Monday, July 22, 2013

            It is late July, and by all reports the DOE is currently spending a lot of money on professional development for both teachers and principals surrounding the new evaluation system.  As many educated teachers, bloggers, politicians, and administrators have reported for months, this whole evaluation system is full of holes, unworkable, over reliant on standardized tests, and clearly designed to fire good teachers.  I know that nothing I, or any of the other teacher/principal bloggers, write will convince the privatizers and deformers that this evaluation system is bad and our current one is good, but there are a few things that need to be considered and are often overlooked.  Since a lot has already been said about the math behind the evaluation, such as 40% on test scores really equals 100%, or how effective + effective + effective can = ineffective, and the fact that test scores should not be used to evaluate teachers at all, I will focus on part of the evaluation most often praised by both The DOE and The UFT, the observation component using the Danielson Framework for Effective Teaching.

            First of all, it is clear to anyone who has read the framework that the rubric is slanted towards teachers of older, general education or honors students.  See for example component 3b: Using questioning/prompts and discussion. (I chose this one since it has been a focus component in schools throughout New York for several years.)  According to the rubric, a highly effective classroom under this component would look like this “Teacher uses a variety or series of questions or prompts to challenge students cognitively, advance high level thinking and discourse, and promote meta-cognition. Students formulate many questions, initiate topics and make unsolicited contributions. Students themselves ensure that all voices are heard in the discussion.”  Does anyone think a group of first graders have the ability to manage their own discussions effectively and ensure all voices are heard?  What about self-contained special education students with oppositional defiant disorder?  How about teaching a self-contained ESL class where students are new to English and some are native Spanish speakers, and others native Chinese speakers?  The Danielson rubric tries to make teaching a “one size fits all” model just like our standardized tests.  Unfortunately for 99% of teachers in NYC they will never hit that "Highly Effective" mark, even if they are the best teacher in the world.

            Secondly, one of the worst crimes of this evaluation system is the fact that teachers and administrators alike will be spending far more time next year focusing on everything but their students.  Administrators will be buried in paper work spending half the day doing observations, the other half of the day doing post observations, and spending every night at home writing up the reports.  They will not be able to actually support or help the struggling teachers, because they will be too busy sitting in other teacher’s classes and filling out forms.  The teachers themselves will be so busy writing lesson plans proving they know how to teach, and teaching in such a specific way, that there will be no time to meet with students and help them out as individuals.  The best teachers make connections to their students, but between Danielson and The Common Core there will be no more room for that next year.

            Finally, the worst myth of them all is that we had a problem with our current evaluation system in the first place.  Despite what our local tabloids tell you, the fact that only 3% of teachers are fired for incompetence every year has nothing to do with the evaluation system, but everything to do with management.  Under the current system any teacher receiving an “unsatisfactory” rating two years in a row can be fired.  As long as a principal has actually observed the teacher and shown some effort in trying to support the teacher, a teacher will be fired.  Under the current system an administrator can observe a teacher once a day, every day for the entire school year.  So if teachers are not being fired, it is because they are either all good teachers, or the administrators can’t be bothered to go through the steps to terminate them.  I don’t even necessary blame the school level administrators themselves.  For far too long, the admins being shot out of the “leadership academy” pipelines have been brainwashed to think that they are “CEOs” and not “Instructional Leaders.”  Since many have taught for only a few years, they don’t even know what great instruction looks like.  Many seem to be intimidated by veteran teachers and their solution is to just not observe the teachers at all.  If you ask the majority of veteran teachers in NYC how often they are observed each year, most will say once or twice.  Also, under the Bloomberg hallmark “small school model” most schools have one principal and either one or two AP’s.  In the small schools there are no longer departments.  I often hear teachers at those schools complaining about how an AP who does not speak Spanish is observing a Spanish lesson, or a Principal who has never taught math is observing a Geometry lesson.  You don’t need any content knowledge to check off a rubric, which I am sure is one of the main reasons that this observation model has been pushed by the DOE for several years.  Our current evaluation system is not bad, our administrators are just often not equipped to use it correctly.

            I certainly don’t want people to think I am suggesting all administrators are bad.  In fact the flip side of our current evaluation system is also true, meaning a good administrator can easily use our current system to both fire incompetent teachers, and support and help teachers that need it.  I will use myself as an example.  As someone who has taught in two different schools, and also taught summer school for years, I have been observed by many different administrators, in fact six in total.  I am very lucky in that three of the six were excellent instructional leaders.  All three of them always gave excellent feedback in both my post-observations and my observation reports.  Of course all of these admins were veteran teachers before moving into administration.  Having a competent AP who knows instruction is invaluable to a new teacher, yet all the reformers seem to want of an AP nowadays is someone who can check off a rubric.  Even worse, all those great administrators out there will no longer be able to support their teachers as they have in the past since the will be bogged down by this unworkable mess of an evaluation.

