Wednesday, April 1, 2015

NY's Governor Cuomo is So Wrong

Before I begin, I must thank my hubby for fixing my computer so I could continue to write.

The NY State budget passed with a few amendments that have nothing to do with the budgeting of money. Or maybe it does...

The other night, Gov. Cuomo signed a budget bill that contained the provision for changing teachers' evaluations for the worst. A foe of teachers all throughout the state, Cuomo has done everything he could to help his charter school buddies and thwart the teachers all over the state. He has slashed budgets, reduced pension plans, sneered at teachers in unions, funneled money to his favorite charters over the needs of the kids in the same neighborhoods. He has expressed disbelief that only 2% of the teacher have been found unsatisfactory, and has made changes to the evaluations so that only 2% will be found satisfactory this coming year.

Now, 20% of a teacher's evaluation depends on test scores of their students. The rest comes from principal observations, meeting professional development goals and other jump-through-hoops requirements. Next year, scores will count for 50% of a teacher's evaluation, and no matter how well they do on the other points, cannot be found satisfactory unless the students improve their scores by a certain percentage. Also, the person observing the teacher in class will be an outside administrator, probably not trained in the teacher's subject area. An additional requirement is that a teacher will be fired with two back-to-back years of bad test scores. In Florida, a teacher's attendance is taken into account so that if more than 10 days are used, the teacher must be found minimally effective. This goes for maternity leave, surgery, broken bones, cancer treatments, etc.

Do I have to state the obvious that basing a teacher's evaluation on those things will be a big problem?

Before I expound on what is wrong with his bill, I need to clear something up. There really aren't that many bad teachers out there. We only hear about the bad ones though in the media. My senator, Pat Toomey, introduced a bill to investigate every person in the school at their expense to find the sexual predators. Out of all the teachers in the US, less than 300 were found to be guilty of sexual predation. I figured out the percentage last year. I think it came out to be 0.06% of all the teachers. Really? So you punish the 99.94% of the teachers who are NOT sexual predators.

Most teachers I know do their job well, teaching with respect and caring and eager to learn new things about their field and about their students. Are there some mediocre teachers out there? Yup. Are there some bad ones? Yup. If they are in your child's school, talk to the principal about getting rid of them or making them learn better methods of teaching. It is the responsibility of the principal to document unsuitability and submit the needed paperwork in order to get help for a teacher or to get them fired. The principal has that responsibility. Unions don't want bad teachers, but they will make sure there is documentation and not arbitrary and capricious accusations against a perfectly good teacher who disagrees with the principal on certain things. There is not room for revenge where political, philosophical, or practical differences may arise between teacher an administrator.

1. Basing any part of a teacher's evaluation on a student's test scores is statistically invalid according to the American Statistical Association. They have stated numerous times that the use of test scores as well as the formula used to determine the VAM (Value Added Metric) is of no use in determining whether a teacher is effective or not. It is junk science. Look back in my blog entries to find the citations for this statement.

A student's score determines what that student knows about memorization of facts and test-taking strategies, not their future success in a "College and Career Ready" atmosphere. Many colleges these days don't even require a student to take the SAT or ACT, basing their admissions on portfolios and records of high school work. A student's high school records more accurately determine their success in college than the SAT or ACT.  So using this statistical interpretation to judge teacher effectiveness is wrong for 20% but more than doubly wrong for 50%.

Not only are teachers in poor districts going to have a problem with this, but teachers in rich districts and those who teach gifted kids will find themselves rated ineffective according to scores. For the kids who typically score in the 90th percentile and above, the advanced kids, it will be very difficult to get them to improve enough to satisfy the formula. A kid who scores 98% one year may score 97% the next and that will be counted as a teacher's negative influence, despite the fact that the kid is very gifted. Conversely, a teacher in a high poverty district will have most students scoring lower because of the effects poverty has on their brain development, not because the teacher hasn't taught them well.

