The Operation Was a Success But the Patient Died, The Collision of Teaching and Learning

I worked in the Garden of Eden, that was the year of two,
Joined the apple pickers union, I always paid my due;
I’m the man that signed the contract to raise the rising sun,
And that was about the biggest thing that man had ever done.
Woody Guthrie
 
 
In the spring of 1969, after the September-November 44 days of teacher strikes, the reading scores were released and they dipped sharply. A reporter asked Al Shanker for a comment, he replied, somewhat facetiously, “Thank God.”
 
Teachers matter, the quality of teachers matter.
 
Hospitals are evaluated by the federal government based upon their data. Not surprisingly the rating of schools, the School Progress Report is similar to the metric used to rate hospitals.
 
Rating individual doctors is far more complex, and controversial. In the entrepreneurial world you can purchase books that rate physicians. You can access databases,
 
Move from compliance to high performance, with PeerScore(sm) services from AllMed Healthcare Management.  PeerScore offers you an external peer review solution for focused and ongoing professional practice evaluations (FPPE and OPPE).  PeerScore ensures a proactive, systematic, and evidence-based evaluation of credentials, privileges, sentinel events and sensitive performance issues.
 
You can go to Angie’s List, and, Zagat is building a list of doctors and user ratings.
 
The interest in rating hospitals and physicians has expanded into the world of schools and teachers. The New York State Education Department has been identifying failing schools since the late eighties, designating the schools as Schools Under Registration Review, SURR schools. No Child Left Behind required states to rate schools based upon student achievement data, “troubled” schools are called Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI). New York City uses a more nuanced model, a growth model, which measures student progress from year to year rather than a “photograph” that is zip code driven. Next year the State Ed Department will begin to move to a growth model.
 
In grades 3-8 the New York State ELA and Math scores, next year to be offered in May, are the metrics, and in grades 9-12 Regents examination grades and graduation rates are the determinants.
 
Individual teachers are rated annually, Performance Reviews, and receive a grade of “S” or “U,” first year teachers may receive a “D.” The rating process has been unchanged since the neolithic era. The teacher observation process: supervisor meets with the teacher and reviews the lesson plan, observes the lesson, meets with the teacher after the observation and discusses, writes a report that is placed in the teacher’s file. The teacher may have a response appended to the report. 
 
In most schools the process is a ritual … a “dog and pony” show that has limited impact on the teacher.
 
Occasionally a school leader examines the broader definition of a lesson. What was the homework assignment? Did the assignment produce student work that exhibited knowledge of the previous lesson and preparation for the current lesson? Was the test appropriate to the skills taught? How did the teacher use the test results? An essential element of teacher evaluation must be the teacher’s use of data: homework, tests, classroom responses, etc.
 
In too many schools teachers battle principals over the core issue: instruction. An amalgam of a few discussions with UFT Chapter Leaders,
 
Our principal is in every classroom every day, he looks at student notebooks, stays a few minutes and later in the day offers suggestions. He taught a class and posted his lesson plans on the Internet and invited us all to observe him … of course the kids are behaved, he’s the principal … whether you’re a first year or a twenty year teacher he always telling us we have to strive to improve. I tell him we’re doing the best we can considering the kids we have … many students don’t do homework, misbehave and we don’t have involved parents. He tells us the kids are the kids … the kids we get are the roll of the dice … we can’t control it … we can control and improve ourselves … he’s a pain in the ass.
 
It is not surprising that when principals shirk their responsibilities and teachers resist getting involved in the instructional improvement process, the result may be unacceptable to teachers and principals, if you can’t change principals and you can’t get change to teachers, use the product of the process: student achievement data to assess and evaluate teachers and school performance.
 
At the NEA Convention Duncan made it abundantly clear that he intends to challenge core teacher union values,
 
“I believe that teacher unions are at a crossroads. These policies were created over the past century to protect the rights of teachers, but they have produced an industrial, factory model of education that treats all teachers like interchangeable widgets,” Mr. Duncan said. “When inflexible seniority and rigid tenure rules that we designed put adults ahead of children, then we are not only putting kids at risk, we’re putting the entire education system at risk. We’re inviting the attack of parents and the public, and that is not good for any of us.”
 
A House committee has approved almost a half billion dollars in the Teacher Incentive Fund … it sounds like merit pay because it is …
 
 At the national level the AFT has established a working group re: teacher evaluation. In New York City contract negotiations have begun, meaning the UFT has set up a negotiating committee and is building a set of demands.
 
Will the union attempt to regain issues lost in prior contracts, a seniority transfer plan, limitations on Open Market, extended school day, etc.,
 
Will the union confront the issue of teacher evaluation? Will they encourage peer review plans? Will they totally resist the use of student achievement data?
 
In the past few days, Mayor Bloomberg, responding to a reporter’s question about parent involvement in schools said, “Parents don’t run schools, principals and teacher do.”  A slip of the tongue or a sign to the union?
 
At the Working Family Party mayoral endorsement meeting the UFT abstained from a vote on the endorsement of William Thompson.
 
The ritual has begun.
 
Will the union tilt at Bloomberg windmills, or as the bulwark of the teacher movement use their contract to move into new, and, unexplored areas of negotiations.
 
If the union does not complete a pre-election day contract and the process drags into the winter the union could face a drawn out contentious battle with many issue at stake.
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One response to “The Operation Was a Success But the Patient Died, The Collision of Teaching and Learning

  1. Anthony Martinez

    Excellent article. best one I’ve read in over 30yrs, the same amount of time I have beeen a union teacher in NY Public Skools.

    Like

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