Wednesday, April 30, 2014

These Brave Teachers from Brooklyn

Word from Ednotes' Blog that 26 unbelievably brave high school teachers from Brooklyn plan on refusing to administer a standardized exam tomorrow deserves all of our attention -now

I care more about this than the contract (being announced tomorrow).

If you do one thing tonight, read this announcement.

If you do one thing tomorrow, find a just way to support these brave teachers from Brooklyn

Stand Up, Opt Out: Support Teacher Test Refuseniks

MOREistas (and supporters):
Almost 30 teachers are refusing to give the NYC ELA Performance Assessment to our high school ELL students. This is very big news and we're excited!!!!! We need as much support as we can get! Please pass this around in your schools and on your networks and send us a solidarity picture or message from your school chapter on our website,

In Solidarity!
Emily and Rosie
Support the First High School Teachers to Join
Growing Opt Out Movement in New York City!!!!

On Thursday, May 1, 2014, we, the teachers and school staff, at the International High School at Prospect Heights 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ed In The Apple Answers Your Questions: Why Are Contract Negotiations Taking So Long? And Other Questions You Wanted to Ask.

Teacher: Why are the negotiations taking so long?

EdInTheApple: Because our union leadership doesn't like to announce a contract until the month of May, at the earliest. It's just a thing they have.  In addition to that, because we say so. That's why.

Teacher: Other unions received 4% increases in 2008 – why don’t teachers receive the same increases?

EdInTheApple: Because back in '09, we chose not to take a 4-4 raise that the rest of the city was offering. Now, of course, we're begging for that 4-4 in negotiations. Pray that we get it, pal. Pray that we get it. 

Teacher: If the City and Union agree to a rate that teachers should have received on November 1, 2009 would we receive that rate each year up until the new contract is negotiated?

EdInTheAppleFirst, let me say that that question makes sense to one else but you and I. I know you're referring to the fact that real unions, like the Teamsters, receive full retroactive pay goin back to the expiration of their last contract and that in other unions a raise is, indeed, a raise. Here in the UFT, we do things in a different manner. Therefore, when the newspapers report "full" retroactive pay, it won't be full full retroactive pay -as in you'll actually receive that money retroactive pay. It will be something else under the title of retroactive pay. The truth is that the money you had expected when you heard the news of full retroactive pay won't show up. Maybe you'll get a check or something like that to make you feel better. Plus, it sort of sounds like you're trying to pin me down to answer there. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Teacher: Once the parties agree on the total amount of retroactive pay will all teachers receive the same rate?

EdInTheApple: Great question! We're going to screw the people who resigned anytime between '09 and today. But we're going to take care of anyone who retired. As you know, our reelection depends on the retirees who chose to still pay union dues. Check our bylaws to find the standard that one has to meet in order to reach retirement and still be a UFT member. Whoever matches that criteria will receive their back pay. Anyone else is screwed. Sound unfair? Well, that's unionism. Former members don't vote in our elections.

Teacher: Will receive the retroactive pay be paid in a lump sum?

EdInTheApple: Your grammar is horrible and I refuse to answer that question. 

Teacher: The Mayor has mentioned that contracts must include cost savings – what does he mean?

EdInTheApple: Fine! I'll answer the other question. The answer is no. No way, no how. You'll get it over three years -maybe more. In smaller sums -IN THE SAME CHECKS AS YOUR PAY (you know, so as to ensure that they take out so much in taxes that it won't even help you as much as you think).

OH, and to the other guy; it means that we, at the top of the food chain, have to decide which serfs' gets saved and which get screwed.  That's a tough choice. But some of you will keep your pensions and some won't. We just need to begin working out those details.

Teacher: Does the teacher union negotiate health plans?

EdInTheApple: No. I mean, yes. I mean no. Look, you're paying for your healthcare moving forward. Pick your poison:  The Cadillac tax, the Belly Button tax or maybe we'll just send you all out to purchase your own via Obamacare (in fact, strike that last sentence. We'll pick it for you).

Teachers: So, the contract could give us a raise and the increased health plan costs can erode some of the increase?

EdInTheApple: Err der...

Teacher: Would we lose some health plan coverage?

EdInTheAppleThis is starting to bore me. What part of 'you're screwed' don't you get?

Teacher: Will the just announced MTA-TWU labor agreement, 8% over 5 years impact the teacher negotiations?

