Olives, Condoms and Teacher Quality: The Education Transformation Act of 2015 is Fatally Flawed and Counteproductive

In order to prepare for the 2011 Race to the Top application the Governor, the Commissioner and the Unions spent months crafting a teacher evaluation plan which became State Education Law 3012c, the Commissioner convened an advisory task force made up of stakeholders and spent additional months working through regulations that the Commissioner promulgated, called the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), a state website explains the complex plan in detail: see extensive description here.

The seven hundred plus school districts in the state each created APPR plans pursuant to the law and state regulations and teachers outside of New York City were “judged” for the 12-13 school year. (The New York City plan began the following year, the 13-14 school year).

When the dust settled 51% of teachers were rated “highly effective,” 40% “effective and 1% “ineffective.” Very, very, very few teachers received consecutive “ineffective” ratings.

In numerous school districts every teacher received ”highly effective” ratings on the observation section.

At the same time the state changed the state tests, under the former tests over 70% of students scored proficient or above, under the new Common Core State Standards-based tests two-thirds of students scored “below proficient,” in other words failed the test; however, under the complex formula a new baseline was created.

On the observation section of the plan teachers commonly received extremely high scores, a statistics guru commenting on the frequency of high observation scores.

… either the hiring and training is remarkably effective and all teachers were very good or there was a social contract that ratings were given out in the same way that olives (and condoms) are sized (gigantic to colossal); without external information you can’t tell which.

It is extraordinarily difficult to differentiate among teachers through a numerical score, a skilled principal/evaluator can parse a lesson, can work with teachers to improve performance, and, when necessary can counsel out or discharge teachers during their probationary period, and, in rare cases begin the process to fire a tenured teacher.

The problem is the entire new system is based on a fallacy: firing “ineffective” teachers based on students’ scores and observations, sharply limiting entry into the profession by setting high academic bars and merit pay will not eradicate poverty and provide a pathway to the middle class. Teachers teach about 900 periods a school year (180 days x 5 classes a day), can you really attribute a score based on performance during one or two lesson observations? Sticks do not frighten teachers into “getting better.”

“Scoring” teachers in isolation from the world that surrounds our students is futile.

As described by the governor, the new legislation:

EDUCATION: THE GREAT EQUALIZER
Education Transformation Act of 2015
New York’s education system is set to implement some of its most dramatic and fundamental reforms in years through the Education Transformation Act. The Budget includes the Governor’s proposal for an increase of $1.3 billion in state education support to take education funding to its highest level ever – $23.5 billion.
The components of the transformation are as follows:
1. Best and Brightest Recruitment: To attract our best and brightest to the teaching field, the Budget provides funding for a new full scholarship program for SUNY/CUNY for top students who commit to teach in New York for five years.
2. Graduate Education Program Accreditation: The first statewide, uniform admissions standards for teacher preparation programs will be established, and SED will have enhanced authority to close programs that fail to prepare students for the teaching profession.
3. Teacher “Bar” Exam / CTE: The State currently requires teachers to pass a teacher “bar” exam – and will now also require teachers to complete 100 hours of continuing education and recertify every five years or lose their licenses.
4. Teacher Evaluation System: A redesigned teacher evaluation system will be established whereby educators are rated in two categories, student performance and teacher observations.
 Student Performance – Districts will use a standardized state measure, or may choose to use a state-designed supplemental assessment.
 If a teacher receives an Ineffective rating in the state measure subcomponent, the teacher cannot be rated Effective or Highly Effective overall.
 If a local district chooses to use a state-designed supplemental assessment and the teacher is Ineffective when both subcomponents are combined, the teacher must be rated Ineffective overall.
 The state allocates weights for this category and its subcomponents.
 Teacher Observations – This category must contain two subcomponents: principal observations and independent observations. Peer observations may be included at the discretion of the Commissioner.
 If a teacher receives an Ineffective rating in the teacher observation category, the teacher cannot be rated Effective or Highly Effective overall.
 The state allocates weights for this category and its subcomponents.
 Additional information to note: Teachers will be evaluated based on a four point scale. In regulations, the Commissioner shall set scoring bands, cut scores and weights, and the Commissioner must have the system put in place by June 30, 2015. Local districts must put evaluations in place by November 15, 2015, in order to be eligible for increased aid.

