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Teacher Evaluation

September 30, 2017 pm30 9:01 pm

At Wednesday’s Citywide Chapter Leader Meeting, UFT President Michael Mulgrew gave his version of the history of the current teacher evaluation system in New York City. Here’s his main points, and I think observers who like it and don’t like it will all agree that this is a fair summary:

  1. The old system, satisfactory/unsatisfactory, was not the “good old days” – you were at the principal’s whim
  2. The UFT was looking for a way to improve the system and improve teaching, and S/U was not going to do it
  3. Using straight up test scores made NYC look bad, when teachers here actually do a good job
  4. We got the state to use a “growth model” which measures what we really do
  5. The number of negative ratings is substantially down
  6. We are fighting for more options for the “growth” score, so that it can be based on performance, and not necessarily tests.

Omissions. Misinterpretations. And the deeper story.  In six points.

  1. Why is Mulgrew still arguing against S and U? It’s been 3 years since my last S rating.  But we all know why he’s arguing. Members in New York City still don’t buy it. At the Chapter Leader meeting, CLs sitting near me (not people I know) were saying NO and scowling when Mulgrew was trying to make the point. There is pushback, probably coming unevenly, but from all districts. Also, the UFT helped impose this on all of NY State, and there is likely more unhappiness out of the city than there is in the city (NYC has high turnover, newer teachers have nothing to compare Mulgrew’s system to)
  2. Being at the whim of the supervisor is not necessarily a bad thing, if s/he is a capable, trained, reasonable educator. This is the fight the UFT refused and refuses to take on. Where members were at the whim of an unqualified or malicious principal, we should have fought to have that principal’s judgment reversed, and to have that principal removed. Instead the UFT fought to have us judged on test scores. This is not a small mistake. And it continues. Because HEDI did not clear out the malicious and incompetent. Bloomberg/Klein’s small school policy created hundreds of admin vacancies when there was an admin shortage. Result? Literally hundreds of incompetents/abusives. And the incompetent? When things go badly? They take it out on subordinates. The categories overlap. There is still a need to weed them out, and it is still a fight the union is bizarrely reluctant to take on. They have even accepted an evaluation system where challenging the principal’s judgment is not allowed!
  3. Whoever thought of tying teacher training and teacher rating was either an enemy of public education, or an idiot. I can imagine this conversation:  “Members are resistant to PD, but they should love PD so we can say that teachers love PD and thereby ‘teachers are trying to improve the profession'” “I know, let’s make the PD high stakes and tie it to their ratings, that’ll make them love it”  If you can imagine the people having this conversation (and something like it likely took place), then you can begin to understand how the UFT leadership doesn’t get the resentment that much PD generates.
  4. And mixing rating and professional improvement? Bad idea. And by the way? I like learning about math pedagogy. I do it, willingly. But it has nothing to do with whether I am an ok teacher. Rating and Growth are naturally separate parts of teaching, and should have never been mixed.
  5. The “growth” model pretends to measure growth. In fact, it produces fairly random numbers. Good for you if you get a high number, not so good if you have a low one, and don’t believe for a second that your teaching really controls the outcome. There is no way to use test scores to rate teachers that actually makes sense.
  6. The number of negative ratings is down. I like that. But that’s not a system that makes sense; it’s a system that for 2016-17 didn’t do much harm. We got lucky. And for the teachers who got the bad ratings and didn’t deserve them?

Protest Charter High School for Law and Social Justice unfair labor practice

June 30, 2017 am30 9:16 am

There are things we know that apply to all schools.

  • Everyone must feel safe in their own school.
  • Curriculum must engage students and meet their academic and social needs.
  • And all voices – parents, students, staff and administration – must be heard.

The Charter High School for Law and Social Justice at 1960 University Avenue (by Burnside) denies voice. Worse than that – they fired three quarters of their teachers – precisely for trying to discuss conditions in the school.

The United Federation of Teachers moved to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. This was the correct and necessary first step.

But we must do more. We must rededicate ourselves to helping all teachers and staff in New York City schools gain or maintain voice. We must organize the unorganized, and stand stronger in the face of injustice.

And we must bring pressure to bear on this charter school in particular. I am writing to the UFT leadership today, proposing we begin informational picketing at the school.

Richard Marsico, the president of the Charter High School for Law and Social Justice is director of the “Justice Action Center” at the New York Law School. Two more officers and several board members are associated with the Justice Action Center, or with the law school itself. I will also be proposing a UFT campaign directed to the “Justice Action Center” and its association with these damaging actions and unfair labor practices.