Special thanks to Ed in the Apple for answering questions about contract negotiations today.

EdInTheApple The mayor says no. The governor says no. The union says no. So, in other words, yes.

Teacher: Do you have any idea of the rate going forward?

EdInTheApple:  It looks like the pattern that is going ot be set will be 4-4-0-1-2 (and then 2 & if it goes two additional years). In addition to that, there are mentions of teachers working longer days. That will lead you as teacher to have raise that appears larger than the pattern It really won't be. You'll just be compensated for the extra time, but, yeah. All told, take 2 1/2 (the average inflation rate since 2009) and multiple that by 5 years (or seven if the contract lasts that long). Your total amount of raise will be roughly equivalent to that (12.5 total if the contract lasts until 2014. 17.5 if it lasts until 1017). The great thing about being a city teacher is your pay keep up with inflation. Wait, what did I just say? Never mind. That's too complicated for you as a rank member to understand

Teacher: What happens if negotiations stall?

EdInTheApple: The fact finding report will be issued and the world will get a little confusing for a while, but at the end of the day, it won't turn out well.

Teacher: Who gets to vote on the contract?

EdInTheApple: You <dummy>

Teacher: Will we have the contract before we vote?

EdInTheApple: The is the Mighty UFT. You never know what you're voting for until you've voted for it -and that's only the times where you're allowed to vote! 

Get it?
Go it?
Good! ;D

Sunday, April 27, 2014

To the (New) Member of MORE Who Called My Cell Today

Dear (new) member of MORE who called my cell today,

First, let me say that I was surprised to get a call today, but I'm really glad I picked up. I don't usually answer numbers I don't recognize, but it's a good thing I did. I had a guilty feeling in my stomach from missing this afternoon's MORE meeting. Sure, I had a First Holy Communion to attend out here in the suburbs, and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to make it into the city, but that doesn't mean I liked not being there. Having someone from the caucus get in touch with me made me feel a bit better about the whole thing.

Also, and just to preface, it's always nice to hear from a young teacher who believes in changing the world. You may not realize it, but it's the idealism from young people like you that keeps old-timers like me thinking about the big-picture items that effect us all. It also reminds us of how important it is to keep trying to make the world a better place. The positive outlook you have is absolutely infectious and, whether you know it or not, has an enormous effect on people like me.

I probably should have shared that with you during our brief conversation. But, to be honest, I was a bit taken aback with what you shared. You see, when you said that I would "probably know a lot more about MORE" than you would, I just didn't know what to say. My first reaction to hearing it was 'well, I probably shouldn't have told him that I've been a member for about a year now'. I'm sort of an oddball in that I don't like to make people feel like they're out of their depth when they speak with me. Given that that's exactly what you shared with me in your very next sentence -that you felt like you were a bit out of your depth talking to an "experienced" MORE person, or even working a MORE phone bank after a meeting- I'm sort of left to conclude that  sharing my membership with you wasn't very helpful. When you confided that it was only your second meeting, I should have had the presence of mind to say something more supportive. I hope these words find you because I'd like to try again.

I knew exactly what you were talking about when you said that you felt a bit out of place. I know what it's like to feel uncomfortable in front of a bunch of MOREistas. The caucus lends itself to a great many things, but comfortability around people during one of their meetings is not exactly one of them. You should know that that's not MORE's fault. It is the general nature of unionism to not feel completely comfortable around the people you're around. You see, what brings us together isn't the personal, but ideal. There is an enormous difference between those two concepts. Because everyone is there there for the idea of strengthening our schools, our students and our profession, the opportunity of a MORE meeting doesn't always lend itself getting friendly with people. So if you feel like someone's talking through you or cutting you a bit short or not interested in a point you're trying to make, just remember, it's nothing personal. It's a union caucus and it has some items it needs to get through during its meetings.

Also, hearing from so many people who are so much more well versed about the ideas that brought you that meeting can be very intimidating. The people who lead MORE are absolutely brilliant. And although they try not to make a big deal about that, it does show and it can still be a bit of a jolt when you see someone whom you've seen on TV standing next to you or hear someone introduce themselves with a name that you've seen quoted in the newspapers. I know from my own experiences that that stuff can mess with your head. But don't sweat it. Don't sweat it one bit. Sure, they probably sounded a lot more confident with the calls they made during the phone bank time on Saturday (and I'm sure some of them actually looked like they enjoyed it), but that's just because they're a little more experienced in their roles as union people than you are. You'll grow into being comfortable with calling complete strangers and trying to convince them to come out for a Save Our Schools March (on May 17). Trust me, if you came to yesterday's meeting based on the idea -the idea- that there is something very wrong with how we do education and unionism in New York City, then you're every bit as brilliant as they are.