2. Principals have typically observed teachers to determine who well they do their job. There are provisions for drop-in observations, longer informal observations and hour-long formal ones. In Philadelphia, the formals happen twice a year supposedly, and any day can find your principal poking their head in to see how things are going. A principal who knows the kids will be able to see how far Raj has come in his ability to finish an assignment. It might  not get finished, but 60% is way better than 10% or nothing. Someone who knows the child will be able to see that Rami is raising her hand sometimes and participating where she just sat disengaged last year when her mother died. A principal will recognize the trust that has developed among a teacher and their class so that students feel safe enough to ask questions and express disagreement without being ostracized. A principal will appreciate that jumpin' Jack Flash has stopped bolting out of the room when he got frustrated and is instead asking for help or signaling discomfort without disrupting the class. A good principal will notice how far Janine has come even though she is still at least a year behind in reading and math. (That won't show up on a test score.) A great principal will recognize that, no matter how many things are on the evaluation rubric, that many things that count can't be measured and that things that can be measured don't always count.

An outside admin has not seen a beginning teacher struggle and finally find her feet and begin to be effective with her students. They see an inexperienced educator who makes a lot of mistakes, even though she's really getting the class to work together. An outsider doesn't see the effort a teacher puts into getting her students to the point where they CAN pay attention and maybe learn. They don't see how this teacher tutors kids at lunch or outside of school time, how he buys clothes, shoes and supplies for kids in his room who don't have those things, how he has raised the self-confidence of the whole class from September to now, how the kids who were quick to curse him out in the beginning of the year now are respectful.  Some days just might be bad for either the teacher or the kids and the teacher should have the right not to be observed then. Outsiders are welcome to observe, but not to judge.

3. Counting pupil and teacher absences against them for evaluation is a slippery slope. I am not talking about teachers who milk the system and are a chronic problem. The teachers I do mean are the ones who are taking their 89 days childbirth leave, or those who have had tumors removed and need to be out 4-6 weeks to recuperate, the teachers who were in an accident and have broken bones or a concussion. Not all schools are handicapped accessible and can accommodate a person on crutches or a wheelchair. A teacher in Florida recently wrote to say that he had a lung tumor removed and was out 2 weeks. Those 2 weeks took him from being an highly effective teacher to a minimally effective teacher with all other scores being advanced. This teacher had students who were ALL proficient or advanced at their tests.

4. A teacher's class is not the same year after year. The amount of learning that goes on is not the same year after year. The standards for each grade are not the same year after year. Life events easily change the tenor of the class for students. Deaths, incarcerations, physical, mental or emotional abuse, neighborhood tensions, and the physical well-being of the child grossly affect how the student is able to concentrate on the tasks at hand and perform well in school and on a standardized test. Change one of those situations and it can send a student into a tailspin that might take them years to recover from. My class this year may have more smart kids than last year's class or vice versa. It may have more kids in need of emotional support than last year's class. Both of these will affect the outcome of the test scores with none of the above things taken into consideration. A troubled child can't concentrate and won't test well. A child who reads on a third grade level in fifth grade won't test well. A child who just arrived from Haiti last year won't test well on a grade level test. Who will want to teach the ELL kids, the Special Ed kids, the PSD kids? No one. They'll bring down your scores. The best teachers might be found in the rooms with these children, the ones who never give up on a kid, who find a way to motivate them each day. Are you going to waste the talented teachers' abilities by holding them to higher scores every year for kids they've never seen before? Every high poverty school will be decimated, every teacher of the gifted will be let go as well as the IEP teachers, ELL, and those who dedicate their careers to the kids who need an alternative education. Every school will have new teachers with no experience, no connection to the community, and no institutional memory to help foster a true community in the school.

What a terribly bad idea has been foisted on the residents of New York and its school children! What are we going to do about it? Please suggest some things below or at least spread the word and call your NY state legislators and complain or get them to introduce a bill to rescind.

Still learning!