I am a strong supporter of public education. Public schools are a pillar of our republic. The current infatuation with charter schools will pass. But I recognize that we have a lot of work to do improving our public schools – what we teach, whether we test, and the environment inside many of our schools before we reach that point.

In the meantime we should continue to advocate for improvement in ALL schools. That includes making sure that all stakeholders have voice.


Cowardice in the Face of Hate – or how someone made me miss Randi Weingarten

June 16, 2017 pm30 10:41 pm

Randi Weingarten was a lousy UFT president. We never should have had a non-teacher as president. But that’s relatively minor. When she left, the union was far weaker than when she arrived. And that is huge.  Some of the details:  Under her tenure our big high schools were broken up, weakening the union, and making education WORSE for many students. And she didn’t just watch it happen, she participated.  Under her tenure, we had the 2005 contract, full of give-backs, rammed down our throats. The damage done in that “deal” lives with us today; seniority, innocent before being proven guilty, right to grieve… and the list goes on.

But there were positives. And one that stands out: on political endorsements we started considering where politicians stood on “human rights” (mostly revolved around gay and lesbian issues). We stopped supporting Dov Hikind and Serph Maltese and their ilk, just because they voted the right way on Political Action’s checklist. If they stood for hate, we wouldn’t stand with them. This was a battle. Previously the UFT supported incumbents mostly for being incumbents, checking a small number of votes, and not looking at their record beyond. That’s pretty lousy. But under Randi, we fixed that. Or I thought we did.

Fernando Cabrera peddles hate. I’m not going to say “homophobic” – let you decide. Maybe we should have known in 2009 when we endorsed him for City Council. Maybe we should have known in 2013 when we endorsed him for City Council. But in 2014, he announced it loud and clear. In Uganda.

Here’s the video:

“Godly people are in government. Gay marriage is not accepted in this country. Even when the United States of America has put pressure and has told Uganda, ‘We’re not going to fund you anymore unless you allow gay marriage.’ And they have stood in their place. Why? Because the Christians have assumed the place of decision-making for the nation.  Abortions are illegal here. Things that Christians really stand for. Why? Because the Christians here took the opportunity to take their rightful place. So now the city here is rejoicing.”

Here’s gay city councilpeople denouncing Cabrera:

I spoke at the UFT Exec Board on June 5, 2017, against the proposed endorsement of Cabrera for the 14th City Council District (west Bronx, roughly Kingsbridge down to Tremont). Paul Egan’s defense of Cabrera was weak, and came down to saying that we don’t endorse on a candidate’s personal beliefs, but on where they voted on the checklist. But members of the Exec Board, Unity members who usually vote lock step as their superiors tell them, remembered that we no longer use the checklist method of endorsement when “human rights” is at issue. Several abstained (silently). And one broke ranks and voted no, a rare act from a member of this top-down caucus. The endorsement of Cabrera must have passed about 45 – 7, far closer than they are used to.

At the Delegate Assembly Wednesday June 14 I raised the same objections (some smaller issues, but essentially, he does not share our values, and in the age of Trump he will be empowered to act on his hate). This time Mulgrew was chairing, and he did not call for a separate vote on Cabrera, instead voting simultaneously on a dozen races, mostly non-controversial. UFT practice is to call for a separate vote when there has been an objection. I tried to call a point of order, he called me out of order. Afterwards he said he realized he should have divided the vote.

Occam’s Razor. Which is more likely? The UFT president momentarily forgot a procedure that he has watched others carry out, and that he has carried out himself, many times? Or, having heard that Unity had trouble keeping its votes in the Exec Board, he was afraid to allow delegates to vote on Cabrera alone, fearing an embarrassingly close vote, or even an overturn of Political Action’s choice?

You can decide for yourself. Me, for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, I miss Randi.


Breaking the Fundamental Rule of the Math Class Game – and paying the price

February 5, 2017 am28 1:08 am

The Fundamental Rule of Math Class:  I teach something, you go home, open up the homework, do what I showed you in class, and you’ll be fine. Same thing on the test.

If a student gets some math published, should that hurt the teacher’s evaluation?

Many teachers never deviate from the rule. And me?  I obey the rule, too. Most of the time. Even those of us who don’t always do it, we do it more than we used to. (thanks to standardized testing and the insane link between standardized test scores and the teacher’s evaluation score.)