So now that  I've tried to convince you that you're not out of your depth after all, let me just try to convince you that you're probably exactly where you need to be. As I tried to explain to you on the phone, you're now part of a larger push to try to stop a few things. Corporate education reform and improving teaching conditions are only a small part of what the people from MORE are about.

I didn't have a chance to explain to you that they're also about giving real opportunities to that young, disaffected student in the back of your classroom. They're about making sure he has a safe environment in which he can learn. They want him to have eyeglasses, healthcare, a hot meal and they want him to feel safe enough on the streets of his city -from even the officials- to grow into a healthy, confident and educated adult with real opportunities and a real shot at a successful future. You're probably sophisticated enough to realize that charter schools in this city say they're all for equity and you've probably observed them use all of the language of the Civil Rights Movement with the hope of appealing to that kid. But your instincts are correct; that's all part of a grand claim that they are the ones who are trying to level the playing field for him. When you get a full sense of that 'Big Lie", and realize that those charter networks are supported by the very entities in our society who are working hard to make the playing field decidedly uneven for your student (see this brilliant piece of writing if you're ready to start unpacking that lie), you'll have an easier time convincing people that MORE's path is the correct one.

I think you know that the only true path to equity for that student is through a full commitment to Social Justice. I know you sense that we don't need catchy slogans and school network leaders who make $600,000 a year in order to get there. Once you know that we need safe neighborhoods, a strong and protected workforce with a liveable wages for all, a fair tax structure, an end to the school-to-prison-pipeline, and that all of us need to grapple with effects of racism in our city (both how we can help stop it and how we all contribute to it in our own way), then you'll look back and realize that you were exactly where you needed to be yesterday.

MORE doesn't pretend to offer some easy solution to these problems. It doesn't have some slick, handsome dude like Dr. Steve Perry or Geoff Canada doing radio ads or starring in movies to lead the charge. All it has on a Saturday afternoon is some tired looking 20 and 30 somethings, often wearing the wrinkled red t-shirts, looking like they spent a little too much time at the bar the night before. But those people at those meetings are armed with something more powerful than anything that anyone else like the charter guys have. They're armed with brilliant ideas, with boundless energy and, most importantly, they're armed with you.

That's why this caucus will change this city, if even in its own small way. And it's why you, and even I, will be a part of that, if even in our own small way. No we'll never be superstars. We won't be on TV defending the basic principle of public education and social justice. We won't be writing articles for the newspapers. But we'll be on the right team. We'll be there at the right time. We'll be fighting the right battles. And, at the end of the day, we'll be winning. That's why I'm glad you called. Your call help me keep my head thinking about what I have to do on May 17 and where I have to be (wearing my own wrinkled red t-shirt). And if I should see you, I'll make sure to come over and say hello because I really am glad you called.

-In Solidarity

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How inBloom Was Killed By the Left and the Right; Our New Political Reality

News of inBloom's demise came as a wonderful surprise for activists, as well as interested parties across the state. The venture, which would have made data from school children available to a private corporation, drew resistance from teachers and activists and parents alike from day one.  Among of the most vocal critics of this endeavor were parents (it seemed from my perspective that New York parent advocate Leonie Haimson led the charge (see here as well). Rightly so. Their concern of the privacy of their children's data was probably the most legitimate objection to inBloom. People would have to be deaf, dumb, blind and greedy in order not to have given those concerns the full hearing they deserved. I myself do not want my child's data being shared with a corporation under any circumstances. As recent events on the national news scene have shown us, data cannot and will not ever be kept private.

But just behind yesterday's victory lies a new reality -a sort of joining of political ideologies to be sure-  that troubles a great many people. It is a joining that is as strange as the times in which we live and work. It is comprised of what moderates would characterize as members of the extreme left of the political spectrum finding political agreement with members of the extreme right. I can't speak for the right, but I can say that this is an alliance that makes some members on the left feel rather uneasy.

