Tag Archives: Susan Moore Johnson

Ridding Schools of the Bloomberg/Klein Toxicity: Ending the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool in New York City is Long Overdue

The 74 is a national online education website co-founded by Campbell Brown, a former news anchor and virulent enemy of teacher unions, supporter of charter schools and Betsy; it is an advocacy website masquerading as a an informational site.

I was not surprised when a post by Dan Weisberg, former Joel Klein soldier popped up on the 74 site.  Weisberg currently leads TNTP, a not-for-profit that has consistently attacked teacher tenure and teacher assessment. The post, “Paying Teachers Not to Teach is Absurd – but Reviving NYC’s Dance of the Lemons Hurts Kids,” sounds like one of the endless press releases from the Bloomberg-Klein machine. Klein, an attorney, surrounded himself with attorneys, and we know what Shakespeare said about lawyers . Klein and Weisberg and company portrayed themselves as “disrupters,” changing the system by breaking down and rebuilding  from scratch, by creating chaos and building a new system from the ground up. After a dozen years of disruptive change the administration succeeded in disruption and failed to ensure positive change. The whirlwind of policy change after policy change alienated principals and teachers and confused the public.

On the eve of the 2013 mayoral election Sol Stern, in a City Journal essay offering advice to the new mayor wrote,

The public, for its part, remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools, according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics ….  New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

A little background: for decades a few hundred teachers were excessed at the end of a school year, some schools had reduced registers, other schools had increasing registers. The excess teachers were placed in schools with vacancies, The contract Excessing Rules provided an orderly transition since the first contracts in the early sixties.

Another section of the contract provided for Seniority Transfers, half of all vacancies, vacancies were defined as open positions due to retirement or resignation, not leaves of absence, and posted in the Spring, In the early nineties a school approached the union with a plan, exempt the school from seniority transfers and a school committee made up of a majority of teachers would select new hires. The union agreed and after a few years the process was embedded in the contract. By the Bloomberg ascension 60% of schools had opted for what became known as the School-Based Option Staffing and Transfer Plan.

In the article referenced above Weisberg, with obvious pride, reports that he led the part of the negotiations that eliminated seniority transfers and established the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool.

The union was pushing for the SBO Staffing/Transfer Plan to replace the seniority transfer plan – it was easy to agree to the Open Market employment system – any teacher could move to any school with the approval of the receiving school; basically all teachers became “free agents” at the end of every school year. Thousands upon thousands of teachers change school every year, and, the movement is commonly from high poverty, lower achieving schools to higher achieving schools.

The evidence is clear, teacher mobility damages high poverty, low-achieving schools, In “Teacher Quality and Teacher Mobility, Li Feng and Tim Sass (February, 2011) conclude,

The most effective teachers who transfer tend to go to schools whose faculties are in the top quartile of teacher quality. Teacher mobility exacerbates differences in teacher quality across schools.

Numerous studies come to the same conclusion,

Hamilton Langford and others, “Explaining the Short Career of High-Achieving Teachers in Schools with Low-Performing Students,” (January, 2004),

Low achieving students often are taught by the least qualified teachers, these disparities begin when teachers take their first jobs and in urban areas they are worsened by teacher subsequent decisions to transfer and quit. Such quits and transfers increase disparities …  more qualified teachers are substantially more likely to leave schools having the lowest achieving students 

The long established seniority transfer plan required five years of service before a transfer – now annual “free agency,” the “disrupters” harmed the most vulnerable schools.

Weisberg, et. al., also are proud of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool, actually an attempt to rid the system is “bad teachers,” or maybe senior teachers, or maybe union activists or maybe simply to show the union and teachers who really was in charge.

The number of U-ratings under Klein/Weisberg escalated dramatically, close to 3% of teacher received unsatisfactory ratings. The appeals were a sham, the Department was judge and jury. Accusations of misconduct, defined as any conduct the principal thought was inappropriate, conduct that in prior years might result in a letter of reprimand now resulted in a trip to the infamous “rubber room.”. Eventually the teacher was dumped into the ATR pool; of the small number of teachers who were brought up on charges the vast percentage were exonerated or paid a fine and were returned to the ATR pool. The aim was to convince the legislature to change the law and require the teachers in the ATR pool for more than six months would be laid off. The union successfully defended seniority layoff rules.

Under the new teacher assessment law, based on principal observation and student growth scores, the number of ineffective ratings shrunk to pre-Bloomberg numbers.

The deBlasio-Farina Department has announced that ATRs would fill vacancies occurring after October 15th, and, if they received effective or highly effective ratings under the matrix teacher evaluation law, would be fully absorbed into schools, ending a toxic policy and saving the school system perhaps $100 million a year.

The “March of the Lemons” referenced by Weisberg should not refer to the teachers, it should refer to the “disrupters.” would soured the school system.

Additionally, the Department should consider:

* Creating an inspectorate, a group of principals who can observe ATRs who principals think are moving towards an ineffective rating. In the pre-Bloomberg days it was commonplace for the superintendent to observe teachers in their last year of probation.

* Open Market transfers require five years of service in a school to be eligible for transfer, not the current annual “free agency.”