Two years after the initial APPR plan the Governor totally changed the plan, teachers weren’t failing, a new test failed students, teachers and principals are angry and hostile, superintendents feel abandoned, in fact, aside from the Governor (and former Commissioner King), no one supports the plan, excuse me, I’m sure US Secretary of Education Duncan also supports the plan.

Why would a high achieving college student decide on a career as a public school teacher? Numerous college programs will probably be closed, and these are programs serving poorer students.

The new observation section is an “unfunded mandate,” how do you identify experienced, skilled evaluators without spending dollars intended for instructional purposes? Yes, a handful of schools will create peer assessment programs, unfortunately very few. I spoke with a number of principals: the observation process requires building trust, it is not a “drive-by,” I believe Charlotte Danielson would agree that a single lesson observation should not determine a teacher’s annual rating. A year or two down the road I believe a judge will find the law “discriminatory, arbitrary and capricous and an abuse of discretion.”

Arne Duncan and John King are true believers;they would aver that New York State is now on the path to changing the direction of the entire school system: decades of schools run for teachers will now become schools run for students; and, Andrew Cuomo jumped on the band wagon.

There is not a scintilla of evidence that all these new initiatives will change the face of education for the better. In fact, the policies very well might be counterproductive.

Duncan, King, and now Cuomo, believe you can threaten, coerce and basically bribe your way to excellence. We know that teachers who teach higher achieving students receive higher grades on lesson observations and teachers teaching poorer, lower achieving students, teachers teaching students with disabilities, receive lower grades. The new plan will accelerate the movement of teachers out of more difficult classes and schools.

Yes, there are successful schools in poor districts, they are characterized by excellent leadership, a team led by a school leader and supported by the school district; unfortunately they are few and far between, and, the school leaders commonly are “plucked” to work in higher achieving schools.

No Child Left Behind was a bi-partisan law lauded across party lines; it is hard to identify any critics. A dozen years later we wonder how we could have been so wrong. The 2002 law required every state to require “progress” each year as measured by annual grades 3-8 Math and English scores, schools that fell behind were sanctioned: transformation, turnaround, and conversion to charter or closings. Closing are a last resort, and more of a failure for the school district that failed to intervene in a timely fashion. The law became a joke on National Public Radio, the town of Lake Woebegone, where all children are above average.

NCLB was popular, the Education Transformation Act of 2015 unpopular, incredibly unpopular. Cuomo may have won a battle, the fight has moved from a skirmish to a war. Cuomo has become a Democratic Scott Walker in a Democratic heavily unionized state.

Cuomo is not an ideologue, the new law resulted from teacher unions not endorsing his candidacy for re-election and teachers clearly favoring his rival, college professor Zephyr Teachout. His actions are vindictive not ideological.

Perhaps Dante’s logo for the Inferno, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” should hang over the portel of our state school system as a warning to potential staff.

The last laugh might be Preet Bharara leading the guv out of the mansion in handcuffs.

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4 responses to “Olives, Condoms and Teacher Quality: The Education Transformation Act of 2015 is Fatally Flawed and Counteproductive

  1. Clearly it’s his teachers’ fault that Andrew Cuomo failed the Bar exam (allegedly) four times before finally passing. Suck it up Andrew! Either you didn’t do enough work in school or aren’t capable (or both). WAH, WAH, BLAME THE TEACHER! It’s the teachers fault!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The 1% matches what the prosecutions supporting witnesses in the Los Angeles Vergara trial said in their testimony. Without hard evidence, these two witnesses—I think they were both professors at Harvard—said from years of observations in classrooms across the country they guessed that about 1% to 3% of the teachers were incompetent—and for that, the other 97 – 99% of public school teachers (almost 4 million) must be punished by the corporate reformers, and the transparent, non profit, democratic public schools MUST be swept aside and be replaced by opaque (secretive), for-profit (no matter how you look at it) corporate schools that answer to no one but a CEO and a corporate board of directors.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. David, Hitler hated the Jews because one of his teachers, who said he had no artistic talent, was a Jew. Look what Hitler did to the Jews to get even. How is Cuomo different from Hitler? I’ll tell, you. Cuomo hasn’t set up any concentration camps, gas chambers and ovens yet ti get rid of those pesky public school teachers.

    Like

  4. James S. Vlasto

    Powerful! A must read for parents, teachers, students and elected officials.

    Like

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