Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bloomberg's State of the City address: an administration that has run out of education ideas -- even bad ones

The education proposals in Bloomberg’s State of the City address are being described as “ambitious” in the New York Times and GothamSchools. I see it differently.  

First he claimed that “By almost any measure, students are doing better and our school system is heading in the right direction.”  Of course that is not the case at all.  By most reliable measures, achievement has stagnated and our students are falling further behind their peers in the other large cities.
Not surprisingly, Bloomberg focused in his speech on the controversial factor of teacher “quality.” The first education proposal he mentioned in the speech is to recruit better new teachers by repaying the college loans for those who graduated in the top quartile of their class, giving them an extra $5000 per year for up to five years of teaching.  I’m not sure if this means even higher subsidies for TFA’ers without proper training or certification, including those who don’t intend to stay for more than a couple of years anyway.  In any case, since the city intends to allow the teaching force to continue to contract over the next few years and will not be hiring many new teachers, I’m not sure what the likely effect of this proposal would be, if any.
His second proposal  was ridiculous.  The mayor said he wants to improve teacher retention by re-introducing teacher merit pay -- giving a $20,000 raise to teachers rated “highly effective” for two years in a row.  Teacher merit pay has been tried all over the country and has failed according to nearly every study, to increase either student achievement or teacher retention.  NYC tried starting merit pay  in 2007, wasted $75 M on it and dropped it in 2010, because it had null results, according to studies by Roland Fryer and RAND.  Both analyses also concluded there was no evidence it worked to increase teacher retention. 
In response to horrified tweets from Randi Weingarten and me, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson tweeted that the “evidence” for merit pay could be found in a recent NY Times article about the bonus pay program that is part of DC’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system .  When Lisa Fleisher of the WSJ pointed out in a tweet that the evidence in that article was purely anecdotal, Wolfson responded "Good enough for me."
When the article was first published, I called it a “puff piece” and an example of the worst kind of journalism, because it glossed over the numerous studies that have shown merit pay doesn’t  work to improve retention, while quoting a couple of DC teachers who said their bonuses  might  keep them teaching in DC schools longer. A good summary of some of the other research on this subject is posted in today’s Shanker Blog, which points out that there has been no published study of the effect of the DC IMPACT teacher evaluation system, and that the majority of studies suggest that financial incentives have negligible positive effects on the teaching force.
(Apparently, the leadership of the DC Public Schools canceled a proposed study of the IMPACT system because they would not accept the methodology proposed by Roland Fryer, the researcher that had been selected.  New doubts have been raised about whether the IMPACT system even correctly identifies the best teachers, as most of those who have been found to be “highly effective work in neighborhoods with the most advantaged students. As teachers rated ineffective can be fired, the system seems to have provided a powerful disincentive against working with the highest needs students.)
Clearly the Mayor and his staff read the NY Times, since he also quoted an unfortunate oped in today’s Times by Nicholas Kristof, in which Kristof described the recent study on the long-term value of a good teacher and  mistakenly concluded  that the findings showed that five percent  of teachers should be fired based on their student test scores.  Kristof ignored the cautionary tone of the study, which warned that placing high-stakes on tests could lead to even more test prep and cheating – the sort of negative effects that have undermined schools here in NYC and elsewhere in recent years.
The mayor also announced (ho hum) that the DOE  would create one hundred new schools over the next two years, including fifty more charter schools.  He said that he had asked KIPP and Success Academy to “expedite” their expansion  and that he had invited Rocketship charter schools – a much-hyped chain of charters that started in California and offers online instruction with huge class sizes – to come to NYC.
Finally, he said DOE would seek to obtain the $58 million in School Improvement grants that the state is withholding because of the deadlock between the DOE and the UFT, by setting up “school-based evaluation committees” that could fire up to half of teachers.  How this would work I have no idea, but the DOE released a letter dated tomorrow, from Chancellor Walcott  to Commissioner King that has a lot about switching schools from “transformation” and “restart” to “turnaround,” (while letting those private managers like New Visions keep their big bucks for “restart” schools) but doesn’t mention these committees except to say that DOE will “measure and screen existing staff using rigorous, school-based competencies…” 
Anyway, not an inspiring speech and not one based on any change in direction or real vision for education, but more of the same damaging free-market  policies of expanding privatization and high stakes accountability that he has pursued for the last nine years, without any evidence that they work, except for misleading and flimsy newspaper articles.   It is very sad that in the second half of the mayor’s third term, Bloomberg has so run out of new ideas that he is impelled to re-introduce an expensive and useless experiment that was tried and abandoned only two years ago -- because it had utterly failed.

8 comments:

Sweet Girl Tracie said...

Leonie, I couldn't agree with you more.

I found the part of the address interesting where Mayor Bloomberg insisted that his administration has 'given parents more information about their kids schools in the last 10 years'. I may hold him that one...I beg to differ.

I was also not completely surprised when Bloomberg proposed possible ways to obtain the money for attracting teachers to the DOE 'through private sector'.

I was also not surprised when he attacked the UFT for holding on to the 'so-called bad/ineffective teachers'.