            Why are we wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a system that is only going to make everyone’s job harder?  Why are we wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a system that will only take the focus off the students?  Why are we wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a system that will fall apart in three years?  Why would both The DOE and The UFT support a framework that is completely bogus?  Well on the bright side, some consultants, and education non-profit organizations will make lots of money off of this before it collapses, and fake groups like E4E, StudentsFirst, and DEFER, will get to talk in the papers about how great it is every week in order to inflate their own egos.
-DOENUTS 2.0  Has taught High School English in NYC for several years.  I sometimes post on other education blogs as "Former Turnaround Teacher".  I took over this blog from the original DOENUTS in July and am new to Blogger so I apologize for any formatting issues.

Monday, July 8, 2013

            School Closure is a concept that on the surface creates a lot of backlash.  When then PEP does their big “vote” every spring, hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of community members turn out in opposition to this policy for a least one night.  People claim that the process is “unjust” “unsound” and “undemocratic,” and while I couldn't agree more, I am concerned that people have gotten so caught up in the idea of school closures that they are forgetting the worst parts of the closures themselves.  It has become clear to me over the past few weeks, that even if we get a mayor who demands a moratorium on school closings, (which is of course no guarantee) the worst parts of school closings might stick around, just in another form.  People believe that a new mayor could mean the end to school closings, and I fear that a new mayor might just be an end to very public school closings, and an end to the opposition against school closings, while school closings are actually still going on.

            What happens when a school closes in New York?  Generally the school goes through a process called “phase-out.”  When a school is phased out, the school does not admit any new students for the following school year, meaning there are no transfers and no freshman class.  Each year the school loses a grade until there are no students left (either they all graduate, or they are placed into other schools if they cannot finish in four years).  While this happens, since there are fewer students each year, the budgets shrink.  When the budgets shrink, programs and teachers are cut.  Students no longer are offered a wide variety of electives or honors courses and are left with a very basic education.  As for the teachers who lose their positions (due to budget cuts, not any fault of their own) they go into the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) Pool where until they can find a permanent job they work as subs getting assigned to a different school every two weeks. If a teacher is probationary (meaning they are new and have not gotten tenure) they are often fired by the Dept. of Ed. after one year of not finding a permanent job.  If a teacher is a 20+ year veteran, no principal wants to hire them since they can get two newbies for the price of one, and if a teacher is in a hard to staff license (such as music, or a career/technical subject) it can be nearly impossible to find a job as well.  Basically being an ATR in NYC is like being stuck in Purgatory.  So in a nutshell, when schools phase-out, students lose many of the classes they love, and teachers lose their positions.

            Now that we understand the effects of the school closure process, let’s look at three schools that were proposed to phase-out this year and that were “spared” due to heavy community opposition.  Dewitt Clinton High School, Flushing High School, and Herbert H. Lehman High School were all on the early engagement list to phase out in October, and Lehman stayed on the list until it was announced to be “saved” one day before the closure vote.  The students, staff members, and community members, at all three schools rejoiced, and once they found out they would be saved stopped the closure fight.  At the PEP vote to close dozens of other schools, I did not meet one person from Flushing or Clinton, and only one person from Lehman (so much for solidarity, but that is a topic for another post).  Still, I understand why people seemed very happy to find out that they would not be phased out, but rather undergo a much “less” drastic route.  The DOE in all three cases decided to significantly “downsize” all three large High Schools, and still co-locate the schools with new small schools.  Lehman, which once had over 4,000 students, will shrink to about 1,000 while sharing the building with five other schools.  Clinton, which once had over 5,000 students, will shrink to about 2,000 while sharing their building with, for now, two other schools. Flushing which currently has about 3,000 students will share the building with two more schools and downsize significantly (I could not find an exact number for Flushing online.)

            So what happens when schools are downsized?  Budgets are cut, programs are cut, and teachers lose their jobs.  In fact, at Lehman alone over 40 teachers were told this June that their positions were being cut and that they would not be back in the fall. I am sure the number is similar at Clinton and Flushing.  What is worse, this is just year one of the downsizing.  Staff members will continue to be cut over the next several years as the population shrinks.  Once again, students suffer, teachers suffer, and a school while still technically opened, is a shell of itself.  How does this help the kids?  How does this help the teachers?  How does this help the community?  Literally hundreds of teachers have lost their positions at their schools this June, not due to phase-out or closure, but due to downsizing.  Thousands of students will not be able to take some of the electives they love, or participate in after school activities, since there will be no more money for those things in the new budgets.  In effect, almost all of problems that come from a phase-out come from downsizing.  The only thing that doesn’t change is the name.

            In a way this is worse than closing the school.  Why is it worse?  Because other than what has just been published on this blog, not a single media outlet has covered this issue.  Once again hundreds of teachers have lost their positions and no one says a thing.  Next year we might very well get a more moderate mayor when it comes to education.  They may promise to put a halt to school closings and use “less drastic measures” to improve schools, but if children lose their programs and teachers lose their jobs, it is all the same to this blogger.  The only difference is the trees will keep falling in the forest, but this time there will be no one there to hear them, other than those directly affected.  The DOE, The UFT, and certainly none of the mayoral candidates have not even touched this issue, but at some point it has to be addressed.  The media likes to vilify ATRs but no one wants to talk about why we really have them in the first place.  Pressure has to be put on our next mayor to end all forms of school closings not just the dramatics ones.  Otherwise it will be the same thing next year only with a different name and much less attention.

