Friday, September 6, 2013

Accountability for Some, Cushy Jobs and Multi-Million Dollar Contracts for Others

It is September, and thus another school year begins.  For the over 75,000 teachers, and thousands of Principals and Assistant Principals in NYC this will likely be the most challenging and frustrating year we will face in a very long time.  The Common Core Standards are in full implementation, and for many teachers that means preparing students for a new crop of Common Core exams.  The biggest change for teachers though, will be the new teacher evaluation system that the DOE is now calling ADVANCE.

On Tuesday, much of the first day back for teachers was spent on this new system.  For the majority of teachers who do not follow these things closely or read the blogs, it came as a pretty big shock.  Teachers learned for the first time, the specifics of how the test component would work for their specific evaluation. Many teachers were both stunned and appalled to learn that 40% of their evaluation would be based on students' scores in subjects they do not teach.  Since many people do not teach tested subjects, their evaluations will be based 20% on regents scores for the school as a whole.  The other 20% of their evaluation will be based on student performance on an English task.  (Now I know all teachers should have plenty of reading and writing in their curriculum, but is it truly fair to judge a Physical Education, or Art teacher, based on how a student does on an English task?)

Many people believe that this whole system will quickly crumble once teachers start to sue.  It does seem hard to believe that the firings that come from this system would hold up in a court.  How can you fire a wood shop teacher based on Regents exams and a writing task?  How can you fire a first grade teacher based on the scores students receive on 3rd-8th grade tests?  I certainly don't believe you can, but it seems that our city/state/union officials are more than OK with this.  In fact, many of them believe this is the best thing to happen to education in decades.

Although I am bothered by this system for a million reasons, there really has been one part of this whole thing that keeps me up at night.  What bothers me the most, is the fact that this system holds teachers, principals, and assistant principals accountable, yet it lets all the other high ranking officials completely off the hook.  It seems that if you are a multi-million dollar corporation, or have a cushy job with DOE central, or a network, there is no real accountability for you at all.  So while teachers are being bludgeoned by this system, let's look at the track record for some of the people that are not only avoiding accountability but making a lot of money off of this system.

First we have the testing/textbook/curriculum companies.  These are the people most likely profiting the most from the new standards.  These companies have gotten hundreds of millions of dollars to create tests, text books, and other materials for districts all across the country.  Despite the millions of dollars invested into these companies, it seems that they are not held to any standards at all.  As reported yesterday on gothamschools and a few months back by the awesome Lindsey Christ at NY1, hundreds of schools across the city have still not received their materials from Person, McGraw Hill, Scholastic, and Houghton Mifflin. All this money spent, and they can't even get these materials before the school year starts?  Normally teachers plan for the year during the summer, and now they have to start a new school year with no materials.  (This is of course after going a whole year with no materials for the 3-8th grade teachers, who despite this, still had their students tested in the common core).  Two major pieces of the Danielson Framework that teachers will be evaluated on is their lesson plan, and their unit plan.  If any teacher told their principal that they didn't have a lesson plan today, but that it will be ready next week, they would be "I" rated instantly.  Yet we allow companies with multi-million dollar contracts to get away with just that...And let's not forget this debacle by Pearson, and this one by McGraw Hill.

Secondly, we have the city and state education departments.  These two entities put the ADVANCE system into place, and have been fighting to make it easier to fire teachers for years.  Yet both of these entities can't even live up to their own ridiculous expectations.  Like our beloved testing companies, the State Education Department promised teachers curriculum via their site Engage NY.  The timeline the state gave High School English teachers indicated that by June 1st we would have the "lesson seeds" for the first "module" of 9th grade English.  (So literally all we were expecting was one unit, for one grade, for one subject.)  Yet as of Wednesday September fourth (the last planning day before students arrive) no lesson seeds exist.  Again, would it be acceptable for a teacher to not have a lesson plan on the day of a lesson?  I think not.

Even more ridiculous is the fact that the growth models (formulas used to determine the test part of a teacher's evaluation) have not been official decided yet.  So as a teacher, we have no idea what equation is even being used to show that we helped students grow.  The school year is starting, and students will be taking their pre-tests, in a week or two.  How can we fairly be judged on a system that neither the city or state education departments have finished creating yet?

As for the city, they apparently have created a brand new website for their system ADVANCE so all school administrators can have their many questions answered.  This is also the space where principals will put in all the information and data regarding their teachers.  Yet apparently, in typical DOE fashion, currently the website is completely blank.  Principals can use their log-ins to go on the site, but when they do they are met with nothing but a blank page.  Again, a typical case of standards for the people in the trenches, and zero accountability for the people at the top.  Let's not forget that the chancellor himself admitted that he does not even give his own people performance evaluations.

Can we please stop putting the cart before the horse?

Finally we have the hundreds of administrators working in network offices across the city.  Generally these people make the same salary as an assistant principal or principal, (some of these jobs are still on teacher salary lines) but once again we see a lack of accountability.  If you asked 99% of teachers, and likely the majority of school based administrators what these "network" people do, the best you would get is a very vague response.  These people have titles like network leader, cluster leader, achievement coach, talent coach, math coach, curriculum coach (well a whole bunch of "coach" names), and a whole wide array of other silly titles.  From what I gather, most of these jobs entail going to different schools and "advising" teachers/administrators, and occasionally running a PD.  My question is, if these people are making the same amount of money as a school based administrator, and far more than a teacher, how come they don't have the same accountability?  Why aren't they subject to growth scores, based on the performance of the schools they advise?  It seems like their jobs are far less stressful than running a school or a department, so shouldn't they at least have some accountability?

As Bill de Blasio has put it many times, we live in "a tale of two cities."  If you work in the trenches, and really want to help the lives of students you get demonized by the media, and have to go through a thousand and one hoops just to prove you are a good teacher.  However, if you are somewhere at the top, you get to make all the mistakes in the world, and receive no punishment for it.  In fact, you might even make a lot of money off it all.

If you agree with any of this, and believe the APPR system is truly unfair and an attack on the teachers of New York, I suggest you sign this great petition created by members of the MORE Caucus.  They are the ones fighting the fight that our UFT leaders should be fighting.

-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.


  1. Thanks! Excellent analysis. What amazes me is the deadline for when we teachers are supposed to make our "choice" of which model of MOSL (Measure of Student Learning- whatever that means...) we wish to have imposed upon us for the 40% of our evaluation. We must decide next week! And the decision is final. May as well ask us if we'd rather have the guillotine, firing squad or lethal injection.
    This has been the worst back-to-school in my 10 years teaching. I'm desperately trying to minimize it so I can think about the kids coming Monday.

    1. Yes, it is definitely hard to focus on the students with all the unanswered questions. I love teaching, and I always get excited to meet my new students, but it seems like the DOE no longer cares about the relationship built between teachers/students.

  2. Yes, Yes, and YES! We're through the looking glass and over the moon: we've jumped the shark! We need a darkly funny highlight reel of the ChancellorBloomberg years. With 2 chapters for Cathie Black! Oh Lord Help Us! It's laugh or cry with this nonsense. Teachers and kids are HEROES!