The issue of having strange bedfellows comes up from time to time on several (left leaning) mailing lists to which I suscribe. It usually comes in the form of a question:

 "Do we have a natural alliance with the Tea Party?"
When posed, the question typically raises all sorts of opinionated responses from list members ranging from 'hell no!' to 'sure. Why not?'. Thing is, the question isn't often posed. This joining is more of an accident that keeps happening over (and over) again.

Those of you not knowing what the connection left-wing activists and the conservative right may be, you're not alone. It isn't easy to see the common ground between conservatives and the progressive left. Not easy, that is, until you see it -and once you see it, it's actually kind of hard not to see. The fact is that when a topic turns to anything related Common Core, or the general intrusion and growth of the federal government around the issue of Education, time and again people from the right have found that their views and anger match perfectly our own.

But perfectly aligned opinions around the issues of anything that is related to President Obama's Race To the Top initiative aren't the only thing we on the left and they on the right have in common. We also share some of the same methods. Education activists rely on social media in the same manner that the Tea Party movement does. Neither left or right is averse to taking to the streets to demonstrate. This is because both sides rely on applying pressure to their elected officials in order to bring about the desired change. (And, of course -no one- and I mean no one, is afraid to call a reporter to try to get the press to cover their cause). We have our awkward meetings at strangers' kitchen tables and our petition drives and so do they.  The edu left sells t-shirts to help fund the cause as does the political right (this is pretty cool design right here).

The similarities are, actually, a bit erie.

Regardless of all of we have in common, these similarities between the left and right have taken a great many people by surprise. When the New York Times asked Common Core cheerleader Michael Petrilli what his impression was of the backlash in New York  (a left-wing state if ever there was one one according the Times)  against the Common Core, his response was to allude to this very emerging alliance:

  “It’s bizarre,” he said. “New York is in some interesting company, right up with the reddest of the red states. 

Seattle blogger Melissa Westbrook, who herself wrote an awesome piece announcing the death of inBloom shared something that struck me as a sign of the times back in February (around the the topic, of all things; of student privacy):

 They may be people whose positions on most issues that [many] avidly dislike. But I have talked with a Tea Party legislator in WA State on student data privacy and she is absolutely on the same page. No, it's big government, no it's local control - she wants to protect children and that's exactly what I want.

When prompted to discuss the matter, many express deep reservations about agreeing with the idea of anything related to anyone associated with the right wing. As one very brilliant blogger put it, to align with an organization that seeks to take out some of the very public institutions many are fighting to protect is not in the best interest of someone trying to save public education.  Sure, our interests align when a then topic turns to Common Core (or student privacy). But what happens when the topic turns to equitable healthcare? Or the role of race in education? On those topics for the Tea Parties' (as a for instance) position seem to be so far off to the right has to be actually destructive to many of our existence as public educators.

But they have to be prompted to say so. And in the meantime, the new reality of left-wing and right-wing fighting for the same thing continues to grow.

The demise of inBloom is another prime example. It did not come solely from the activists on the left. inBloom was able to survive, to hold on by a thread, as long as the elephant in the room of national education -the government of New York State- remained on board. As Leonie Haimson wrote in her post yesterday, New York was also the "only [state] in which legislation was needed" to pull out.  It takes a lot to move a legislature (particularly the legislature of this state) and activists of any ilk, would never be able to do it alone.

And in New York, the legislative pull away from inBloom came from a place where all legislative shifts come: It came from angry voters. The expressions of deep reservations, from voters in the suburbs, is what moved the legislature in New York (and New York's pull from inBloom is what ultimately killed the company). It was the suburban moms, who stalked out their legislators on the soccer and baseball fields on Saturday afternoons and in community BBQs throughout the summer that undid this mess.  They are the ones who, after making their position absolutely clear that the government was intruding in their privacy by allowing the collection of data about their children, actually ended the awful idea of making children data available to Big Data.

We often remember the leaders of armies who win battles. But it isn't a leader who actually wins that battle. It is the army the fights it. This battle was led by parent activists on the left. Yet it was won by an army of suburban moms and dads who refused to allow to let it to happen.

And that army is overwhelmingly conservative.

