Sunday, December 1, 2013

Accountability vs. Support: Here Is One Example of How Things Need To Change

the second part of my Gotham piece has been delayed by a death in my extended family and my school's QR. It's still forthcoming. In the meantime enjoy my rant.

(Disclaimer: This is not a rant about doing extra work on a weekend. It's a rant about what's wrong with the current NYCDOE (as evidenced by the fact that I'm doing extra work on a weekend). Read on...)

Every six weeks, high school teachers compile their grades for report cards. While the method has changed during the Bloomberg years (we used to fill out bubble sheets. Now we use Excel to complete the grades and email them in. Soon, we'll be doing them online), the basic structure of grades has remained the same. Most of us are expected to score students on a numeric system, rounding each grade up or down to the nearest 5th point (55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, so on and so forth). This is the end of the second marking period of our Fall semester. We received our grade reports and were given the Thanksgiving Weekend to complete them.

We are also responsible to leave comments with each student (we're expected to leave two comments for students who didn't achieve a passing grade). It is important to note that, over the fourteen years that I have (proudly) been teaching in New York City's schools, these comments (and their corresponding numbers that I have been asked to enter) have not changed. It's been one of the few things that have remained exactly the same in this system

 Until now, of course. Someone down at the Tweed Courthouse has decided that now (in the middle of a semester where many teachers are giving up time from their holiday weekend to complete grades and during a year where Danielson and Common Core are in full on implementation) is the time to update the comments.

And it's not just and update. They have completely re-formatted both the comments and the way we find those comments such that every teacher who sits down with them has to spend even more time learning the new codes and finding a brand new set of comments to leave that both satisfy our school's policy and our responsibility to leave effective feedback. Sure, the old comments were a little antiquated and could have used updating. But dropping this on teachers in the middle of a semester, as opposed to September at the beginning of a school year (and dropping it on us during a holiday weekend) makes a tough job even more difficult.

 I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I don't complain for the sake of complaining. If I raise an issue with something here, it's because I believe it points to a larger issue that should be addressed. Dropping something like this on classroom teachers in the middle of a holiday weekend is yet another example of what's wrong with current district leadership: It's a good idea, that has been rolled out in the absolute wrong way. It's a way of keeping everyone -teachers, students and parents- accountable except for the managers who think of the ideas and expect them to be implemented. It fails to gives employees the proper support - which in this case, is simply time and the courtesy of an announcement- that is needed to get the job done.

The ideas of accountability and support are pretty important. For years,  DOE leadership has been obsessed with holding us accountable. Yet, as their critics often charge,  the leaders have consistently failed to consider the right types of support  needed in order to achieve the accountability they seek. For example, current school funding (call "Fair Funding") has prevented extra monies from flowing to schools who serve the students with highest needs. The results of that?  Schools who serve students of higher needs perform worse on indicators like school Progress Reports and they receive lower letter grades. (File this one under 'Duh'. The Queens schools with the lowest Special Education Students (Students With Disabilities) and ESL ("L") populations received the highest grades: A whopping ten received an "A" (two received a "B"). Yet in the schools who serve the highest populations of SWDs and Ls; zero received an "A", only four received a "B" and four were given a "C", (oh, and and one "F"!). Just to underline the point I'm making: These schools are held accountable, yet are not given the proper supports needed to achieve that accountability (and when they fail to reach that accountabiliy, they're closed).

This business of dropping a whole new system of comments (a required task for teachers) right in the middle of a semester -during a holiday weekend and with no announcement at all!- is just another symptom of this approach. They want to hold people accountable without even considering the supports needed to achieve that accountability (in this case, it's new specific comments, without regard to proper time or introduction). It's one of the many many things that need to be changed with regard to the leadership of this district and I hope the new chancellor identifies and addresses it.

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