Direct quote from his speech:

"We have a model that works well in deciding tenure - and this should be exactly the same process. But when we tried to get approval for such a system for just 33 struggling schools - 33 out of 1,700 - the UFT insisted on provisions that would make it even harder to remove ineffective teachers. Not easier, but harder. As a result, those 33 schools lost $58 million in School Improvement Grants from the State. And if nothing changes, it could cost students in every borough hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top funds.


http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/01/mayor_bloomberg_delivers_2012.html

Anonymous said...

Very sad,but nothing new. The mayor has no idea what our school system is really like nor does he have any idea how to really improve it.He claims that graduation rates have gone up,yet most of our graduates are not prepared for college or the work force they will face.
His policy for merit pay is a joke as it would only lead to more test prep and cheating on exams as well as lack of teacher cooperation with each other. I have seen administrators award their friends with praise and awards when everyone knew they were far from the best teachers.Who would fairly judge merit pay?
A committee doing one or two observations of a teacher could never know what the real impact a teacher has on the children. Another ridiculous idea.
How many people will the mayor decide to pay for their education and once this is done will leave the system. Nobody knows where the money will come from.
What the mayor continues to do is increase testing,favor his friends to set up charter schools,bash the teachers and their union,ignore the parents and the community and in no way provide real ideas to improve our schools.
The sad part is he has the print media of this city in his pocket.
How unfortunate for the children,teachers and parents of this city.

Matthew said...

Leonie,

I think there is a distinction that you may be glossing over in this debate, as I read you putting the word quality in quotation marks.

As parents we know that the quality of our child's teacher matters. We have all had years when we found our child's teacher to be more effective or less.

We may not agree on how to measure teacher quality. You correctly note there is a broad discusion in the academic literature as to the impact of Campbell's Law on test scores' reliability.

But even in the worst-case scenario (at least from the UFT's POV) that the new evaluation was 40% test scores, do you not believe that factors like principal observations, peer reviews, or parent feedback could offer insight on the quality of a given teacher?

I don't think teacher quality is so illusory as to merit quotations marks. Do you really think it is so difficult to capture that we should not even attempt to measure it?

Henry Mazurek said...

One thing that I cannot understand in today's education debate is the incessant call that we should deride "teaching to the test" or a school's focus on "data" from state testing or graduation rates. While I understand and agree that education is a whole lot more, I also recognize that we live in the real world where test scores matter. And I will go even further, I think it is a good thing that they do. Here is why: it is a known way for kids from working class families in poor neighborhoods at unknown schools, like myself, to break into the world of college achievement and academic success. I grew up the son of an immigrant factory worker in Trenton, New Jersey and went to schools that did not have a great track record. Thankfully, however, my teachers knew what we all know (but some want to ignore), that I needed to do well in standardized test scores to have a chance to get into a nationally ranked university and succeed. They tutored me to help me get there, which I did. I graduated from Georgetown University and Harvard Law School, coming from parents who did not have a college degree. We live in an economy today where class mobility has been stifled. The way out is to obtain a top-notch university education. The real world says that to get there you need to achieve on test scores. Even with a perfect academic record at my local Trenton school, top universities want to see that translated in successful standardized test scores. So I congratulate my teachers and school for focusing on the real world, which gave me a chance to break out of the cycle of class stagnation and achieve my dream of attending some of the best universities in this country. Test scores are clearly only a means to an end, but right now they represent the best means to move up in socioeconomic status in this country. Parents and kids from working class neighborhoods know this already. It is time to stop ignoring reality and helping kids to score well in these exams to get them to the place they want to be. Maybe some day these "tests" won't be the measure of a child's ability to perform academically and thereafter, but our world is not there yet and may never get there. In the meantime, let's try and help kids who can achieve by getting them ready for these tests -- the real ticket out of the rut of socioeconomic stagnation.

Leonie Haimson said...

Howard; thanks for your comments. I think the evidence strongly suggests that an unrelenting focus on test prep does NOT even raise test scores, at least ones that are reliable;. See the evidence from my analysis of the NAEPs. NYC has had high-stakes testing for 9 years, each year the stakes have risen, and yet our students have fallen further and further behind their peers in the other large cities during that period. as measured by the national assessments. see http://goo.gl/ciWl1

Leonie Haimson said...

Matthew: I think teacher quality is important, but it is very difficult to measure and that a fair system would include all the components you name, plus protections so that test scores should not trump all. Truly I trust neither the state nor the city at this point to devise such a system or make sure it is complied with fairly.

jjman36 said...

Mayor Bloomberg has reached an all time low in terms of proposing recklessly mean-spirited educational policy. His latest assault on teachers is demoralizing, leads to no practical outcome, and is at its base manifestly immoral. By suggesting the closure of 33 schools (going back on a previous deal to help these schools) and by potentially placing at least half of their staffs in the ATR pool (teachers who are forced to go from school to school acting as substitute teachers) he is attempting to ruin the lives of myriad hard working, committed and distinguished teachers (both young and old) for the sake of revenge against the UFT for not bowing to his every impulse. After all, in the hallowed name of Cathy Black, how dare the UFT not bow to all knowing Mr. Bloomberg! Why does it matter that it is well documented that his educational policies have been a complete failure even in terms of the test scores that he holds above all? After all, why is it important to note that Bloomberg’s people walked out on the negotiations being held between the UFT and the city which were attempting to reach a good faith agreement on a new evaluation system? Predictably, newspapers like the News and of course the Post are made ecstatic by Bloomberg’s disparaging proclamations since they are staunchly pro-management publications owned by billionaires.

