Seattle Education

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Weekly Update: Smart ALEC, Black Teachers Fired En Masse in Chicago and Chalk Face Radio

Glen Ford nails it in his commentary on A Black Agenda Radio Black Teachers Fired En Mass.

In his introduction Mr. Ford states:

Educational policy in the Obama era isn’t about education at all. It’s about replacing skilled, experienced teachers with rootless temps better suited to serve in the privatized holding tanks they wish to turn public schools in poor neighborhoods into, for a population on its way to low wage jobs and prisons.

“Blacks currently make up only 29 percent of Chicago’s teachers, but they comprised 43 percent of those recently fired…”

I would like to add to this that this same action also delivered a blow to African-American women in Washington DC when Michelle Rhee went about firing teachers, most of them minority women, during her tenure as Chancellor of DC public schools.

This segment is a must hear.

Next up, ALEC. In the state of Washington we have experienced over the last two years the whack-a-mole strategy of having a number of ed reform bills that are generally the same coming up all at once and overwhelming even the best of us in terms of staying up-to-the-minute on where each bill is. In addition to that, several of us believe that there was a strategy involved in introducing the charter school bill knowing that it would probably not go through but using it as leverage to pass a teacher evaluation bill that relies heavily on student test scores in terms of evaluating a teacher’s performance. More to follow on that teacher evaluation bill on Monday.

By the way, we can’t let that evaluation bill ESSB 5895 go through. Articles that follow will explain why.

The strategy that I just described is right out of the ALEC playbook.

In the Phi Delta Kappan magazine article A smart ALEC threatens public education, Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead describe as they call it:

Coordinated efforts to introduce model legislation aimed at defunding and dismantling public schools is the signature work of this conservative organization.

To follow is an excerpt:

“A legislative contagion seemed to sweep across the Midwest during the early months of 2011. First, Wisconsin legislators wanted to strip public employees of the right to bargain. Then, Indiana legislators got into the act. Then, it was Ohio. In each case, Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures had introduced substantially similar bills that sought sweeping changes to each state’s collective bargaining statutes and various school funding provisions.

What was going on? How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same legislation?

The answer: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Its self-described legislative approach to education reads:

Across the country for the past two decades, education reform efforts have popped up in legislatures at different times in different places. As a result, teachers’ unions have been playing something akin to “whacka- mole” — you know the game — striking down as many education reform efforts as possible. Many times, the unions successfully “whack” the “mole,” i.e., the reform legislation. Sometimes, however, they miss. If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way the person with the mallet can get them all. Introduce comprehensive reform packages.

ALEC’s own “whack-a-mole” strategy also reveals the group’s ultimate goal. Every gardener who has ever had to deal with a mole knows that the animals undermine and ultimately destroy a garden. ALEC’s positions on various education issues make it clear that the organization seeks to undermine public education by systematically defunding and ultimately destroying public education as we know it.”

And speaking of undermining our public school system, starting with the teachers, Diane Ravitch writes an article in The New York Review of Books titled No Student Left Untested. This is where the teacher evaluation bill ESSB 5895 come into play in the state of Washington. Heads up Seattle, don’t think that ultimately this wouldn’t happen in our schools. It’s the goal of ALEC et al.

In the article Dr. Ravitch states:

Last week, the New York State Education Department and the teachers’ unions reached an agreement to allow the state to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. The pact was brought to a conclusion after Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the parties that if they didn’t come to an agreement quickly, he would impose his own solution (though he did not explain what that would be). He further told school districts that they would lose future state aid if they didn’t promptly implement the agreement after it was released to the public. The reason for this urgency was to secure $700 million promised to the state by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, contingent on the state’s creating a plan to evaluate teachers in relation to their students’ test scores.

The new evaluation system pretends to be balanced, but it is not. Teachers will be ranked on a scale of 1-100. Teachers will be rated as “ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective.” Forty percent of their grade will be based on the rise or fall of student test scores; the other sixty percent will be based on other measures, such as classroom observations by principals, independent evaluators, and peers, plus feedback from students and parents.

But one sentence in the agreement shows what matters most: “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective assessments must be rated ineffective overall.” What this means is that a teacher who does not raise test scores will be found ineffective overall, no matter how well he or she does with the remaining sixty percent. In other words, the 40 percent allocated to student performance actually counts for 100 percent. Two years of ineffective ratings and the teacher is fired.

To read the article in full, which I would highly recommend doing, particularly for folks in the state of Washington, go to the NYR blog at the New York Review of Books.

Next up, would you send your kids to this school? Bruce Baker writing at School Finance 101 asks the question in his article Borrowing wise words from those truly market-based, Private Independent schools… To follow is an excerpt:

Lately it seems that public policy and the reformy rhetoric that drives it are hardly influenced by the vast body of empirical work and insights from leading academic scholars which suggests that such practices as using value-added metrics to rate teacher quality, or dramatically increasing test-based accountability and pushing for common core standards and tests to go with them are unlikely to lead to substantial improvements in education quality, or equity.

Rather than review relevant empirical evidence or provide new empirical illustrations in this post, I’ll do as I’ve done before on this blog and refer to the wisdom and practices of private independent schools – perhaps the most market driven segment and most elite segment of elementary and secondary schooling in the United States.

Really… if running a school like a ‘business’ (or more precisely running a school as we like to pretend that ‘businesses’ are run… even though ‘most’ businesses aren’t really run the way we pretend they are) was such an awesome idea for elementary and secondary schools, wouldn’t we expect to see that our most elite, market oriented schools would be the ones pushing the envelope on such strategies?

