When I was Superintendent in Dutchess County NY the union president at the time lamented the fact that the younger members of the union had no appreciation for the battles she and her generation fought to secure the wages, benefits and working conditions that were a “given” in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The grassroots political activism of the unions was nascent and the sound economy at that time made it relatively easy to achieve collective bargaining agreements that both the taxpayers and the unions found acceptable. As a result parents, taxpayers, and teachers unions experienced a relatively positive relationship and public education was viewed in a generally positive light.
Since that time, and especially since the implementation of universal standardized testing that resulted from the passage of No Child Left Behind, the public has been fed a steady diet of reports that “public schools are failing” and the only solution is to close them down and turn them over to the states. The “failing schools” meme was not enough for some politicians, however. Governors like Scott Walker and Andrew Cuomo assigned blame for the “failing schools” on “incompetent teachers” who are protected by “union contracts”… and instead of advocating the passage of laws that would streamline dismissal procedures for administrators or enable local school boards to remove arguably excessive and complicated procedural protections, Mr. Walker and Mr. Cuomo sought to eliminate unions altogether and impose invalid means of evaluations that would presumably identify the “incompetent teachers” whose performance was responsible for the low standardized test scores.
This tactic worked for Scott Walker in Wisconsin: he’s eviscerated the public employee unions in his state and imposed irrational and irresponsible teacher evaluation methods with the full support of the legislature and yesterday used that “crushing victory” as evidence that he can take on ISIS. Andrew Cuomo is about to see if he can pull off a similar tactic in NYS… but in doing so he is awaking two sleeping giants: the teachers unions and public school parents.
Those union members who have been inactive for decades are seeing that their jobs threatened and their existence challenged and they are getting aroused. And, as noted in an earlier post, without prompting from the unions the parents organizations in schools across NYC and the state are getting aroused as well. And as videos like the one I linked to earlier today are circulated more and more parents will see how Mr. Cuomo’s “reforms” designed to address a “crisis” ultimately undermine local control and local schools.
Both Governor Walker and Governor Cuomo are arousing progressive-minded voters to realize that they need to find candidates to challenge the conservative and neoliberal leaders who are stripping unions of their contractual rights, parents and board members of control of their schools, and voters of their opportunity to weigh in on the direction their states are headed…. and democracy is taking a beating as a result.
Today’s Taking Note blog post in the NYTimes reports on Governor Cuomo’s decision to close down the State’s “Doctor Report Card” web site because ” it costs too much at $1.2 million a year“. Well going into the new Common Core New York was spending over $10 million per year on standardized tests and the new testing program that is required to provide Value Added Measures will require an even greater outlay of state funds.
So… at the same time Cuomo is closing a relatively inexpensive web page that provides worthwhile and helpful information about doctors he is promoting a costly and statistically flawed method for assessing the performance of teachers whose information is worthless. I suspect in both cases his political donors might be influencing his thinking.
The Finger Lakes Times published an open letter to Mario Cuomo from a veteran teacher, Ann Cook, that illustrated how his policies play out in the classroom. In successive paragraphs she illustrates how his proposal to use test results as 50% of a teacher’s evaluation:
- Makes it impossible for teachers to avoid teaching to the test and effectively makes the students “pawns in a political game
- Forces her and her colleagues to encourage principled parents to make their children to take these ill conceived tests because “….the parents who are asking me about opting out typically have the kids who are most likely to pass the test (a)nd if they opt out then teachers’ effectiveness scores will plummet” and they could lose their jobs.
- Discourages teachers new to the profession, who “…can’t imagine spending their entire career in education because society doesn’t seem to value them anymore”.
She acknowledges that testing and accountability are needed, and concludes with this suggestion:
Want to make teachers better? In the education field we give our struggling students extra support to help them succeed. We find it works better than punishment. Rather than putting all our eggs in the assessment basket, why not focus some energy on the hiring, training and tenure granting practices of administrators and school boards?Let’s tackle the inequity in funding and work collaboratively to reduce poverty. We all want our schools to improve because we all want our children to be successful. So why not have a positive approach that works to elevate the field of education rather than destroy it?