I taught you how to simplify square roots? When you look at the home work, you’ll be asked to simplify square roots. Do what we did in class, and you’ll be fine.

Breaking the Rule

But some days are different. I introduce “problems” – little ones that take a few minutes, and big ones, where I have moved ahead in my curriculum so that we can carve out a day or day and a half here or there. I offer problems that do not fit the Math Class Game – always off-topic, usually using skills from prior units, or prior years. How many games will there be in a single elimination tennis tournament (singles) with 73 players? How many times a day do the minute and hour hands point in the same direction? What’s the biggest perfect square with only even digits?

“… I ask a group of you a question, unrelated to what we did yesterday, seemingly out of left field, that requires only math that you already know, but without any of the usual cues about what tool to use… Questions mix counting, arithmetic, organization, and visualization skills. They require reasoning, planning.”

Going Further

And for the last three years, I have asked the students to do more, and more. Take one of the “problems” that you already solved, and propose an extension. Change it up to make a new problem, and solve that one. Mostly I get variations of the checkerboard, how many subsets, and Ghost the Bunny.

The Price or the Payoff?

As these are the same students whose standardized test scores determine my year-end rating (Thank you Obama, Duncan, Cuomo, Weingarten, and Mulgrew), giving up teaching days is a risky venture. Last year my test scores were “effective” but this year they a) count more than twice as much, and b) could easily end up “developing.” I’m guessing I’ll be ok, but if I am not, and I get TIPped, they’ll pretty much have to put “increase regents scores” in the plan and the first thing they’d look for is “stop throwing away days teaching off-curriculum.” And that’s on top of the TIP already being an unpleasant and fairly useless process. Do I really need to face that so late in my career? Because of test scores that are fine, but do not reach some expectation that is kept secret from me, is set by no one I know, and that no one directly involved actually cares about?

Of course there’s payoff.  Kids have fun doing math. That’s worth something. They persevere with an extended task, with the finish line not in clear view at the beginning. That’s big. They propose a new problem, not knowing if they can finish it, and they plow in, hoping to make progress. In some cases students do not complete their problem – in their write up they include advice for the next students to try the same problem. Some finish their problem – they often make suggestions for further inquiry. You know, they are behaving – just a little – like little mathematicians. That’s payoff.

And then there’s M.  Her problem this fall generated an alternate interpretation for a known sequence, and will have to be submitted to the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. Like, published. I want to work with her to help her understand more fully what she’s done before she sends the math in for review. At that point I will share the details in this space.

Hmmph. I’ve been doing math, in one form or another for 40 odd years, and nothing of mine has been published. I’ll take credit for asking the kids to be creative, and for recognizing that her sequence seemed unusual, and for knowing a few combinatoricists. Still, not my name going on the entry.

Thing is, M is a good math student, but works a bit slowly on tests. If we could have the problem solving days back, and turn them into test prep, we could probably raise her score a few points. And given the unpredictability of “growth scores” those few points could make the difference between her hurting my score or helping my score.

As long as I don’t get a “Developing” I will claim I don’t care. But if I get a D? Who knows. It raises an interesting question: If a student gets some math published, should that hurt the teacher’s evaluation?



Has UFT Leadership stopped censoring T*#^@&’$ name yet?

January 22, 2017 pm31 11:45 pm

The headline in the NY Teacher (online, January 19, 2017) reads:  “DeVos flunks first test

But more interestingly, in the first line: “Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. education secretary…”

In fact, Trump’s name and actions have been popping up in UFT and New York Teacher stuff since the New Year. But that was after an unofficial moratorium since the election. Over a month of the UFT leadership avoiding his name.

Are we there yet? After two months of confusion? cowardice? caution? is the UFT Leadership now ok using his name, or is it not?

We are worried here. Two stories.

Story Two

On the UFT Website, a new article (last week?), with a fascinating title:  “Mike Pence & Betsy Devos: The Threat to the Nation’s Public Schools

I’m not making this up. Go look. You can see his name once, as if he were tangentially connected to the people he appoints. Who let this get published like that? What warped mind doesn’t say “you know, any member who reads this is going to think we are complete idiots, or that we are totaled scared of Trump, and neither of those is the best message to send just now”?

Story One

Right after the election, remember those days?  Remember how scared so many kids and adults were in school – worried about the future? Worried about tomorrow? Worried about women’s rights? LGBTQ rights? About deportation? About harassment by thugs? Violence by police?