* Renewal and Focus/Priority schools should be given a window prior to all other schools to hire staff – perhaps six or eight weeks before all other schools could commence hiring.

Each and every year the New York City school system has to hire 3-4,000 new teachers due to teacher attrition – about 40% of teachers leave within five years, and, in the neediest schools the percentage is far higher.

Susan Moore Johnson, at the Next Generation of Teachers project at Harvard published research findings, “Finders and Keepers: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive in Our Schools, (March , 2004), as well as continuing their research into the issue.

Unfortunately little of the research has translated into policies within school districts and schools.

Good riddance to the ATR pool, and, lets help teachers who need assistance and support our new teachers.

Healing and supporting makes a lot more sense than disrupting and angering.

Killing the Zombies: Why the “Bad Teacher” Canard Refuses to Die

Who is Clay Christensen and what is disruptive innovation in education?

Christensen is a professor in the Harvard Business School and the intellectual force behind the current education reform movement. The professor proffers that education has been basically unchanged for decades, a traditional classroom model, very little has changed including little improvement in achievement. Christensen acolytes argue that the traditional model must be “disrupted.”  A wide range of examples: placing schools in competition; public, private, charter, parochial and home-schooling through a voucher system. Traditional instruction must be replaced by an iteration of personalized learning in the form of computer-based learning and, impediments to removing “bad” teacher removed.

The “disruptors’ include the political leadership, from the White House to state capitals.  The $4.4 billion in competitive state grants, the Race to the Top (RttT), is a prime example. The lure of federal dollars to disrupt the traditional systems; RttT required the creation and expansion of charter schools as well as creating a student test score-based teacher evaluation system.

The New Teacher Project (TNTP), an advocacy organization, a “disrupter” organization, conducted a survey of school districts and a report – The Widget Effect. The findings:

Effective teachers are the key to student success, yet our school systems treat all teachers as interchangeable parts, not professionals. Excellence goes unrecognized and poor performance goes unaddressed. This indifference to performance disrespects teachers and gambles with students’ lives.

The 2009 report, surveyed fifteen schools districts across four states points to the absence formalized evaluation systems resulting in virtually all teachers rated satisfactory with few classroom observations.  For the TNTP there was no sorting of teachers by ability, no one is fired and no one is identified as being an exemplary teacher.

In districts that use binary evaluation ratings (generally “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”), more than 99% of teachers receive the satisfactory rating, Districts that use a broader range of rating options do little better; in their districts, 94% of teachers receive one of the top two ratings and less than 1% are rated unsatisfactory.

Since the release of the report the reformers, the “disruptors,’ have been successful, enormously successful, in convincing, coercing, luring states into highly structured teacher evaluation systems; to identify the high performers (merit pay) and prune away the low performers.

As part of their winning Race to the Top proposal New York State designed a multiple measures teacher evaluation system: 60% of a teacher score would be supervisory observations based on a rubric selected by the school district (Danielson, Marzano, Marshall and others), 20% based on a student growth data (VAM) on state grades 3-8 test scores and 20% on a locally negotiated metric – which could be test scores or other measures of student learning (MOSL). The data is pumped into a dense, extremely dense mathematical algorithm and all teachers receive a score that translates in a letter grade on the HEDI spectrum: Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective. The teacher evaluation plan, called the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) has been amended a number of times – the current plan prohibits the use of student test scores for four years, is called the “matrix.”

The inclusion of a value-added measurement, the student test score algorithm has been sharply criticized by a range of scholars as well as teacher organizations, and, a state court, in a non-precedent setting decision, found the use “arbitrary and capricious.”

Millions of dollars to create a multiple measures teacher evaluation plan and the result: 1% of teachers are ineffective – the same as the Widget Effect report.

In 2009 The New Teacher Project bemoaned that only 1% of teachers were rated “unsatisfactory” and seven years later the New York State APPR plan found, you guessed it: once again, only 1%.of teachers rated “ineffective.”

Millions of dollars to create a teacher evaluation system, a host of “experts,” the application of dense mathematical formulations and the percentage of teachers rated ineffective is unchanged.

This couldn’t possibly be right!! … so say the disruptors.

In a recently released report, The Widget Effect Revisited: Teacher Evaluation Reforms and the Distribution of Teacher Effectiveness  (February, 2016), the authors conducted surveys of  newly designed teacher evaluation plans across a number of states and interviewed principals.

On the new plans, “… less than 3% of teachers were rated below Proficient”

The raters, the principals, also reported,

“…evaluators perceive more than three times as many teachers in their school as below Proficient than they rate as such.”

In lengthy interviews the principals expressed the reasons for not rating more teachers as below Proficient.

* Time constraints (“It takes too much time away from running a school”)

* Teacher potential and motivation (“Fear of the discouraging of teachers”)

* Personal discomfort (“I have a difficult time telling teachers they’re failing”)

* Racial tensions (“Very difficult for a White principal to rate Black teachers poorly”)

* Quality of replacements (“I can’t find adequate replacements”)

* Voluntary departures (“I rate them Proficient and they leave – a deal is made”

* Burdensome dismissal processes (“The process is too complex and time consuming”)

Is the “problem” too many “below Proficient” teachers or “below Proficient” principals?

