers, School Psychologists and Guidance Counselors will receive $37 of reimbursements and . School secretaries will receive just $20.

I don't like to be negative our cynical, but it bears mentioning (and repeating) that the priorities here are all out of whack. 'They' have millions to spend on new ways of supervising us, yet only spare change to actually help us do our job.

As my students might say, that's not a good look.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Credit Where Credit Is Due

They are neo-liberal leaning (they are, at times, more concerned with the new public/private sector relationship that comprises much of the current educational reform movement than with presenting a full, find picture). They do have a problem with covering much of the actual educating part of the education discussion in New York. They aren't much concerned with this discussion from the perspective of teachers (or really much of anything from the perspective of teachers for that matter). And they haven't (as of yet) read or wrote anything about Rafe Esquith's new book (which is a pretty quick and easy read, btw).

But did share Esquith's appearance on Leonard Lopate today in their nightly roundup. That's worth mentioning. 

Of course, it was their newest reporter doing so during what appears to be a few vacation weeks, but hey; you take what you can take (erm get) in this world, right?

Maybe someday, they'll observe a class or two (or celebrate (then report on) who the most celebrated teachers are in New York City ("Gotham's Finest Teachers" on their rooftop or something like that. Hmm..)

Baby steps to over coming that ol' bias towards what is really fair.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Celebrating America's Best Teacher (and Why You'll NEVER read About That on

Some time ago, a guy named Steve Brill -a non-teacher, non-education and virtual know-nothing to the entire education discussion in America- wrote a book entitled "Class Warfare". Many of us in the classroom felt it was skewed against teachers and against real pedagogical process in America. But Gotham Schools, widely regarded as the 'must read' website on education in New York City (as close to "The Paper of Record" as  the education discussions can get out here) gave the book wide coverage in a piece entitled  "We Read Steve Brill's Class Warfare So You Don't Have To" (see here). The premise of the piece was that the book was so important that it had to be read and that the writers of GS were helping you by summarizing it. The book was also included in a wide number of Gotham School's published pieces during that period, namely here and here and here and here . In fact, a search for the term "Steve Brill" returns five full pages of entries (you can check it out here)! That's a lot of mentioning of the man who hadn't taught, hadn't lead and hadn't had much, if anything, to do with the education students in America .

On a different note; Just this past week, the man who is widely regarded as the finest teacher in the United States released his fifth book -his last four were best-sellers. His name is Rafe Esquith. Mr. Esquith is a 30 year veteran elementary school teacher from, Los Angeles. He has, according to this piece, been commended by the Dalai Lama, President Obama and Queen Elizabeth II (the latter having named him a member of the British Empire).  News of this publication was shared by Valerie Strauss, who writes "The Answer Sheet" blog for the Washington Post (one of the most informed edu writers in the country). It was also shared by Jay Mathews, who writes the "Class Struggle" blog for the same publication (aand is another one of the most informed edu writers in the country). Mr. Mathews, who by the way, discovered Jaime Escalante (the  LA teacher depicted in the movie 'Stand and Deliver". Mathews was the one who made Escalante famous), has written about Mr. Esquith before. In fact, he's mentioned him fifteen times in the past according to this Google Search. And Strauss shared an interesting set of fun facts in her piece about Esquith:
When he goes to China he is so popular he needs security guards to protect him from the crush of the crowds.
*He is the only K-12 teacher to be awarded the president’s National Medal of the Arts.
*Queen Elizabeth made him a member of the British Empire.
*The Dalai Lama gave him the Compassion in Action Award.
*He has turned down requests to have a Hollywood movie made about his work.
*A documentary, “The Atticus Finch of Hobart Elementary,” was made about thefamous Shakespeare program he has run for years at Hobart, where all of his students appear in at least one full-length production a year. The English actor Ian McKellen actually noticed some of Esquith’s young students mouthing the words to a Shakespearean play in which he was performing in Los Angeles.
*He has been given the Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award, Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award, and Disney’s National Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. He’s gotten more awards and honors, but you should have the idea by now.

By almost any measurable standard, a discussion about education in America -including teacher quality and improving teaching- should and must include America's best teacher; Rafe Esquith. There are two logical reasons for this. 1) Because we should all be familiar with the person who is widely seen as 'doing it' on a higher plane than the rest of us. The way every basketball player should know Lebron and every baseball player Derek Jeter, every teacher or would-be teacher and every principal who is interested in high quality teaching- should know Rafe Esquith. People who care about education might have posters of him on the walls of their college dorms. His books should be on the shelves of anyone who claims to care about education. He should be celebrated; everywhere.  2) Because the guy is sharing his stuff! Mr. Esquith isn't just a master teacher. He's also a published author. He doesn't write about high stakes tests and the education reform movement. he writes about teaching. His audience are teachers (and ostensibly anyone interested in high quality teaching) and he's not interested in much else. If you can trust anyone about what truly makes the type of teaching that can change the world, then you should be able to trust your time with one of his books.

A search on for the term "Rafe Esquith" returned just two mentions. One here from 2009 and one here from last week. Both of them were link backs from Mathew's blog (a compliment among bloggers, to be sure, but a superficial one as well). Neither of them represent any real energy or effort from the people at Those are facts. You should accept them as such.

