City employees including sanitation workers, college professors and teachers say how they contribute to the city and why they will be at the Fair Contracts for All Rally at City Hall Park at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12. “New Yorkers all over need to hear that our unions are united and are fighting together for fair contracts,” says teacher Subrina Cek.
In a recent HuffPost piece, Liz Madans, an English teacher at Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Secondary School for Arts & Technology in Long Island City, writes about teaching poetry to high school seniors and what she learned at an eye-opening master class with poet laureate Billy Collins.
Mr. Collins is generous, knowledgeable and beautifully articulate. He says a poem should travel on the page the way we read an eye chart. Like the big E, the poem should start clearly to give a reader a solid footing, and then as things get smaller and smaller, the reader should have to squint and figure things out. “Good poems begin in Kansas, and end in Oz,” Collins told us. Give a reader a concrete place to begin: a walk in the neighborhood, a classroom, an image, and then that reader will follow you into the sky, into the dark, anywhere.
I am dazzled by Collins and by my peers and come away full of strategies, lists, resources and email addresses.
On the subway home, I begin to re-write my poetry unit.
[Editor's note: Guest blogger Elaine Weiss is the national coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.]
As many of us have long suspected, the impacts of popular market-oriented reforms are not as positive as their proponents would have us believe. Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and then-CEO and now-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who ran the school systems in New York, Washington, DC and Chicago, respectively, along with the mayors who controlled the school systems they led, all exaggerated their successes. In fact, the report I recently co-authored as National Coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, “Market-Oriented Reforms’ Rhetoric Trumps Reality,” discovers that using student test scores to make high-stakes decisions did little good and more than a little harm.
We found that across all three cities, student NAEP test scores rose less than they did in comparable high-poverty urban districts. In Chicago, reading scores, already below average, fell further. New York City students achieved the second-lowest average test score growth across fourth and eighth grade reading and math of the ten districts studied, beating only Cleveland. And Washington, DC students, who had been gaining ground in both subjects, saw that growth stop or even begin to fall. Moreover, what small gains did accrue went heavily to white and higher-income students, so many achievement gaps grew rather than narrowed. Closing schools neither helped students nor saved money, and drove teacher turnover, not teacher quality.
These would be terrible findings for any districts. They are particularly troubling, however, given these districts’ power (mayoral control), money (NYCDOE increased spending far more than other large urban districts, and DC Public School spending rose throughout the post-recession years), and the fact that they are held up as models by their own leaders and by philanthropists, policymakers, and organized advocates who advance their agenda.
The question, then, is not just how these three districts should change course, but how we can derive lessons from the findings that other districts, states, and the federal government can use to advance smarter policies.
We would say, first, look to the districts’ own small, less visible successes, which tell the flip side of the quick-fix reform story. New York City’s small schools delivered their best results by focusing on strong, sustained teacher-student relationships and hands-on learning experiences. Chicago’s multifaceted college-and-career readiness strategy contrasts sharply with test preparation that deprives students of real knowledge and skills. DCPS’ high-quality universal pre-kindergarten program nurtures all of children’s developmental domains and increases the diversity of the early childhood education setting.
Second, listen to teachers and principals. Stripping teachers of their morale and professionalism, and the teacher pool of the expertise that principals need to build strong teams, is a recipe for disaster. Montgomery County, Maryland’s Peer Assisted Review system, which leverages excellent teachers to assess and mentor novices, builds trust and promotes continuous improvement, not churn.
Third, pay attention to poverty. In urban, rural and, increasingly, suburban districts, student and community poverty pose impediments that, unaddressed, stymie even the best reform efforts. New York City and Chicago both house large clusters of full-service community schools that acknowledge, tackle and alleviate the effects of poverty. If the next mayor advances this supports-based approach, outcomes could look more like those in Cincinnati — more engaged, higher-achieving students, taught by satisfied and motivated educators.
Achievement gaps are driven by opportunity gaps: in kindergarten readiness, access to health care, qualified teachers, the capacity to navigate the college application process, and others. Only reforms that address those gaps in opportunity can deliver real change.
