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Archive for March, 2012

You can get killed just for living in your American skin

Bruce Springsteen wrote “41 shots” after the killing of an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, in New York City. Here is Springsteen at a recent concert, performing the song, as he said, “for Trayvon.”

Hat tip: The New Yorker’s News Desk.

Success Charter Schools Repudiate Charter Mission To Serve High Needs Students

The following is the text of the UFT’s statement to the SUNY Board of Trustees on the revisions to the admissions preferences and processes of the schools in the Success Charter School network. Regrettably, the board approved the changes.

Today, the SUNY Board of Trustees is faced with a momentous decision on whether or not to approve the proposed revisions in the admissions policies of the charter schools in the Success Charter Network. These revisions are not minor, technical changes to the charters of the Success Academies. Rather, by eliminating the existing admissions preferences for at-risk students, the proposed revisions constitute a dramatic repudiation of what has been, until now, the Success Charter Network’s ostensible commitment to serve New York City’s students with the greatest need. For this very reason, the SUNY Board of Trustees must withhold approval of these changes. More »

Closed Schools Ten Years Later: Who Goes There Now?

In case you have not been paying attention, the mayor is vowing to dismantle about 30 school communities for reasons that pretty much no one can figure out. In fact, things have reached such a level of absurdity in New York that there are very few New Yorkers who actually believe that the campaign against our schools has anything to do with “school quality” or a desire to make things better for at-risk kids.

I mention this because in the face of such a situation, it seems ridiculous for me to continue my private crusade to correct the DOE’s misrepresentations about the schools that close and the new ones that rise up in their midst. The DOE mask, truly, is off. Still, even though no one in New York believes the mayor, New York City mayors often have national ambitions. It can’t hurt to set the record straight.

So, let’s look at a few big old schools and the new ones that replaced them in the same building. In particular let’s look at the schools’ comparative reading levels and comparative math. More »

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, March 22, 2012Highlights from the March 22 issue of New York Teacher:

Members, communities unite in anger against the mayor
Outraged teachers, parents, students and community and political leaders rallied in every borough on March 15 in a Day of Solidarity to protest the Bloomberg administration’s decade of mismanaging the city’s schools. Their anger was directed at the staggering number of school closings, surge of co-locations, release of the Teacher Data Reports and the mounting attacks on teachers.

Pension reduction for future city workers
Legislators give another free pass to Wall Street
State lawmakers on March 14 approved a measure to cut the retirement benefits for future public employees, including New York City public school educators, in what UFT President Michael Mulgrew denounced as a maneuver to “penalize future public workers around the state for the mistakes made by Wall Street.

Students ‘changed forever’ by opera
Metropolitan’s HD Live in Schools Program sparks love and learning
Don Jose, mad with jealousy, stabs the fiery gypsy Carmen in the heart as the crowd roars for her lover in the bullring. Students in the opera class from Susan Wagner HS on Staten Island have thrilled to this and other equally striking scenes, all live on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.

Union subpoenas Klein, DOE brass in closing schools suit
The UFT on March 5 issued a subpoena and deposition notices to compel former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and 11 other Department of Education officials to testify about the DOE’s failure to live up to its promise to provide resources and support to the threatened schools. More »

Teacher Data Reports — 4000 Unreliable, 100% Wrong

The Daily News reported yesterday that fully 1/3 of the Teacher Data Reports — 4000 reports — are unreliable.

And just to add a little context:

  1. They all have multiple years of data, which are supposed to be more reliable.
  2. Hundreds and hundreds have margins of error of less than 10 percentage points — five on either side — giving the public, parents, and teachers assurances that these reports are quite correct.
  3. In fact, the DOE was so confident in its findings that 46 of these reports had no margins of error at all!

That’s 4000 reports. And that means since teachers are ranked against each other, that all the reports are unreliable.

Or, let’s just get right to it: “unreliable” is a euphemism for wrong. More »

Walton Foundation Releases Details of Grants to Shape K-12 Education in 2011

The recent release of the Walton Foundation’s list of recipients of grants for K-12 education in 2011 has gotten some interest in the blogosphere. Some of the names on the list were old news, particularly the big five-year grants to national groups like Teach for America ($49.5 million) and KIPP ($25.5 million), which were reported last summer.

As we noted then, questions were quickly raised about how the Foundation’s conservative positions on issues such as the right to organize might influence the recipients of these huge grants. (For background on the Walton family and their foundation’s positions on education, this new website offers a great primer and lots of helpful links.) Now that the full list has been released, the evidence confirms that many organizations active in New York City and New York State received large grants from the Waltons last year — including a million-dollar grant to Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network, listed under the Foundation’s efforts to “Shape Public Policy.” The huge amounts in play here (over $159 million nationally in 2011 alone) should give pause to those concerned about the influence of corporate money in school reform in our community.

101st Triangle Factory Fire Commemoration, March 23

Friday, March 23 | 12 noon – 1 p.m.
Washington Place and Greene Street

Triangle Fire commemoration

Click the image for the PDF flier.