Unfortunately I doubt that Governor Cuomo will heed Ms. Cook’s advice… and I doubt that few of her locally elected officials will take up her side on this issue because to do so would require the outlay of additional funds and “everyone knows” we spend way too much money on education and “don’t get nearly enough in return”. Unfortunately no one acknowledges the evidence: the districts who spend the most, the districts serving affluent children, DO get a lot in return.
Andrew Cuomo’s “reform” proposals for NYS public education is politically charged and educationally flawed and in her assessment of his proposal NYC School Chancellor Carmen Farina avoided the politically charged issue and went after the ones that are educationally flawed.
The politically charged issue is the one of expanding the number of charter schools within the four walls of existing city schools, one that Farina deftly sidestepped by saying “making space for lots of new schools would be a challenge”. In the final analysis, that will be a battle that her boss, Mayor de Blasio may need to take up.
The educational flawed “reform” proposal is that 50% of a teachers evaluation be based on test scores and that classroom observations be conducted by “independent observers as opposed to the teachers’ own principals”. Farina rejected the 50% standard in a hearing before State legislators earlier this week stating that “We need a human touch any time we evaluate anyone for anything.”. She also rejected the idea of having observations done by someone other than the principal:
Ms. Fariña said that teachers needed to be observed over time, watched for things like whether they engaged with parents or gave special attention to students who needed extra help, and that “flybys” could not replace that.
The whole premise of the “reforms” suggested by Mr. Cuomo is that NYS’s dismal performance on its recent assessments was the result of “bad teachers” and the current evaluation systems in place only found 5% of the teachers to be deficient, which he said was “baloney”. It is unclear what percentage HE believed were ineffective. But if one begins with the assumption that “bad teachers” were responsible for the low test scores then roughly 65% of the teachers should be rated incompetent since roughly 65% of the students failed to achieve a proficiency rating.
By shifting the focus away from the root causes of low test scores– the effects of poverty on students and a poorly designed and hastily implemented testing procedure– Cuomo can continue the narrative that schools could be improved if lazy-highly-compensated-tenure-protected-union-supported-ineffective teachers were fired and replaced with bright and eager new teachers eager for work and willing to work as contractors instead of employees. Keep your eye on this battle, because it isn’t just about NYS… it’s about the direction our entire nation will head should another neo-liberal get elected to the Presidency.
After reading a NYTimes article on the impact of measles vaccinations on the Republican 2016 Presidential election, it struck me that this issue is analogous to the ongoing movement opt out movement from standardized testing and should pose many of the same questions for libertarian leaning Republicans.
In a nutshell, the issue of mandating vaccinations came to the fore when several unvaccinated children got the measles on a trip to Disney World and because a small but critical mass of parents have opted out of vaccinations the formerly rare disease has resulted in a fairly sizable outbreak. In the middle of the article, pediatrician-turned-political-operative Howard Dean summarized the reasons for parents choosing to opt out:
Howard Dean… said there are three groups of people who object to required vaccines: “One is people who are very much scared about their kids getting autism, which is an idea that has been completely discredited. Two, is entitled people who don’t want to put any poison in their kids and view this as poison, which is ignorance more than anything else. And three, people who are antigovernment in any way.”
The article emphasizes repeatedly that the need for government mandated vaccinations is unarguable and the science on vaccinations is settled. There is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism or that vaccines are poison and abundant evidence that the diseases prevented by vaccinations can be devastating. Nevertheless, many libertarian conservatives share the perspective of Rand Paul, who sees opting out of vaccinations as “…a question of “freedom.” When pressed by a CNBC host his retort was: “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children.”
The parents opting out of mandatory state tests are, on one level, making the same assertion as Mr. Paul. Their argument, though is far stronger because unlike vaccinations, the use of standardized tests as a metric for “quality” is also settled science: there is no evidence that they can or should be used for that purpose. Parents who are opting out of vaccinations are turning a blind eye toward science while parents who do not allow their children to be subjected to lengthy standardized testing protocols are embracing science. Here’s the question: when ESEA is up for reauthorization will the Rand Pauls of this world support the parents outcry against the pointless and scientifically invalid administration of standardized tests? Will they assert that “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children”?