Anyway, this story is then. Right after the election Unity leadership brought New Action and MORE a resolution about the atmosphere of hate that Trump’s candidacy had generated. I signed it. Exec Board voted it up, unanimously.

Then the leadership e-mails. Someone wants to change it. They don’t even say who. Here’s the language from the e-mail: “Several executive board members asked that we amend the resolution.  The presidential campaign has provided the current tenor in this country, and the resolution below addresses those concerns.”

But look at the change they wanted:

WHEREAS, president-elect Donald Trump targeted communities on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion, and displayed abusive behavior toward women, has threatened the nation’s promise that all people are worthy of respect; and

WHEREAS, president-elect Donald Trump has outlined an education agenda overtly hostile to public schools and teachers, promising to prioritize vouchers and charter schools at the expense of public schools ; and


WHEREAS, the presidential election targeted communities on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion, and displayed abusive behavior toward women, has threatened the nation’s promise that all people are worthy of respect; and

WHEREAS, the presidential election has outlined an education agenda overtly hostile to public schools and teachers, promising to prioritize vouchers and charter schools at the expense of public schools ; and

They didn’t even have the decency to say they were taking out his name.

To their credit, they allowed debate at the next Exec Board. And they took responsibility for making the change (the e-mail says “several exec board members” – I called them on it and the Secretary corrected it to “the leadership”). But every argument they made was an argument against ever endorsing a candidate. And they voted, party line, to keep his name out.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

I wonder why they did it. My first thought is that they had not allowed the AFT to vet the reso, and that the AFT wanted to play footsie with the Trump. Certainly the Bloomberg era taught has how susceptible Weingarten is to not very subtle flattery, and we know how little Casey is to be trusted. But no, the AFT had one cautious statement, and then started using his name. NYSUT, right off the bat was critical. So this was the UFT. Maybe pressure from the pro-civil rights in Washington but not in my neighborhood wing of Unity Caucus old-timers?  Possible. Or maybe some half-baked idea that calling Trump “Trump” would alienate conservative UFTers (but without much logic – if they could be turned off to the union for a political stance, that would have been the Hillary endorsement). Or maybe it was just cowardice. If we stand up, we become a target. Silly, of course, because being a union makes us a target, no matter what we say about Trump.

Is “Developing” an adverse rating?

January 19, 2017 pm31 8:46 pm

Since the introduction of our current test-score linked evaluation system (that we should have never agreed to), teachers get rated HE, E, D, or I.  That’s Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, or Ineffective.

It sucks to be rated Developing. That’s what people who are rated developing have been saying.

It’s no big deal to be rated Developing. That’s what UFT representatives have been pushing.

Who is right? If you have a D, you get a TIP – a Teacher Improvement Plan. I understand that at best, they are benign. In some schools, with some admins, they suck. And I haven’t met a single teacher who raves about how good their year with a TIP was, how much they “grew,” how much they looked forward to their mandatory meetings with their administrator.

I wrote about this. Last Spring. Twice. I said D’s suck. UFT reps said no. It’s just a TIP. My word (and teachers who have Ds) against theirs?

Not any more. In the new evaluation agreement, UFT negotiators requested and got the right to appeal D ratings. Guess they knew the Ds were bad all along, they just didn’t want to say so… (in front of the teachers).

Bill de Blasio for a second term?

December 17, 2016 am31 11:40 am

It looks likely that he will get the UFT endorsement. He already has endorsements from many unions – starting with the sanitation workers.

Still, bad optics on AFT President Randi Weingarten hosting a fundraiser for de Blasio, using AFT facilities, before the UFT has run through its endorsement process.

After a decade of misplayed mayoral endorsements (Alan Hevesi, failed to make run-off, Fernando Ferrer, lost run-off, Mark Green, lost election, all 2001, Fernando Ferrer lost election 2005, no endorsement 2009 when Bill Thompson actually had a chance to end the Bloomberg education calamity) a less confident leader might have concluded that her “endorsement radar” was bad. Randi is not burdened by such useless introspection.

Nor is she alarmed by her presidential record (2008 way way early endorsement of Hillary, last union to stick with her, even as Obama wrapped the thing up; 2012 even earlier endorsement of Hillary…)

Nor is she constrained by correct process – local endorsements belong to the locals.

I didn’t vote for her. That doesn’t stop me from being embarrassed for my union.