New York City teachers discuss how they have used Share My Lesson as a resource for lesson plans and ideas. “Just the idea of having a place, a database where you can go and get really good lesson plans – that is like gold for a teacher,” says UFT President Michael Mulgrew in the video. Share My Lesson, created by the AFT in partnership with the UFT, had its New York City launch on April 19 and 20.
This will be the fourth year that my students and I have suffered through the New York State high-stakes elementary school tests. Although the mayor and the chancellor tell us this year’s tests are all new, my stories from the classroom are similar to years past.
As a new teacher and New York City transplant, I was astonished to discover 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-grade students were held over based on their scores from a series of limited assessments. After that realization, I was much less surprised to see the effect of these tests in the classroom. Both schools I have worked at ended regular instruction in early February to opt for test prep units designed to milk a few extra points on the state exams. Students’ and teachers’ health began to slowly decline around the same time of year, and behavioral incidents began to rise.
In my own classroom, I have fought to ameliorate the stresses of testing season by reminding my students how hard they have worked and telling them that their only job on state testing days is to try their best. But my efforts have been less than successful. One year a 9-year-old 4th grader asked me if it was okay to put the classroom trash can near her desk in case she got sick to her stomach during her English language arts exam. The next year a mental block caused a little boy to flip his desk over in a moment of panic and frustration while trying to craft an extended-response essay. Just last week, Natashi, a girl in my 5th-grade class who has only been in the country for two years and is still transitioning to English, asked me whether I would be disappointed in her if she tried her best and still wasn’t able to pass. “What if I just need another year in 5th grade to keep practicing, Mr. Thompson?” she said to me with tears in her eyes.
With a broken heart and tears in my own eyes, I turned to Natashi and told her I would always be proud of her. “You have fought so hard this year! I will be proud of you no matter what score you get!” Natashi feigned a smile and asked to go to the bathroom to wash the tears off her cheeks.
My students, Natashi included, have been attending an extended-day program on Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school all year long. We have spent the last few months keeping students late on Mondays and Fridays for an hour and a half of extra instruction focused on test sophistication. For the past two months, we have asked students to come to school from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays for extra help to boost scores on their state tests.
Still, all the Common Core-aligned data I collect are telling me that my students are not showing mastery on the vast majority of Common Core standards. Many of the “grade level” reading passages and math problems I share with my students are far beyond their ability levels. The confusion these tasks generate leads to an overwhelming sense of failure among my students. And, of course, when my students feel like they are failing, I feel like a failure myself.
Should it surprise any of us that high-stakes tests, coupled with new standards, little-to-no teacher training, and no citywide curricula are a recipe for disaster? Should cheating scandals, state test boycotts, low teacher retention rates, and teary-eyed students come as a shock to the American educational system? Should I be surprised that my students score 30 percent lower than last year, as predicted by many educational experts? No!
The only surprising part about this whole process is the process itself. We have created a demoralizing atmosphere of fear, frustration and failure for teachers and students. I will always be proud of the hard work my students put into their education, and I sincerely believe they will succeed regardless of what their state test scores suggest. But if the mayor or the chancellor were ever to come up to me like Natashi did to ask whether I was proud of the reforms they had made to education, my answer to them would be quite different from my answer to her.
Mr. Thompson is the pseudonym of a fourth-year elementary school teacher in Brooklyn. A version of this post first appeared on the UFT blog edwize.org, where “New Teacher Diaries” is a regular feature. If you’re interested in writing a New Teacher Diary entry for edwize, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Independent Budget Office, in a report released on April 10, finds that the Bloomberg-era school allocation formula, known as Fair Student Funding, actually underfunds 94 percent of schools and “has a ways to go” towards creating a readily-understood and transparent formula.
The IBO report says the formula, which gives schools per-student funding weighted for need levels (extra dollars for an English language learner, for example) has more closely tied school funding with student needs. For example, middle school students, who were historically short-changed, now get an amount closer to their actual formula needs. But overall, schools are coming up short, the budget office writes.
“Effective per-capita [per student] funding is below per capita funding under the FSF formula in each year,” according to the report, which means that actual per-student funding in schools is generally below what the DOE’s own formula says they need — “a reflection of both the limited funding available and how available funds were distributed.”