What the authors failed to investigate, admittedly not the purpose of the study,

* Inter-rater reliability: do the raters from school to school use the same rubrics, and, are they competent to assess teacher performance?

* The bell-curve conundrum: is the lowest rated teacher in the school “below Proficient” when compared with all other teachers in the district?  In other words, is it “arbitrary and capacious” to establish a system that guarantees that the lowest performer in a school must be below Proficient? After all, they may be more proficient than teachers in other schools in the district.

A second baseman on a major league team may be the “least proficient” among major leaguers and in the top 1% of all second baseman across colleges and minor leagues.

I know the idea is disquieting – perhaps only 1% of teachers actually are ineffective.

Prospective teachers must be accepted by a college and meet standards set by the Council on Accreditation of Teacher Preparation (CAEP), teachers must pass a number of nationally recognized pre-service exams, pass interviews by principals/hiring committees, teach a demonstration lesson and serve a probationary period as an at-will employee.  It should not be surprising that very few teachers who survive the rigorous pre-screening end up as “below Proficient.”

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman coined the term zombie idea: a zombie idea is “a proposition that has been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead — but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.”

The disruptor “bad teacher” solution to increasing student achievement is an example of a zombie idea – in spite of reams of evidence the idea refuses to die.

What is so depressing is when compared to teacher attrition the “bad” teacher argument pales – in the lowest achieving, highest poverty schools about half of all teachers leave within five years, and, we have a pretty good idea of why they leave: the way they’re treated.

Susan Moore Johnson, at the Next Generation of Teachers Project at Harvard examines the issue of teacher attrition in the highest poverty schools in detail.  Yes, teachers commonly leave to wealthier, whiter schools; however, they are not fleeing the students, they are fleeing the working conditions.

If we know how to make significant differences (“Improve working conditions in the poorest school”), if we’ve identified the core problem (“Teacher morale and treatment”), why don’t we address the solution?

Those zombies are tough to kill off.

From “Fighting to Building a School System,” The UFT Enthusiastically Endorses de Blasio … with High Expectations.

Bill Thompson stepped to the microphone on election night, his opponent; Bill de Blasio was a couple of hundred votes north of the 40% which would obviate an October 1 runoff.

“We’re in this race until the last ballot is counted.”

On Wednesday it was clear, de Blasio had won in every constituency, from Afro-Americans to gays to women, in Queens, in Brooklyn, and the Democratic Party scions desperately wanted to avert a contentious and expensive October 1 clash.

On Monday morning, on the steps of City Hall, Thompson threw in the towel and minutes later the union e-announced a special Delegate meeting on Wednesday.

The 1,000 delegates crammed into the Shanker Auditorium in union headquarters were anxious to vote. Mulgrew laid out the scenario and opened the floor, after a motivating speech extolling de Blasio another delegate was recognized,

“This is a no-brainer, I move to close debate,” to ecstatic cheers.

After an almost unanimous vote de Blasio strode to the stage, a rousing pro public school. pro teacher, pro-union speech. While de Blasio never mentioned charter schools he did emphasize that the future of the city lay in high effective public schools, emphasizing public.

With a forty-point lead in the polls de Blasio should sail to victory.

He faces staggering issues.

For twenty years the Democratic Party establishment has been on the outside looking in. The Mayor appoints thousands to city positions. Bloomberg, for all his flaws, for the most part, hired managers free of party labels. Can de Blasio satisfy a Democratic Party hungry for old-fashioned patronage?

“Tax the rich” and the “Tale of Two Cities” was a highly effective campaign strategy, how does de Blasio convince investors to continue investing, real estate developers to continue developing, without alienating his base?

“Stop and Frisk,” again, an effective campaign issue, an issue of concern to police officers, how do you assure police officers, and the citizenry that ending “stop and frisk” will not increase violent crime?

The labor contracts of all city employees have expired, the teachers’ contract almost four years ago. How do you find the dollars to negotiate new labor contracts?

And, not the least, the school system: how do you repair a school system that has been at war with their employees and the wide range of advocates?

Is there a Jesus-Mohammad-Abrahamic figure that can sweep in and bind the wounds?

The UFT, the teacher union, has been in a fight mode for years, can they move from fight to partner?

The union membership, while strongly supportive of union leadership, is divided along generational lines (See Susan Moore Johnson article here). Participation in the April union election was at an all-time low. A “now that our guy won why can’t we go back to the way it was,” attitude is prevalent, and incorrect.

A new mayor and a new chancellor may not be so quick to close schools, the Progress Report metrics may change, the words out of Tweed and Gracie Mansion may be kinder, federal laws requiring testing and state laws requiring a teacher evaluation system remain in place.

At a Wednesday night meeting of union leadership Michael Mulgrew started his comments with, “We moving from fighting to building a school system.”

Can the same teachers move from attending demonstrations and rallies, from filing grievances to trashing the mayor and Tweed and principals to sitting with a group of teachers and work on an Understanding by Design curriculum mapping plan?

Winning means taking on responsibility.

The fighting may be over, the work has just begin.