Monday, July 30, 2012

The "Irreplaceables"; another flawed report from TNTP

A new report from The New Teacher Project (TNTP), focused on the need to keep good teachers, who they call "irreplaceable",  is posted here.   
In a press release, Bloomberg used its release as an occasion to push his proposal for a $20K bonus for high-performers that he first mentioned in his State of the City address last winter, and blamed the UFT for blocking it:
The study released today by TNTP – and which New York City participated in – confirms that school districts across the country must do more to keep great teachers in our classrooms. That’s exactly why we have offered to add a $20,000 annual stipend to the salaries of teachers who are rated highly effective for two consecutive years.
This press release omits several prominent facts: 
  • Teacher merit pay was tried already in NYC and failed to show results;
  • He didn’t propose a penny for it in the executive budget and provided no funding for it.
Yet again, the corporate reformers are trying to recycle the same old wasteful ideas though they have already been tried and failed, over again. 
The TNTP report has many flaws, including identifying “irreplaceable” teachers through growth in student test scores, which is highly unreliable. (See for example, in my piece in today's NYT Room for Debate on this very issue.) In three out of the four districts, they use only one year’s change in scores, even more volatile; and essentially unable to identify which “irreplaceable” teachers will be high-performers the following year.
As the Shanker Blog points out, if you were going by NYC’s Teacher Data Reports, as many as 40% of the “irreplaceables” in NYC would be considered “replaceable” the next year.
The TNTP also report pushes merit pay though there is absolutely no research or support among teachers for its.  See for example, this Gates-funded national survey:
  • 73% of teachers disagreed that state tests provide an “accurate reflection of student achievement”;   
  • 64% said that student scores on standardized tests should be used only “a slight amount” or “not at all” in evaluating teachers.
  • Only  16% of teachers thought pay tied to teachers’ performance was “essential” or “very important”, with 49% saying it was not all important, and 36% saying it was somewhat important. 
Compare this with the 90% of teachers who responded that having fewer students in a class would have a “very strong” or “strong” impact on improving student achievement.
The TNTP report says their own survey showed that working conditions are crucial in retaining good teachers, which is indeed true, but then doesn’t identify which working conditions teachers pointed to as critical (and of course, does not mention class size anywhere.)
The report also pushes weakening seniority protections and tenure, saying this would help schools retain the “irreplaceables,” but does not mention if the teachers surveyed said this would help (which I doubt.)
For example, in the Gates-funded survey, 84% of teachers agreed with this statement: Teacher tenure protects teachers from unfairly losing their jobs.”
Interestingly, the TNTP report itself implies that it would be relatively easy for principals to get low-performing teachers to leave: 
“Our research indicates that principals are capable of ushering low- performers out by simply being candid with them about their performance and fit in the school.  In one district, teachers whose principals encouraged them to leave…were nearly three times more likely to leave.”  (p. 17)
 So why weaken seniority protections and/or tenure?  The report also says,
Although the primary responsibility for building and nurturing school culture rests with individual principals, district leaders play an important role too.  For example, they can survey teachers and students regularly to ensure that principals have regular actionable information about the gaps in their schools’ culture and working conditions. (p. 18).
Accordingly, the mayor should address the poor working conditions that drive teachers away from our schools, many of them who leave to work in the suburbs or in private schools where class sizes are smaller. 
Of course, 86% of NYC principals already say that the class sizes in their schools are too large for them to provide a quality education.  Clearly, it is the primary responsibility of the Bloomberg administration for imposing system-wide policies that deny principals the ability to reduce them.
In conclusion, quoting the TNTP report, “Retaining as many Irreplaceables as possible requires a shared commitment from school and district leaders to address working conditions that can drive great teachers away.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

Video: my testimony before the Cuomo Commission

UPDATE:  please sign our petition, urging the Commission to hold another NYC hearing in the evening in the fall, so more parents and other concerned citizens will be able to attend and/or testify.

Video of my testimony yesterday before the Cuomo Education Reform Commission, in a tiny crowded cafeteria room at Hostos College.

My written testimony, complete with charts and citations, is posted here, as well as a description of a disappointing day, in which many parents, educators and advocates -- especially those unaligned with the current administration's  insistence on high-stakes testing and charter school expansion -- were shut out of the tiny room and/or excluded from speaking.

Also check out what Lauren Cohen, NYC teacher, of Change the Stakes would have said, if she had been allowed to speak, the negative experience of student Nikhil Goyal, and GothamSchools' account of the morning's events.   Teacher Chris Cerrone recounts an earlier hearing in Buffalo with similarly stacked panels full of charter school reps, and little chance for the public to weigh in.

NYC has more than one third the students in the state and yet has been given only one tenth of the time by this Commission; simply unacceptable!  Write to protest and demand they schedule another NYC hearing, in the fall and at a time in the evening so they can hear from parents with regular jobs as well.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Poor planning shown by the Cuomo Commission at their only NYC hearings this morning

Me at the Cuomo Commission hearings with other panelists today
UPDATE:  Please sign our petition now, asking that the Commission hold another hearing in NYC in the fall.

The Cuomo Education Commission had its first and only public hearing in NYC for three scant hours this morning and they packed us all in a small cafeteria room at Hostos College in the Bronx.