The Organization That Dare Not Speak Its Name*


Click image for a larger version.

On Sunday, my wife came home from church with a leaflet and a strange story.

Someone who was a tad bit reluctant to provide her name had passed out a leaflet and attempted to recruit members of her congregation to an organization of parents fighting for better schools, PTA Now. But it didn’t really seem like the PTAs she knew, the Parent-Teacher Association organized in your child’s school.

It isn’t.

According to its web site, “Parents Taking Action (PTA) is a coalition of New York City parents who believe every child should have access to a great public school. We are standing up for our children, holding the Department of Education accountable and ensuring children are put ahead of special interests.”

A grass roots organization of public school parents? More »

“I Dare You to Measure the ‘Value’ I Add”

An ESL teacher in a NYC elementary school makes a case against value-added assessments.

Tell me how you determine the value I add to my class.

Tell me about the algorithms you applied when you took data from 16 students over a course of nearly five years of teaching and somehow used it to judge me as “below average” and “average”.

Tell me how you can examine my skills and talents and attribute worth to them without knowing me, my class, or my curriculum requirements.

Tell me how and I will tell you:

How all of my students come from different countries, different levels of prior education and literacy, and how there is no “research-based” elementary curriculum created to support schools or teachers to specifically meet their needs.

How the year for which you have data was the year my fifth graders first learned about gangs, the internet, and their sexual identities.

How the year for which you have data was the year that two of my students were so wracked by fear of deportation, depression and sleep deprivation from nightmares, that they could barely sit still and often fought with other students. How they became best of friends by year’s end. How one of them still visits me every September.

Continue reading at No Sleep ’til Summer »

Teacher Evaluation: Principals, Principles And Power

On the Schoolbook blog of the New York Times, Philip Weinberg takes issue with my two Edwize posts (Part 1 and Part 2) on New York’s new teacher evaluation law. Weinberg is a principal of a New York City public high school and a supporter of the widely circulated Long Island principals’ letter criticizing the New York teacher evaluation law, and he writes that my posts are a response to that letter. On this point, he is simply wrong: even a cursory reading of the posts makes it clear that I did not discuss the letter, but rather set out to provide a comprehensive explanation of the more important and complex features of the new teacher evaluation framework. But Weinberg’s reading of the issues involving teacher evaluation is nonetheless worth addressing, as it brings much needed clarity to the underlying agenda of the principals’ letter. And since the UFT’s stance toward the Long Island principals’ letter is a frequent matter of speculation, it provides an opportunity to explain where we stand.

In his post, Weinberg writes:

My concern about the agreement is that a large portion of a teacher’s evaluation is to be taken out of the hands of principals. I am disturbed by this, not just because I think this will lead to inaccurate ratings and will pressure teachers in unproductive ways (it will), but also because I believe it speaks to a growing distrust of or disrespect for principals. I am surprised that the teachers’ union would trade a principal’s rating for that of a student’s test score, especially given the recent teacher data report debacle. Are most principals less fair or trustworthy than reductive data? I think not.

Weinberg goes on to cite approvingly Mayor Bloomberg’s forthright defense of the NYC DoE’s position that there should be no meaningful and substantive appeals of negative principal ratings on teacher evaluations: “The principals’ job is to decide who’s good, who’s bad,” Bloomberg had said. “It’s their judgment; that’s their job.” Weinberg then asks “Who could disagree?”

We at the UFT disagree.  Weinberg’s complaint – that “a large portion of a teacher’s evaluation is to be taken out of the hands of principals” – is fundamentally correct. The new teacher evaluation framework checks and balances the principal’s role in the evaluation process. And, pace Weinberg and the Long Island principals, that is a good thing.

More »

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, March 8, 2012Highlights from the March 8 issue of New York Teacher:

Members ‘disgusted and angry’
Teachers reacted with dismay and anger when they returned to school on Monday, Feb. 27, after the release of deeply flawed Teacher Data Reports that ranked them against their colleagues based on student test scores.

Proposal: Co-locations would need CEC OK
UFT President Michael Mulgrew joined state and city elected officials, parents and education advocates on Feb. 28 to announce his support for proposed state legislation that would require elected parent councils to approve school co-locations before they could go into effect.

Blue-ribbon effort supports schools held hostage
UFT campaign aims to save 33 PLA schools mayor wants to close
Blue ribbons on trees and fence posts, posters blasting the mayor in neighborhood stores, buttons and school-based protest actions are the markers of a blue-ribbon campaign launched by the UFT in concert with the teachers, parents, students and community members at 33 “persistently lowest achieving” schools, who refuse to sit by while Mayor Bloomberg moves to gut their staffs.