Students funded below what the formula called for last year and at least two more out of the last five years were 1) middle school students below academic standards; 2) elementary and high school ELLs; and 3) high school collaborative team teaching students.
So as a budget strategy to direct money to students with the highest needs, Fair Student Funding doesn’t appear to have worked so well.
The UFT’s issue with Fair Student Funding was its potential effect on a school that had more senior teachers. Waving the banner of equity, the DOE began funding schools for their average teacher salary rather than the system wide average. This amounted to charging schools for the actual cost of salaries at their schools. The idea was to equalize funding for poor and wealthier schools. But the effect was to penalize some schools, forcing them to leave vacancies unfilled, raise class sizes and avoid hiring experienced teachers in order to meet budget.
But a 2007 IBO report found that teacher salaries were not even close to the main cause of inequities in school budgets. The main reason for disparities in spending was the numbers of students per teacher, it found, not teacher salary. That argument is not made in the new report. In fact, the new report perpetuates the idea that teacher salaries cause the inequities in school funding, a myth the IBO previously disproved.
The report is a major contribution on an important issue. If Fair Student Funding isn’t succeeding in creating fairness or sufficient funding, what is it actually accomplishing? Of course, the final irony is that Bloomberg’s insistence on principal empowerment means that when all the formulas have gone to bed, principals spend their budgets however they want, with little oversight of which students are getting extra help.
Highlights from the April 11 issue of New York Teacher:
State budget a major victory for schools
City schools are set to receive $319.5 million in new state funding for the coming school year, part of a statewide 4.9 percent increase in education aid that is the largest since the 2007 recession. The final budget, approved by state lawmakers on March 29, also extends the millionaire’s tax another three years.
Trailer park school
The field next to Richmond Hill HS in Queens doesn’t have a baseball diamond or soccer goal posts. Instead, it is cluttered with 22 trailers in which approximately 600 students from the overcrowded school have class. The existence of the trailers, which the DOE has been promising for years to replace with an annex, is just one of the many examples of the DOE’s neglect at Richmond Hill.
In the main competition of the New York City First Science and Technology Celebration this year, school teams had six weeks to design, build and program robots to remotely maneuver around an enclosed field, playing ultimate Frisbee and climbing a jungle gym.
The economics of good preschool
Every year, politicians’ promises to invest in early education seem to bloom like daffodils, then fade. Can a hard look at costs vs. benefits help us break this cycle?
Governance Task Force recommendations approved
The UFT delegates voted overwhelmingly on March 20 to support the 60-member UFT Task Force on School Governance’s recommendations to scale back mayoral control of the school system. “We are telling the city what parents already know: what we have doesn’t work,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.
Combining learning, fun to help shape students
Nearly 500 teachers, paraprofessionals, parents and child care providers attended the UFT’s sixth annual Early Childhood Education Conference on March 16, entitled “Today We Shape Tomorrow.”
SESIS payments on the way!
Thanks to the UFT’s victory in arbitration, more than 31,000 members should be receiving back pay in April for the Special Education Student Information System work that they did after work hours between September 2011 and Dec. 31, 2012.
Forum message: Labor-community bond crucial
Unions today must organize whole communities, said the presidents of the UFT and the Chicago Teachers Union at a packed forum on union and community partnerships on March 15.
Everyone’s talking about the breakdown in the teacher evaluation talks between the mayor and the union as if it were the only chance to fix public education in New York City. Do we need an evaluation system? Absolutely. Is it a cure-all for our educational ills? Absolutely not.
I am still in the middle of my honeymoon period with teaching, the first career I’ve truly loved. Sadly, like so many teachers in our city, newbies such as myself and grizzled veterans alike, I am developing a profound sense of regret linked to the growing sensation that I may not be cut out for the classroom, or at least the New York City classroom. I rarely feel recognized for my work. I rarely feel effective in the classroom. I rarely feel like I’m giving my students what they will need to succeed in college and beyond.
Certain mayors, governors, members of Congress and leaders in education reform constantly denigrate teachers. In fact, there are times when I feel like that is the only topic of national interest where there is a degree of political consensus: Our students are failing and teachers are to blame.