There were still people waiting outside the building at 10:15 AM when I was finally let in; not everyone could fit in the tiny space and many who had signed up in advance were denied speaking slots.  One of those who had signed up and sent in testimony days ago was Carol Burris, the Long Island principal who co-authored the letter opposing the new teacher evaluation system, signed onto by one third of the principals in the state, and yet she and other principals were denied speaking time. 

And yet the organization that is pushing for the implementation of this very same test-based evaluation system, Educators for Excellence, got two speaking slots; and its reps suggested that the system be imposed by the state unilaterally in NYC even if administration doesn't get agreement to do so from the UFT.

The first panel on teacher quality was a corporate reformer's dream: speakers from Teach for America (Jemima Bernard, formerly of DOE); The New Teacher Project (Lesley Guggenheim, I believe); Educators for Excellence (Evan Stone) and  Campbell Brown, formerly of CNN, who spoke about how teachers accused of sex abuse were being left in the classroom. Later Anna Hall, the new head of Students1st NY and former Bronx principal added her two cents that teacher tenure should be completely eliminated. All of them agreed that we need new evaluation system that differentiates performance, gives incentives for top performers, ends seniority protections, etc. etc. etc. as though lousy teaching was the only problem plaguing our schools.

Subsequent speakers included James Merriman of the NYC Charter Center ( longer school days and stronger school leaders ); Leo Casey of the UFT (vs. closing schools and need for more wrap-around services and IPads for students); Rev. Calvin Butts (for replicating something called the Strive network); Jennifer Jones Olsen of United Way (for quality early ed and more academic and emotional  supports) and Maria Fernandez of Urban Youth Collaborative (for Student Success Centers and more voice for students and parents in policy making).

Amy Schwartz of NYU advocated widening grade spans in schools, having more data and doing  research on effective programs for special ed, and this: "If you want parent participation you need to show they that you are listening to them, and parents care about class size." (Bravo to that.)  Betsy Lynam of Citizens Budget Commission said we spend enough money on education in the state, it just needs to be better distributed with fewer mandates in areas like special ed. Allan Chang, principal of the City as School alternative HS, gave an amazing presentation about the achievements of his school, which makes a five year commitment to every student with housing and health care referrals, legal aid,  internships and job placements, etc, but his staff needs more help from community partners.

I finally got a turn on a panel with two students, Julius Martinez from Students for Education Reform (better teacher evals, yet again, and also more access to AP and College Now); and Zak Melamed, who advocated for more student participation on the Commission, putting it this way: "If you don't put students at the table, it's like holding a criminal investigation without interviewing the victims."

Zakiyah Ansari of AQE spoke about the need to "peel back the layers of fluff" put forward by the Bloomberg administration, and fully fund the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement, reduce class size, support struggling schools rather than close them, and collaborate with parents and community members.  She was also very eloquent about how the Commission should hold another hearing in NYC during the evening when  normal people with jobs could attend.

I spoke about -- guess what -- class size, and that the top priority of parents on the DOE's own surveys remains smaller classes, how the research is crystal clear that it helps students succeed, and that while the DOE promised to reduce class size with CFE funds, yet class sizes are now the largest in the early grades in 13 years.  I also cautioned them not to recommend more privatization through charter expansion, high stakes testing, and online learning, because they have all been tried in NYC over the last decade and have miserably failed to substantially improve results when our progress on the NAEPs is compared to the ten other large school districts in the nation.  (See my testimony and slides below.)

Later, Chair of the NYC Council Education Committee Robert Jackson berated them, saying they had an obligation to hold another hearing in NYC, fight for more money to comply with CFE, and that he hoped they would act independently and not be a "rubber stamp" for the mayor or the Governor.

Truly, when you consider that NYC is the largest school district in the nation, and has more than one third of the students in the state, and yet the Commission is spending only one tenth the time hearing from NYC residents, this is unacceptable.  The fact that they held the hearings in such a tiny room also shows poor planning, or worse, that they're not that interested in hearing from us at all.

Testimony Cuomo Commission 7 26 12 Final

Slides for Cuomo Commission 7.26.12

Monday, July 23, 2012

Glaring omission from DOE's presentation of latest survey results

1.    The DOE just released the results of the 2011-2012 Learning Environment Survey.  For the fifth year in a row – since the survey was first given -- parents said that smaller classes were the change they would most like to see in their children’s schools, substantially topping the field of ten choices at 23 percent. (See the responses to question nine here or below.)

And yet for the first time since the survey has been given, the DOE omitted the answers to this question from their summary slide presentation

See, for example, last year’s power point, showing the results of this question since 2009:

During his press conference in 2007, the first year of the survey, Bloomberg appeared to minimize the overwhelming preference of parents for smaller classes in his power point by lumping the answers of four different options as “program enhancements.”

This obvious evasion prompted some comments in the press as well as spirited questioning of Jim Liebman, the author of the presentation, by Patrick Sullivan at a PEP meeting. (See this video.)

But this year for the first time, the DOE left out the results of this question from their analysis altogether, either because they don’t want to bother to pretend anymore that they care what we think or they are trying to prevent the media from noting that despite our clear priorities, class sizes have risen for the last four years in a row, and are now the largest in the early grades in 13 years. 

Clearly, Bloomberg does not care about our choices, no matter what he may claim.