If rating teachers based on standardized test scores was such a brilliant revelation for improving the quality of the teacher workforce, if getting rid of tenure and firing more teachers was clearly the road to excellence, and if standardizing our curriculum and designing tests for each and every component of it were really the way forward, we’d expect to see these strategies all over the home pages of web sites of leading private independent schools, and we’d certainly expect to see these issues addressed throughout the pages of journals geared toward innovative school leaders, like Independent School Magazine.  In fact, they must have been talking about this kind of stuff for at least a decade. You know, how and why merit pay for teachers is the obvious answer for enhancing teacher productivity, and why we need more standardization… more tests… in order to improve curricular rigor?

To read the answers to his posed questions, go to School Finance 101. I think that you’ll enjoy his remarks.

To follow is an e-mail that was sent to the Washington State PTA (WSPTA) list serv last week and is an introduction to my last piece regarding Chalk Face radio.

The WSPTA is pushing hard on the teacher evaluation bill unfortunately, as they have on all other ed reform bills that have gone through Olympia in the last two years. In fact a few of the LEV/SFC/PTA members have been participants in writing the bills.

This is what PTA member John Cummings had to say about the teacher evaluation bill:

Hi Everyone,

My name is John Cummings and I am new to this list-serv. Before I share my perspective on this legislation I just wanted to say thank you to the WSPTA for all the hard work that you folks are doing for our kids.

I am currently a stay-at-home dad but prior to that I taught Special Education here in Washington and also in New York and Vermont. I have worked in a variety of settings and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly (it’s not just a spaghetti western :) ).

Now, while I don’t doubt the good intentions of the people who are advocating for the new evaluation system that would be put into place if the compromise legislation becomes law, I do have some concerns about the legislation and the effect it would have in our schools if it passes.

As it stands right now, the Federal Government mandates that students with IEP’s are to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) because these kids have a Civil Right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). I agree not only with this mandate itself but the spirit behind it. The placement of a child with an IEP in a general education class is not a gift or privilege for that child. It is their right to be in that gen.ed class. The problem with this is that, Special ed kids may benefit greatly from being Included in a regular education class but the benefits may not be apparent even when allowing for multiple measures. Sp.ed kids don’t test well compared their classmates and they may not experience the same rate of growth over the course of time as their grade-level peers. How will this be accounted for when a teacher is being evaluated/? In the best of situations, placing a sp.ed kid in a gen.ed class can be met with resistance from the gen.ed teacher and administration as well. I can see the potential for even more resistance from faculty if their evaluations will suffer as a result of this new system.

Special Education and the inherent difficulties of evaluating special education teachers has not been mentioned much in the debate over this legislation. What criteria will be used to evaluate sped teachers? How do you chart the progress of some of our most challenged kids? How does an administrator who may have little background in Special Education gain the knowledge necessary to be able to evaluate a sp.ed teacher’s effectiveness? Considering that special education students make up roughly 12% of the student body in most schools, this is not a trivial matter.

I wanted to make sure to highlight the special education piece, but really I actually have only 1 issue with this legislation and it is this;

The legislation itself is based upon a myth that is being sold as truth to folks (many of them elected officials) who don’t know better. While a teacher can have a profound and life-changing influence on a student, to say that the Teacher is the most important in-school factor in a child’s education is a gross oversimplification and there is no objective tool that can be used to show the validity of such a claim. This assertion overlooks the myriad of experiences that a student has over the course of a day, week, month and year.

Furthermore, school is just one aspect of a child’s life. A person’s life cannot be neatly sliced up and placed into compartments with each component examined exclusively. One piece influences and is influenced by the others. This is true of all of us. How many of us have had moments when we have been overwhelmed by something that has occurred in our lives? It happens in both good and bad situations. I remember being at work when my wife was pregnant and her due date was near. I had that pager glued to me and checked it constantly because I swore I felt it vibrate. When it finally did go off I almost jumped out of my skin! I will admit that I was not the most effective teacher that day. And what about 9/11? Where were you? How did you do on the job that horrible day? I point out these two obviously important yet different life-events because what holds true for us is especially true of children who haven’t developed the coping methods that healthy adults have.

Now, compound this inability with the reality of Washington 2012. We have more poverty, more kids going hungry and living in the chaos and turmoil that is inevitable when the people who care for them are going through the fear and anxiety of not being able to provide for them. They have more pressure in school as we march toward the Great Land of Assessment. There is less time for play, for art, for music and if the kids are ‘behind’ they have more and more remediation. I could go on about how it is impossible, considering all of this, to hold the teachers up as the ones who are responsible for the success of a child, but if you have spent any time in a school in a poverty-stricken area anywhere in this state (and I don’t mean on tour with the principal) you would see how messy lives can be. You would also see teachers doing their best in the absolutely impossible situation that has been handed to them by a legislature that refuses to fulfill its constitutional obligation to our children.

I would support this legislation if it were proposed after we restored the Billions that have been taken out of education, social and health services, after we fully funded k-12 education, after we reduced class sizes (remember that vote?) and after we had a chance to let these positive steps take effect. To do so now is premature to say the least. It seems almost irresponsible to me because the teachers and students are working in conditions that are unacceptable.

Teachers as a group are really bad at one thing and that is standing up for themselves as individuals and saying that the job has become too hard and that it must change. No, instead they will simply walk away from their careers, silent scapegoats for a system that has been broken and starved by the people they counted on to do the right thing.

John Cummings

I will leave you with a Chalk Face radio episode with Bill Ayers on teachers and the question “What will it take for a teacher to say that ‘enough is enough’ “?

The bonus is at the end of the three segments, Tim Slekar and Shaun Johnson speak to Diane Ravitch.

Enjoy

Dora

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