Along with most teachers I know, I’m spending 12 to 15 hours every day teaching, planning lessons, grading papers, developing presentation slides, completing paperwork, enhancing my classroom environment and calling parents. Once you add in my meals and commute, there’s barely enough time to sleep!
And, new evaluation system or no, I’m being held accountable for everything I do. Nearly every email in my inbox is marked “high importance” and then followed up with countless check-ins. Danielson rubric “feedback loops” are happening every month. Administrators march through my room nearly every week. My student data binder is thoroughly reviewed by teachers, administrators, network consultants and our superintendent.
Every time I turn around, I’m being told “Good job, but …” And every time a change is suggested to me, I implement it. Not enough student work on the walls? Fixed! Student work hung too high? Lowered! Process for completing an assignment unclear? Posted!
But when teachers need help, we’re given sympathy without assistance. Sorry — there are no office supplies available, but you’re supposed to have color-coded charts, class sets of dry erase markers, an array of options for organizers and manipulatives, and even a variety of paper choices to allow for student agency in every assignment. Sorry — there are no aligned resources for the unit you’re teaching, but still you’re supposed to find content-aligned, leveled, authentic literature for every student in every subject. These items are presented to me as non-negotiables by the city and my administration. But what about teacher non-negotiables?
Isn’t it interesting that Common Core Learning Standards were introduced without aligned curricula? Isolated task bundles full of grammatical mistakes as part of a vast trove of online garbage that I’m supposed to wade through during my free time just don’t cut it. Isn’t it unfortunate that special education reform and SESIS have been launched without effective citywide training and data-based suggestions for implementation? Principal- and network-led professional development sessions on these topics reflect the fact that school leaders themselves don’t know what’s going on with special education in New York.
Isn’t it shameful that the people demanding Universal Design for Learning, scaffolding and differentiation, Danielson-aligned teaching practices and data-driven instruction could not offer any of these cutting-edge teaching techniques themselves? I’m absolutely sick of being told the importance of visual anchors at presentations without any visual anchors!
So is a new teacher evaluation system — one that helps teachers improve — important? Absolutely. But let’s not forget that without standards-aligned curricula, robust learning resources and a dramatic improvement in teacher morale, there may not be many teachers left to evaluate.
Mr. Thompson is the pseudonym of a fourth-year elementary school teacher in Brooklyn. A version of this post first appeared on the UFT blog Edwize.org, where “New Teacher Diaries” is a regular feature. If you’re interested in writing a New Teacher Diary entry for Edwize, send an email to email@example.com.
Highlights from the Jan. 31 issue of New York Teacher:
At 11th hour, mayor torpedoes evaluation deal
At 3 a.m. on Jan. 17, the day of the state deadline, the UFT and the Department of Education had reached an agreement in principle on a new evaluation plan that would have given teachers better working conditions, more voice in how they are evaluated and support for continued professional growth throughout their careers. But the mayor stepped in to sabotage the deal, and in the process forfeited at least $240 million in state education aid for city schools.
Parents want experienced school bus drivers
The city’s protracted yellow school bus strike has left both parents and teachers increasingly frustrated with Mayor Bloomberg for his failure to negotiate with the union that represents the approximately 9,000 striking drivers and matrons.
Where would we be without them?
Community volunteers like these are the backbone of many schools across the city.
Cuomo to boost school aid
Gov. Cuomo proposed a 4.4 percent increase in education spending next year, part of an overall state budget increase of 1.9 percent that signals the beginning of cautiously better fiscal times for the state and the city.
State ed commish reads DOE the riot act
State Education Commissioner John King read New York City the riot act a day after the city missed the deadline for concluding a new teacher evaluation system. Laying the blame squarely on the mayor and the Department of Education, King said the city’s failure would result in the immediate loss of $240 million in state education aid and put hundreds of millions of other state and federal dollars at risk.
Noteworthy graduates: Jon Bauer, founder, investment management firm
Jon Bauer, a co-founder, chief executive operating officer and chief investment officer of Contrarian Capital Management, which invests in troubled companies and helps them restructure their finances, was “blown away” when he first learned about economics as a boy.