On a national level the “Defers” the so called Democrats for Educational Reform are doing another victory lap. If Mr. Obama, who clearly needs the support of the unions (the Democratic base – see Wisconsin) to gain re-election continues to back the Defers in their blatant union and teacher bashing activities this could become a real problem in terms of labor support. We can only hope that Randi and the AFT feel our pain and act quickly to support us. (Please listen to the debate between Defer Jon Alter and Diane Ravitch).

Meanwhile back in NYC the promise of strings attached federal funding that amounts to about 1% of the school budget per year is being used by Bloomberg to throw a hail-Mary pass to double down on his pro-business, nonsensical educational policies. Bloomberg is serious and has hired some of the top political operatives in the country, people who are highly skilled in the art of spreading misinformation to help him fight the UFT. Not surprisingly the public seems unaware of the fact that none of this “Race to The Top” federal money will make it to the class-room anyway. It will go to the test-prep companies and consultants who have never set foot into a classroom to actually teach and other un-traceable DOE follies.

Finally, in my school I have to buy all of my own equipment for classroom use, including computer, projector, and even a screen. The heat blasts all day even when it is 50 degrees outside and the windows and blinds don’t work properly. Yet Bloomberg sends us more and more low functioning students and takes away our funding. In my school DeWitt Clinton, the administration and staff enjoy a cordial relationship to no avail in terms of funding the classroom due to a severe lack of money. Instead the school is subject to endless quality reviews and assessments by highly paid DOE suits only out to hurt us. My students are painfully aware of the injustice of this situation and ask “where are the Smart-boards?” I believe that we (teachers, administrators, parents, students and educated voters) can prevail in this battle! We just need to stand our ground and spread the word. Please help my students by calling 311 and telling Bloomberg to stop hurting us!

Peace Jack Israel
Teacher DWC

jjman36 said...

Mayor Bloomberg has reached an all time low in terms of proposing recklessly mean-spirited educational policy. His latest assault on teachers is demoralizing, leads to no practical outcome, and is at its base manifestly immoral. By suggesting the closure of 33 schools (going back on a previous deal to help these schools) and by potentially placing at least half of their staffs in the ATR pool (teachers who are forced to go from school to school acting as substitute teachers) he is attempting to ruin the lives of myriad hard working, committed and distinguished teachers (both young and old) for the sake of revenge against the UFT for not bowing to his every impulse. After all, in the hallowed name of Cathy Black, how dare the UFT not bow to all knowing Mr. Bloomberg! Why does it matter that it is well documented that his educational policies have been a complete failure even in terms of the test scores that he holds above all? After all, why is it important to note that Bloomberg’s people walked out on the negotiations being held between the UFT and the city which were attempting to reach a good faith agreement on a new evaluation system? Predictably, newspapers like the News and of course the Post are made ecstatic by Bloomberg’s disparaging proclamations since they are staunchly pro-management publications owned by billionaires.

On a national level the “Defers” the so called Democrats for Educational Reform are doing another victory lap. If Mr. Obama, who clearly needs the support of the unions (the Democratic base – see Wisconsin) to gain re-election continues to back the Defers in their blatant union and teacher bashing activities this could become a real problem in terms of labor support. We can only hope that Randi and the AFT feel our pain and act quickly to support us. (Please listen to the debate between Defer Jon Alter and Diane Ravitch).

Meanwhile back in NYC the promise of strings attached federal funding that amounts to about 1% of the school budget per year is being used by Bloomberg to throw a hail-Mary pass to double down on his pro-business, nonsensical educational policies. Bloomberg is serious and has hired some of the top political operatives in the country, people who are highly skilled in the art of spreading misinformation to help him fight the UFT. Not surprisingly the public seems unaware of the fact that none of this “Race to The Top” federal money will make it to the class-room anyway. It will go to the test-prep companies and consultants who have never set foot into a classroom to actually teach and other un-traceable DOE follies.

Finally, in my school I have to buy all of my own equipment for classroom use, including computer, projector, and even a screen. The heat blasts all day even when it is 50 degrees outside and the windows and blinds don’t work properly. Yet Bloomberg sends us more and more low functioning students and takes away our funding. In my school DeWitt Clinton, the administration and staff enjoy a cordial relationship to no avail in terms of funding the classroom due to a severe lack of money. Instead the school is subject to endless quality reviews and assessments by highly paid DOE suits only out to hurt us. My students are painfully aware of the injustice of this situation and ask “where are the Smart-boards?” I believe that we (teachers, administrators, parents, students and educated voters) can prevail in this battle! We just need to stand our ground and spread the word. Please help my students by calling 311 and telling Bloomberg to stop hurting us!

Peace Jack