You may have read that last line and rolled your eyes at the assertion that everyone in any one location comes from any one political side. The idea that people from the suburbs must be right wingers, or even Republican, simply because they are suspicious of their government is just ridiculous. Under normal circumstances I would say that you are completely correct.  I too hate speaking in such broad strokes. But as it so happens, I grew up in one the very the suburban towns that helped end inBloom here in New York. Specifically, I grew up in the town of Port Jefferson and I'm here to tell you that my hometown is as Republican as Republican gets. This was true in 1980, when Ronald Reagan won an almost unanimous straw vote in my elementary school against Jimmy Carter (literally,  held with milk straws from the cafeteria, where only I and one other in my grade voted for Carter) and it still holds true today.
Long Islanders at a rally against testing last summer

It was also true last year when that community's school district planned a rally against high stakes exams and the Common Core.  I was reminded of this in the days leading up to the rally. As I excitedly tried to explain a friend, still a member of the community, some of the complexities of the education reform movement I was interrupted mid-sentence: "Look" he said, "I just don't want the government in my kids' school.", then asked whether or not I was going.

The next day, 1500 people showed up to protest against high stakes tests (here). In New York City if 200 people show up for one rally it makes the news on some level. On that day 1500 suburbanites (folks who never rally) came out in force. That is something!

From what I understand, that protest was partly a success because, and gave rise to, an absolute star in rank and file union circles named Beth Dimino. She is the president of the small union that represents the teachers of that district (you can see her rip John King apart in a video here). I don't know (nor do I care) whether she's from the political left or the political right. But I do have to assert that at least part of her increased profile is because she was able to help rally a community that is made up of a more than a fair amount of Republican conservatives.

Later in the year when MORE, that wonderful little union caucus that could (and has!) make a difference, engaged with her in an alliance to try to save the state union from being overtaken by our ruling brother and sisters in the Unity Caucus, no one asked about the members of her community. "This is a union sister and a damn good leader" one MOREista quipped to me during a telephone conversation when I raised the issue of right-wingers in the suburbs back in February. "I'm a union man. I don't see what the problem is or even what you're talking about"

That last phrase is union brother language for 'shut the heck up -right now'.  And he was, of course, totally and completely correct. Union rules for discussion are much the same as bar rules for discussion. You try to stay away from talking about anything related to sports, religion or politics. In the context of union brotherhood, it typically isn't anyone's business, nor should it be their concern, to ask about the political affiliation of the person you're rallying alongside.

But it is important to take note that our new reality consists of what moderates would describe as the far left and the far right working together to undo some of the harmful damage that has been done.

State Senator Kenneth LaValle
Just as MOREs alliance with suburban teachers (built on support from suburban parents) outlines the new reality that the left has combined with the right over the issue of education so too does the story of inBloom show how powerful that alliance is once focused on the level of the state legislature. Sure, progressive politicians who serve progressive districts from the city have expressed reservation, even outrage, about these things for years now. But when these same reservations are expressed by right-leaning folks to their elected leaders, believe you me the leaders of the legislature stand up and take notice.

One of those legislators, state Senator Kenneth LaValle, a Republican who represents Port Jefferson and chairs the High Education Committee for the state (and who also hosted the event where Dimino ripped King a new one) took notice -in spades- when he sent these words home to his constituents just days after the Port Jefferson rally:

This past Spring I began hearing from the parents of elementary school students about perceived problems with New York State’s implementation of the new Common Core Curriculum and associated testing.  I met with those parents, listened to their concerns,  and also met with representatives of the State’s Education Department. I agree that the implementation of the Common Core could have been better handled in terms of sequence and we need to make sure that the Board of Regents and State Education Commissioner, going forward, make certain that the curriculum resources are in place.
While the legislature had no role in the adoption of Common Core and the new testing standards, I as your State Senator have introduced legislation to provide oversight and insure that the tests are fair, unbiased, grade level appropriate and administered properly. My  bill requires disclosure of test questions and answers so that parents, teachers and students can have an opportunity to review test questions to better understand and the reason behind a particular class or child's test scores.

The New York State Senate is known for it's partisanship. So to hear this from a Republican Senator (and a professional politician who knows his job and how to keep it) is, while not ground shaking,  certainly noteworthy -and more proof of our new reality.

LaValle's position during the late budget negotiations in New York was much the same. He had this to say to constituents in the middle of the budget process:

Albany, March 11, 2014 - Today, on behalf of the anxious students and frustrated parents and teachers I represent, I will oppose all four of the Regents the Assembly brought before us for a vote.  I cannot and will not accept the status quo from the Board of Regents- the group responsible for the flawed implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards – who seem to have turned a deaf ear on the demand of so many to delay the implementation process.   
And asked the Board of Regents to 'hit the delay button' on the Common Core rollout.