School of rock
Manhattan teacher’s passion rubs off on his music students
The rock star of PS 34 moves like a dervish among his students, getting them to work through a progression of basic chords. Basic rock chords, that is — a spin on teaching music that has turned blasé students into driven musicians. Students and colleagues at this school in Manhattan’s East Village say it’s all because of music teacher Ulises Soto.
Teacher attrition up after recession-driven lull
Teachers are voting with their feet again. Though the 2008 recession and its aftermath reduced attrition among city teachers, it seems to be on the move now. According to new UFT data, teachers and other pedagogues are leaving the school system in much higher numbers than they were two years ago, even as the city has bumped up hiring.
Was it a spur to critical thinking or was it an insult to nationhood punishable by termination? Or both? Was it a sacrilegious act or a thoughtless slip of discretion or immature judgment? Or neither?
Is this educator a menace to public sensibilities or an inept and unsavvy practitioner of defensive education who bravely or pig-headedly refuses to play it safe at the expense of intellect-building?
Was it, maybe, stealth propaganda or just a bad joke?
According to the Daily Caller, quoting WIS (a local NBC affiliate), a teacher in South Carolina was yanked from the classroom and consigned to extended administration leave and possible eventual firing for allegedly throwing an American flag on the floor and stomping on it. It is not claimed that he did it as part of a meltdown or fit of temper. What he apparently wanted to do was graphically demonstrate to his students the concept and potential dangers of symbolism and misplaced passion. It was about proving a point.
He had reportedly introduced the lesson by drawing several symbols. including a cross,which, as a segue, he uncritically identified as a symbol of Christianity.
Michael Copeland, parent of one of the teacher’s students, told WIS that the teacher took down the American flag and explained “This is a symbol, but it’s only a piece of cloth. It doesn’t mean anything,” and then proceeded to step on it in order to show, according to Copeland, that “there would be no consequences.”
Inarguably it may just cost the teacher’s job and just as inarguably there are far bigger implications for us all. More »
Caught In Their Own Web Of Deception and Deceit:
Bloomberg, the DOE and Teacher Evaluation Negotiations
After he blew up the teacher evaluation agreement that had been reached between the UFT and his own NYC DOE negotiating team, Mayor Bloomberg appeared at a hastily called press conference yesterday to spin an entirely fictional account of what had transpired. The UFT had made agreement impossible, he claimed, because of our unreasonable demands for more arbitration dates that would make it impossible to “fire bad teachers,” our “last minute” insistence upon a sunset clause that would have made the entire system a “joke,” and a “middle of the night” effort to change the scoring metrics for teacher evaluation so “no teacher” would be rated ineffective. Each of these claims is a lie, pure and simple. Here I will address the last two of Bloomberg claims, as I was personally involved in the negotiations around them.*
To finalize an agreement over teacher evaluations in New York, two different documents must be developed: a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which lays out in legal language the agreement between district and the union over the new evaluation system, and an application from the local school district to the New York State Education Department which provides scores of assurances that the specific evaluation plans laid out in the MOU conform to state law. Both the head of the school district and the head of the union must sign the local school district’s application. During the last week, as the UFT and the DOE met long into the night in an effort to reach agreement on the terms of the MOU, we asked, again and again, more insistently at each turn, to see the DOE’s draft of their application. It was not until late into Wednesday evening, barely 24 hours before the deadline, that the DOE finally gave us their draft of the application. When we read the draft, it quickly became apparent why they had resisted sharing it with us. Included in the draft were numerous scoring tables and conversion charts which the UFT was now seeing for the very first time. These tables and charts were very important: embedded in them were fundamental decisions about the shape of the evaluation system. By waiting until the very last minute to provide the union with these numbers, the DOE was trying to sandbag us: it was now impossible to properly vet those numbers before the deadline.