Experts, pols agree: Bloomberg was wrong
Outrageous. That’s the word educator and author Linda Darling-Hammond from Stanford University used to describe the release of the Teacher Data Reports, and she was not alone. More »

Fresh Evidence: Pascale Mauclair’s Report Should be Declared Invalid

Last week, Leo Casey gave Edwize readers the real story of Pascal Mauclair, whom the NY Post declared was the “at the bottom of the heap” when the DOE released the Teacher Data Reports to the press. The DOE gave Ms. Mauclair a “0” on her report, but the results seemed, to put it mildly, arbitrary. As Casey pointed out, Ms. Mauclair was graded on a small number (11) of high-need (ESL) students who were compared to other students learning in very different, departmentalized, classrooms. Aside from that, Ms. Mauclair has a reputation as an excellent teacher. As her principal said, “I would put my own child in her class.”

All this alone should be enough to clear Ms. Mauclair’s name. But this week fresh evidence shows that Ms. Mauclair’s report should be declared invalid altogether by the DOE.

In order to understand the problem with Ms. Mauclair’s report, you need to understand the important role of other-subject tests in the value-added formulas. When we think of a math report we think of the progress a teacher’s students make in math from the prior year to the current year, weighted for various factors, or variables, such as gender, poverty, attendance, and so on. But what we may not realize is that the most determinative variable is the student’s score from the other subject. In the case of a math report, for example, the prior year’s ELA score is generally considered a better predictor of the students’ next math score than are poverty, gender, or any of the other variables that the formulas factor in. More »

Setting The Record Straight On Teacher Evaluations: The Appeals Process

(This is the second of two posts on the new teacher evaluations. The first post focused on the overall scoring of the evaluations and the role of standardized exams.)

The recent agreement to clarify and refine the New York teacher evaluation law took up an issue that has a special importance for New York City public school educators– the appeals process for ineffective ratings on end-of-the-year summative evaluations. Readers of Edwize know that last December the ship of teacher evaluation negotiations for the 34 Transformation and Restart schools sunk on the rocky shoals of this very issue, when Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC Department of Education refused to negotiate a meaningful and substantive appeals process. For there to be renewed progress on those negotiations, as well as on the negotiations for the evaluations of all New York City public school educators, the issue of the appeal process had to be resolved.

The agreement settled the issue of the appeals process for New York City by guaranteeing vital and indispensable due process rights in the teacher evaluation process. With these rights, the educational integrity and fairness of the teacher evaluation process are secure.

To understand the importance of the appeals process, and why the agreement secured what New York public school teachers need from due process in such a process, we must first examine the background and context of this issue. More »

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy, And The Little Fool Says To Push On

This morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott appeared at an American University forum with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and the mayors and school superintendents from Chicago and Los Angeles. A video of the forum is here.

Bloomberg defended giving out invalid and inaccurate Teacher Data Reports as providing “information” to parents, saying it was “arrogance” to suggest that peddling wildly inaccurate information was a bad idea.

He made a feeble attempt at backtracking from a prior statement that in his ideal world, he would fire half of the teachers and double class size. “Class size is important,” he opined, but not as important as other things such as teacher quality.

At the very end of the program, Bloomberg displayed his education acumen and keen political ear by declaring that “teaching to the test is exactly what we should do.” And in defense of this position, he invoked a Pete Seeger song, “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy.”

While Michael Bloomberg dedicated his youth to obtaining a Harvard Business School M.B.A., the best minds and hearts of his generation were fighting to end the war in Vietnam. With very little knowledge of that struggle, Bloomberg did not seem to realize that Seeger’s anthem (lyrics below) is actually a metaphor for the American political leaders who mired our nation into the Vietnam war, at every turn escalating the war and bringing us in deeper. Indeed, it is a metaphor that has considerable resonance for the “education reform” work of the NYC DoE under his administration. (Video and lyrics after the jump.) More »

Giving DOE an F on Teacher Data Reports, in Rhyme

[Editors’ note: The author is a retired NYC public school teacher. She posts her poetry at prime time rhyme, where this poem first appeared.]

Ranking Teachers

In an ill-advised decision,
Educationally dumb,
New York City’s ranked its teachers,
Which defies the rule of thumb.

For the whole world now has access
To the way each teacher scored,
Though I thought humiliation
Was a means to be deplored.

Only math and English teachers
Bear the brunt of this new rule,
Which eliminates most pedagogues
Who work in every school.

What’s the basis of the rankings?
Well, it’s simple yet pathetic –
Results of standard city tests,
Supposedly prophetic.

A teacher may be patient, smart,
Creative or exciting;
She may inspire thinking minds
Or brilliant bursts of writing.

But all of that won’t mean a thing
If students’ scores are flat;
‘Cause politicians are convinced
Exams are where it’s at.

It doesn’t matter if the kids
Have problems or are poor;
The teacher is the one at fault
When there’s a sub-par score.

And now the public has the chance
To check each teacher’s name;
A ranking near the bottom means
They know just who to blame.

My question to the city is,
For teachers who scored low,
If branding them on websites
Is the proper way to go.

For people are so quick to judge
When labels are applied.
I know I’d feel like Hester Prynne,
With no place safe to hide.

Like educators everywhere,
I’m shocked, appalled, dismayed.
To those in charge who pushed this through,
You get a failing grade!