This isn't a left-leaning activist like the mayor of New York. In fact, he isn't even left-leaning. But his constituents were angry and as an elected official, it was his duty to fall in line with the anger expressed by his constituents.

That, as a professional politician who knows his district,  he wholeheartedly opposes college classes for inmates, many of whom suffer from what we on the left identify as the school-to-prison-pipeline, ruffles, for today at least, no one's feathers at all (unless you make then think about it)

And, for the time being at least, the brave warriors who are fighting to save public education aren't thinking at all about it! Well, maybe they shouldn't. Getting the New York State Senate to undo something like student data collection is nothing short of a political miracle. Miracles aren't possible without a broad coalition of voters.

But our new reality -that a combination of the two fringes of the political spectrum is underway-should not be ignored either.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Math Formulas Behind High School Teachers' State 20% This Year

As folks who have gone through the process will you, quitting cigarettes is one of the most difficult things a person can try to do. Yesterday, I was able to get through a full day without them. But then I had trouble sleeping. After a few hours of not being able to fall off, I stalked the internet hoping to find something very technical and boring to read, as being bored often helps me sleep. I was lucky enough to find this from NYSED, which explains how my Growth Scores (the state 20% of my performance review) will be calculated at the end of the school year.

I grabbed some screen shots of the math formulas that the state will use to calculate growth scores for high school teachers and thought I'd share some.
Here is the formula used to *calculate* each student's Student Growth Percentile (SGP). 

Here is the formula used to calculate the final score for teachers (our Mean Growth Percentile)

There is actually some good news here. The test scores from each of our students will be placed on  their own bell curve (measured against the test scores of other 'similar' students). That's what all of this crazy math is supposed to be about.

As I alluded to in a separate post, this means that, when considering the state 20%, our performance as teachers will be the result of student performance along several bell curves. So if we find ourselves on the bottom of one bell curve (let's say our students from low-income families with learning disabilities performed poorly that day),  then we may find ourselves closer to the top of another bell curve (let's say our  students from low income families without learning disabilities performed better). This might have the result of everything evening itself out at the end of the day (and by the end of the day, I mean to say our Mean Growth Percentile. I really need to get a better hobby).

No matter though. After reading this, I ran right out to the store and picked up a pack. Oh well. I'll try again in a week or so.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why NYC Will Never Be Syracuse

News this week that the Syracuse Teachers' Union has sued the state's Education Department over the new teacher evaluations came with a bit of a thud and then just sort of vanished.  At the heart of the lawsuit is this allegation:

The evaluation system led to about 35 percent of Syracuse teachers getting "developing" or "ineffective" ratings in 2012-13 after appeals were decided. Those are the two lowest ratings in the four-tier system.
About 5 percent of teachers across the state got those ratings. In Onondaga County outside of Syracuse, only 1.8 percent of teachers were rated in the lowest two categories.
Specifically, the STA said the Education Department failed to recognize the full impacts of poverty on students when it set the standards on student improvement on the state's fourth- through eighth-grade math and English language arts tests.

The decision to sue NYSED over teacher evals should, by rights, be a pretty big deal. This is, after all, the first major lawsuit SED has faced over the APPR system that has been put into place in districts across the state. The reality, however, is that lawsuit brought by the Syracuse school district won't much effect districts from other parts of the state.  This is because the method Syracuse chose to evaluate student test scores is different from the way other New York State school districts chose.

In selecting what way student test scores would be used to measure teachers, districts across the state had a choice. They could select option A and have NYSED set target scores for each student. Under this target method, districts would send their student's biographic data up to NYSED. SED would examine the background of each student (as well as how he or she had performed on previous exams), then return target goals for each student to the district. Teachers were held responsible based on whether or not they had reached those targets. Option B, however, used a method called SGP, or student growth percentiles. Under this option, each student would be compared with other district students who:

1) Scored the same on the state assessment
2) Had scored the same on the previous, baseline, assessment
3) Had similar biographic information (such as ethnicity and socio-economic background)
4) Had been with the teacher for roughly the same period of time and
5) Had roughly the same attendance in school during roughly the same period of time.