The UFT would have been completely justified in ending the negotiations, then and there. But we did not. Our Measures of Student Learning team met with our DOE counterparts and I met one-on-one with Deputy Chancellor Shael Suransky in efforts on our part to put together an agreement over the scoring numbers and ratings that would ensure that teachers would receive fair and accurate scores and ratings. Bloomberg’s description of these discussions could not be further from the truth: far from a last minute effort on the part of the UFT to change agreed upon scoring metrics, the union was doing everything it could to rescue the negotiations from a bad faith maneuver on the part of the DOE that could have easily derailed any agreement. We agreed to a three part solution: a joint UFT-DOE committee would have to approve the growth formulas which would be used for all of the measures of student learning; any scoring metric which unfairly skewed ratings would have to be recalibrated; and a special expedited appeals process would be established for final ratings which were not concordant with the different component ratings. On Thursday morning, I confirmed this three part agreement in a telephone conversation with Suransky. Over many years of working with the Bloomberg DOE, through the chancellorships of Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott, I have seen a great deal of cynicism on the part of the mayor and the top DOE leadership, but Bloomberg’s lie that the UFT engaged in an 11th hour effort to undo agreed upon scoring metrics in an effort to protect “bad teachers” is surely a new low in misrepresentation.
The Mayor’s claim that the UFT introduced a “last minute” demand for a sunset clause on the agreement is refuted by the very draft application shared with us. On the very last line of this section of the draft application, the DOE itself had written that the agreement would only last through the 2013-2014 school year. The preponderance of applications from school districts around New York approved had similar sunset clauses: given the sheer complexity of the new teacher evaluation systems required by New York State law, they reasoned that it was only prudent to revisit their implementation in a year or two. All of these applications have been approved by the New York State Education Department. It was the Mayor who, after an agreement had been reached with a sunset clause, insisted on undoing that clause and blowing up the entire agreement. The Council of Supervisors and Administrators, negotiating for a new principal evaluation, also had their agreement blown up by Bloomberg on the very same issue.
After two years of continuous efforts on the part of the UFT to negotiate a teacher evaluation system which would provide New York City public school teachers with the means to hone our skills and craft, and provide our students with the highest quality education, it is now painfully clear that Mayor Bloomberg has no intention of negotiating such an agreement.
* When the negotiations on teacher evaluation began two years ago, I was a UFT Vice President, and I served as co-chair of the union’s Teacher Evaluation Negotiations Committee. Last September I resigned my position as UFT Vice President to become the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute at the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT’s national union, but I made a commitment to the UFT to see these negotiations to completion and remained involved in them.
STATEMENT BY UFT PRESIDENT MICHAEL MULGREW:
I am sorry to announce that I have notified Governor Cuomo and other state officials that — despite long nights of negotiation and a willingness on the part of teachers to meet the DOE halfway – the intransigence of the Bloomberg administration on key issues has made it impossible to reach agreement on a new teacher evaluation system.
It is particularly painful to make this announcement because last night our negotiators had reached agreement – but Mayor Bloomberg blew the deal up in the early hours today, and despite the involvement of state officials we could not put it back together.
Thousands of parents have gotten a lesson this week, as the Mayor’s “my way or the highway” approach has left thousands of schoolchildren stranded at curbs across the city by the school bus strike. That same stubborn attitude on the Mayor’s part now means that our schools will suffer a loss of millions of dollars in state aid.
The UFT on Jan. 4 launched a television ad campaign urging Mayor Michael Bloomberg to put politics aside and reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation system.
The 30-second spot, titled “Moving Forward,” criticizes the mayor’s education record on topics ranging from misleading statistics and the failing schools opened by the mayor, to hiring Cathie Black as chancellor.
Class sizes have risen for a fifth straight year across the school system, a new Department of Education report shows.
Overall, the increase was 1.6 percent, or an average four tenths of a student per class. High schools had the largest gain.
The department put the report out at the end of the day Friday, Dec. 15 — the same day as the Newtown, CT shootings — assuring it would get virtually no coverage.
But the facts are disturbing. Class sizes have been rising steadily in virtually every grade since the 2007-08 school year, with elementary grades hit particularly hard. The average 1st grade class has 3.7 more students now than it did in 2007, and the average 3rd grade has 4.2 more children. Class sizes are a central concern for parents and teachers, while the mayor has said they could double as far as he was concerned.
In response to a recent UFT survey, 56 percent of teachers said their class sizes were so large that it interfered with their ability to reach all their students.