Now you shouldn't view this as an attack on Gotham Schools.  I've interacted with the folks at that website for a few years now. All of them are good, intelligent people with excellent people skills and pedigree degrees. They're ready to engage or to listen (or defend, as was the case with one reporter when I called the site 'neo-lib' leaning) and they represent something fairly important; non-profit journalism. But anyone who seeks to question where their interests lie -with the  edu reform pulse (which is profit minded and has wrought a terrible nightmare on educators across the country) or with education -I mean real education that really can change the lives of millions of children- need only examine where they have expended their energies: The Bloke who cashed in by writing an anti teacher book about education and then vanished back under the rock from which he crawled grabbed GothamSchools' brightest spotlight. Rafe Esquith grabbed one small link back.

Why aren't more people familiar with the best teacher in America? Because the media who write about education write about something different.

**Update: The Gotham Twitter account kindly responded to this post. I have a different read of those links (you can decide for yourself), but it's only fair to say they question that assertion.

They also responded to my inquiry as to whether or not they would bother to read the book:

While I hope they do read the book (and if they say they will they probably really will) it's worth mentioning that they do call attention to what happens in other places around the country quite often. I feel that if they can mention LA here , then they can mention the epitome of pedagogy. Just my little opinion (just my little blog).  Cool that they engaged, though.**

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Show Me the Conversion Chart!

There has been a fair amount of talk about why the 'cut scores' for the testing components of New York City's teacher evaluation  system have been set so high.  Carol Burris has noted that while the testing component cut scores for other districts throughout the state are set to one level, those same scores are set to a higher level in New York City.

Burris notes that for the rest of the state, the cut scores look like this:
Ineffective = 0-2
Developing =3-8
Effective = 9-17
Highly Effective = 18-20
But for New York City, look like this:

Ineffective = 0-12
Developing =13-14
Effective = 15-17
Highly Effective = 18-20
You see the problem? New York City teacher, Burris says, have a more difficult time reaching the effective ranges.

There was a good, constructive piece on Edwize last week in response to this. It explained, from the UFT perspective, why the cut scores on the testing components of New York City's version of the evaluation system are so high. Jackie Bennett, a UFT researcher (who writes in a much more friendly tone than Leo Casey did when he tried to explain the system in his setting the record straight series on Edwize) explains that cut scores are just "numeric conversions" of expressed meaningful results from each subcomponent and that we shouldn't get too wrapped up in them.  The old cut scores (the ones used for every other district) just set up too many scenarios where a teacher might still score an ineffective even he or she earned higher. These new cut scores, says Bennett, are actually the fix to a problem the rest of the state has to face.  As an example, Bennett describes a scenario, where a teacher has 60% of his or her students meet student goals -who would be rated "developing" in either scenario, would earn only 3 points in the other districts' evaluation plan, but a total of 13 in New York  City's evaluation plan. In this scenario, the teacher in New York City would earn more points and be closer to earning his or her way to the 75 needed to be deemed as effective.

There's only one problem with the explanation: It doesn't address this little issue with the labels of "Ineffective" or "Developing" and that will be the difference between a person keeping his or job or losing it.

Bennett's description of how cut scores are just expressions of 'meaningful data' is very accurate but it begs a some obvious questions: What is that 'meaningful data'? And how does it compare with the 'meaningful data' in other districts throughout the state? I mean, if the cut scores are just an expression (of 'meaningful data'), then we really should look at the 'meaningful data', right? If Burris is wrong (and New York City teachers don't have a more difficult time) then the 'meaningful data' will show that we don't have to reach a higher bar in order to avoid being rated 'ineffective'. Right? But if Burris is correct -and New York City teacher do in fact have it more difficult than the rest of the state when its comes to the testing components- then that 'meaningful data', when compared with other districts throughout the state, will reveal that New York City teachers will have to reach a higher bar.

So let me explain some things in the English language for just a moment, ok? The 'meaningful data' that Ms. Bennett refers to is the percentage of students who meet their goals -you know, how many students pass their standardized exams. That's the meaningful data that is eventually expressed in cut scores. That 'meaningful' is converted to a score (from 0-20) on something called a conversion chart. A conversion chart will show the percentage of my students who met their goals and convert it to a score from 0-20. So if, as Burris says, city teachers have a harder time, a high percentage of our students would have to pass these standardized tests (rather, reach our targets) than in other districts.

In either language, the response to Ms. Bennett, who tells me don't worry! must be this: Show me the conversion chart. Show me the chart that converts this meaningful data into an actual score and let's compare it with similar conversion charts from other districts throughout the state.

I searched high and low on the Edwize post and I could not find a comparison of this meaningful data. SO I did what any normal person (who is totally obsessed about keeping my job) would do: I went and found my own. Here is a conversion chart high school teachers of a typical district in New York State (check page 23 of the .pdf document here)

If I worked in this district, 55% of my students would need to meet their local assessment targets in order for me to avoid being rated ineffective for this category. True, I would only earn 3 point toward a possible 100. But, again, this isn't just a number game. This is a label game: (How do we avoid the label of ineffective so that we can continue being employed?).

Well, here is the conversion chart that has been established for New York City high school teachers (see page 171 of the .pdf document (John King's decision) here)

You can see that, in order for me to avoid the 'ineffective' label in New York City, 60% of my students would have to meet their targets. True, I earn more points in New York City if 55% of my students meet targets than I would if I worked in this other district, but the label that gets me fired -Ineffective-  stays with me.

So was Burris correct or Bennett? Well, the last time I checked, 60 was, in fact, higher than 55. Which means it will be more difficult to keep your job in New York City than it will be in other districts throughout the state. Sure, it's not that much higher. But it is higher. Burris is correct.

What advantage does earning more points get me if I'm still going to be rated 'Ineffective' and be lose my job?