I know, it sounds confusing (you can see NYSED's video, which I posted here), so let's boil it down to this: Under Option B, SED is comparing similar students to one another, and then placing the performance of all of those "similar students" on a large bell curve. So if your low-income beginner level ESL student performed better than 65% of the other *beginner level ESL students*, than it reflects well on you. The same thing goes for that the affluent boy that sits next to the low-income beginner level ESL student. If he performed better than 55% of other affluent male students across the state, then that reflects well on you too.

After they're  measured along other similar students a bell curve, your Mean Growth PErcentile (MGP) is calculated. You, as a teacher, are then placed on a bell curve along other teachers who taught the same assessment throughout the state.

If you're confused about that, then don't worry! Because the only thing you need to understand is the Bell Curve. I'm no math genius, you see, but whenever a bell curve is used, it is not possible for over one third of a group to be at the bottom of the bell curve. If 35% of Syracuse teachers are rated in the lower two categories of the APPR, then it's clear that no bell curve was used.

And if a bell curve wasn't used, it means that they had let the state set the targets for their students. This is why
About 5 percent of teachers across the state got those ratings. In Onondaga County outside of Syracuse, only 1.8 percent of teachers were rated in the lowest two categories.
It's because the overwhelming majority of those districts chose to go with the option that uses the bell curve. Say want you want about this APPR system. But if it uses multiple measures (including measuring the performance of each student in multiple ways)  it means that each and every measure has a bell curve. And in order to rated "SUCKS EGGS" you would have to be unfortunate enough to find yourself at the bottom of the majority of the bell curves that you're being placed on.

Your luck would have to be so bad as to be in a plane crash and be run over by a car on the same day (that's like Jack Bauer bad luck).

NYC offered their schools' MOSL committees the option of going with "TARGET" scores (the option that Syracuse went with) or "GROWTH" scores (the option that I described as Option B here). Many schools in New York City chose to go with growth scores.

Don't get me wrong; I think Syracuse has a pretty strong case. 40% of Syracuse students live in poverty. If SED set targets that 35% of the teachers didn't 'measure up' to, then it's plain that King & Co. weren't setting realistic goals. They should pay for that.

 I'm just saying that sticking with the bell curve gives SED less of a chance of screwing up teachers' careers. That's what many schools did here in New York  City. And that's why what happened in Syracuse will never happen here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Pattern of Arresting Teachers

There has been a policy change down at the Department of Education regarding how to address teachers who seek to air their employee grievances in a public manner. That policy is to have teachers arrested so that they spend the night in jail.

Norm Scott's reaction:
"The nest of vipers that is DOE legal has grown like a cancer and infested the NYPD where cops arrest fellow unionists for protesting abusive administrator tactics." 
 Francesco Portelos' reaction:
"Another teacher falsely arrested by @NYCSchools - Bronx teacher thrown in jail after criticizing principal"
And coverage from the
Bronx teacher thrown in jail after criticizing principal

After years of being embarrassed by teachers who just won't shut up, the New York City DOE has apparently embarked on a new HR policy of having teachers arrested on charges that he DA declines to press. This policy was first used against Francesco Portelos back in February when he published a post advertising the online Backpay Calculator he and I and James Eterno created.  The post satirically advertised that DOE employees could 'hack' their Payroll Portal system and give themselves a raise. Readers were further advised to use a password that Francesco claimed (again, satirically) was former Chancellor Dennis Walcott's (the password was something about Kittens being cute). As satire often is, almost everything in the post was completely untrue (you cannot hack into a payroll system and please do not try), but the DOE official had him arrested -placed in jail- anyway. This new instance is against a teacher and is for aggravated harassment. She sent a letter to the chancellor and the principal who discontinued her asking about improprieties committed at the school. Being arrested and held in custody for a over a day was her response.