Monday, July 1, 2013

My Last Post on DOENuts -Ever!

I started this blog back in 2010. I had just bought a house out in the suburbs and suddenly found myself with no extra cash and nothing to do (except for commuting to the city and tending to my 2 year old). At the same time I, forever the news junkie, came to realize that there was a pretty big movement against teachers and the teaching profession underway. I'm not one of these guys who's easily able to sit and write for hours on end -and I'm definitely not a person who you'd think would be a blogger (of all things)- but  I just didn't have a hobby! Given all that was happening in the ed. world and my own personal life, starting an edu blog seemed to be the natural thing to do. It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time! Any idiot can write (many of them do. Some under their real names!) and I thought that if I could figure out a way to get people to read the words that this idiot here wrote, maybe people would remember why they empathize with teachers and just maybe they wouldn't go so hard on teaching.

It's now three years later. The recession is over. The one time superintendent of the year will soon be heading off to a jail in Georgia. Michelle Rhee is disgraced. The NYTimes has disbanded it's education desk and Diane Ravitch -once relegated to tweeting her opinion from her couch- is now ruling the blogosphere defending people like me every day. And I, having now owned this  house for a few years, have a bit more money in my pocket then I did back then and a few more ways I can be spending my free time.

While it's fun to write (and to read) and to be a bit more informed and active than what I once was, and while I've met some awesome friends along the way, I have to tell you that this blog, once it grew, brought with it one unending burden;  people actually expect you to write stuff! 

I hate doing what's expected of me! Deep down, any man does. On the one hand, if the man doesn't do what's expected of him, people are disappointed because he hasn't done it.. On the other hand, if he does do what's expected of him and, like me, he really doesn't like pleasing people for the sake of pleasing them, he does sub-par work and people come away feeling disappointed because he hasn't done a good enough job! Yuk! There's a running joke in my house whenever my wife asks me to clean the shed: "Daddy's going out for cigarettes" the joke starts. "He'll be back in ten years."

This is just one the reasons why for the past  six months or so, this blog has felt more like an albatross around my neck and less like a cool way to spend a few hours each week. To be perfectly honest, I've been looking for a way to let it go for sometime now. But there is this War Against Teachers happening. Have you heard? And it needs every little voice defending teachers and teaching (and everything that makes being a teacher the best job in the world) that it can get. That's a pretty important key to the new social media movement: Each perspective needs a hundred little voices (like this one) in order for the web of opinion to grow. Given those realities, dropping a blog that could potentially generate so many page views seemed like a plain dumb idea.

Luckily I found a guy to help me with my dilemma! I found a New York City teacher who was willing take this blog over and keep writing. Like me, he's smart and a good writer. Like me, he doesn't jam his opinion down the reader's throat, opting instead  for an approach that delicately illustrates his perspective and lets the reader draw a final conclusion.   Like me, he's going to remain anonymous and write here every so often to make sure folks remember what the world is like from a teachers' perspective.  But unlike me, the next post you read on the doenuts blog will be from him. He's going to be the one who approves your comments, reads your emails and involves himself in the public ed. discussion moving forward. And unlike me, he'll be constant and deliberate with what he chooses to say or do. He'll be the only owner of the doenuts accounts after today. I am thankful that he said yes. My guess is he'll turn this blog into one the biggest there is.

Now I'd love to say that writing and reading about ed. issues has been fun and I'd love to say that I enjoyed reading, considering and approving all of your wonderful comments, emails and tweets. The truth, however, is that it really, it hasn't. This blog was created during a low point in American history (the Great Recession) in my profession (the War Against Teachers) and in my life (don't ever buy a house in the suburbs if Brooklyn is your one true love). So not being engaged with edu issues, not reading your comments, not reading and responding to emails and tweets for hours and hours on end (and never commenting on Gotham Schools again!) will probably be one of the best things to happen to me since I started teaching!

That's not to say that it hasn't been fun. It's always great to come in contact with people who share your general opinion. In my case, I came in contact with people who were smarter, better informed (almost always forgiving of my ignorance) and more experienced than I ever wanted to be. (That's why, if you've sent me an email in the past, you shouldn't worry about your privacy. I actually have a profound respect for everyone who has ever bothered to drop me a line and I'll be deleting my inbox before I hand over the passwords). But it hasn't been enough fun for me to stick around one minute longer. I intend to spend a lot of time on the beach and with my friends & family as I go out and enjoy some of those rights I've been writing to defend! And I don't intend to feel the slightest bit guilty about it either.

In the meantime, kindly keep this blog in your readers on your sidebars. Believe it or not, I searched high and low for a writer similar enough to make you even forget that the blog has a new author.