The policy, as it appears to be unfolding, seems to be fairly codified and easy to explain. It is commenced when a teacher speaks out a little too much against the department or a practice or policy of the department. Once that's done, the DOE engages in the following actions:

  1. A department official will reach out to a member of the NYPD. That official will file a minor misdemeanor charge against the employee. NYPD is provided with contact information of the employee (obsentively from the employee's personal file) and a police report is issued.
  2. A representative from the police department will then contact the employee asking him or her to come in. In Mr. Portelos' case, the request was made to 'come in and answer a few questions'. In this teacher's case, it seems as though the representative simply asked her to come right in and surrender herself. 
  3. Once appearing at the precinct, the teacher is then arrested and held -in custody- until a DA reviews the charges. Mr. Portelos' was held for 33 hours before a DA saw the charges against him and dismissed them entirely. It seems teacher B was in jail for a little under 24 hours before a DA dismissed her charges.  
  4. The teacher then walks away without being charged with anything. The hope seems to be that the shock of being arrested is enough to prevent the teacher from ever publicly speaking out publicly.
While the policy has thus far been carried out against lone teachers who act as whistleblowers, it should be noted that it can also be legally carried out against union actions. While being convicted of a crime related to union activities is clearly illegal, being ARRESTED for such a crime and held in jail for a short period of time is a perfectly legal tactic. Members of MORE, and ICE and New Action; be warned.

 Since a principal made the claim against a former teacher, it must also be understood that this policy can be applied to any teacher, working under any principal, who speaks his or her mind a little too much at his or her school. This would apply to all 1800+ schools in the city and at least all 64,000 teachers who are represented by the United Federation of Teachers.

This would be the part where I say something funny or offer some type of commentary. Instead, I'll just say 1)  per the Federal NLRB position and precedent, am writing these words with the intent of improving my working conditions. Please do not arrest me for attempting to improve my working conditions. and 2) I can't believe I'm writing about teachers being arrested.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Growth Scores Explained

I consider myself a fairly well-informed guy. That's why I was a little surprised to discover that this video, explaining how growth scores under the new evaluation system are calculated, was posted way back in August.

Now I don't teach grades 4 - 8 ELA & Math, so this doesn't directly apply to me. But the NYC DOE places high students into one of ten groups (called deciles) based on their Eighth Grade assessment. It then assigns each student with his or her corresponding 'decile' number. You can see a full description of what deciles are and how they are compiled on pages 17 - 18 of this document. But the point I'm making is this: High school students are already grouped the way this video describes (by demographics and student assessment) so everything you're about to watch  can easily be transferred to a high school teacher's Measure Of Student Learning. 

Growth Scores Explained from EngageNY on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Warning: Global Regents Approaching (And It's an Uneven Playing Field!)

By now we've all heard -ad nauseam- how charter schools perform better than traditional public schools on standardized exams. This performance, though not always true, has been held up as an example of how charters are better suited than public schools at serving students.

Just beneath this mantra lies a fact that can only happen in the perverse bowl of politics that is New York State: While traditional public schools are banned by law from grading state exams that were taken by their own students (particularly their high school state exams), charter schools -and even charter teachers themselves- grade their own students' exams each and every year.

This is according a conversation I had with two charter teachers, who teach in two different charter networks, this past week.

And there is no oversight whatsoever for these grading practices. Charter networks benefit from a perverse type of benign neglect from local and state districts that permits them to grade their own exams without oversight. At the same time, these networks embrace the business model approach which rewards employees who perform well and lets go those who do not. I would imagine the types of pressure placed on my colleagues from these schools in order to make sure the scores were up -and, without oversight, the networks are free to exert that pressure, if they wish, in total and complete secrecy.

And although these normal practices continue, no one calls them out on it.

It's not as though anyone would care. As our own governor as just recently demonstrated, charters are a very powerful political entity. The hedge fund managers who support them have great influence over the decisions that effect schools. If New York City public schools must have someone else grade their exams while charters get to grade their own in secrecy, then it's clearly because the powers that be have decided it. Our own state education Commissioner, John King -who championed the law that prevents public schools from grading their own exam but allows charters to do it in secrecy- is a charter school advocate and veteran himself.  Assessing the deck that is stacked against public schools, is it any wonder why some charters do better on tests?

I teach Global History in a traditional public school. I've asked to teach only students with lower skills than most (mainly because I like those students more than other types of students), yet I know that my results on New York State's most difficult mandated exam -the Regents' Exam in Global History and Geography- will not be as good as the results in some charter schools throughout the city.

 In June, I will be asked to accept that charter schools teachers, with their bonuses and work ethics (and fear of constantly being fired) are better than I. My reply, as always, will be that I wasn't aware that this was a competition. But deep down inside, on the level where everyone feels at least a little competitive, I'll grunt about how I just never had a level playing field to measure whether or not that was true.