Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why Saturday's "Say No To Cuomo" Rally in NYC Was An Historic Event

Yesterday's "Say No to Cuomo Rally" at the Governor's offices in Manhattan was the largest and most diverse teacher led protest I have ever attended! There were teachers, principals, paras and school aides, representatives of community organizations and large numbers of parents and students. There was rage and defiance in the air, but also joy and determination because this was a crowd determined to make sure the Governor, the Legislature and the Media knew that it was THEIR SCHOOLS that the Governor was trying to undermine and that Big Money interests were not going to take those schools away from them. The message coming from the crowd, loud and clear, was that New York still belonged to the people who lived and worked in it and those who were going to try to smother their voices were going to have a very big fight on their hands.The.smiles from the police officers, and the honks of support from passing truck drivers reminded us that teachers were not only speaking up themselves, but for all working New Yorkers. Everyone at the Rally came away with their spirits lifted and their deterimination to fight reaffirmed.. This was a great day and those elected officials who try to ignore the message being sent may find themselves in the fight of their lives.,

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Liz Phillips' Speech at the " Protect Our Schools Rally" at Cuomo's Offices in Manhattan

We all want great teachers teaching our children.  Unfortunately,the governor’s teacher evaluation proposals will do absolutely nothing to help us meet that goal—and in fact with have the opposite effect as great teachers and principals become demoralized and leave the profession—or decide not to enter it in the first place.

50% OF A TEACHER’S EVALUATION WOULD BE BASED ON A FLAWED GROWTH MODEL ON FLAWED STATE TESTS.  It is shocking to think that a model that has been shown to have a high margin of error—particularly for those who teach the highest and lowest performing students—would count for 50% of a teacher’s rating.  In New York City we remember what happened just a few years ago with TDR scores based on a growth model.  
Fabulous teachers by any other measure were at times rated in the lowest percentiles.   It is ironic that a year after passing a law mandating that state tests cannot be used for high stakes decisions for students, the governor has decided that they should be more high stakes than ever for teachers.    

But of course, making tests so high stakes for teachers will  make them high stakes for students.  Many schools will narrow their curriculum, focusing even more time than they currently do on test prep at the expense of an enriched curriculum that helps students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.  And there is no doubt that this will happen more in schools where students have traditionally had more difficulty ontests…which ultimately means a widening of the achievement gap. 

The governor also proposes that ongoing observations by the educational leaders in the building that currently count for 60% of a teacher’s evaluation would now count for only 15%.  35% of the teacher’s rating would be determined by one observation by an outside evaluator.   Maybe we should we bring in someone from the outside to evaluate those who work in state government on how they perform in a 45 minute meeting once a year?  What profession does this?  

The governor’s proposals will hurt students—and they will hurt our neediest students the most.  Teaching is both a science and an art.  Let’s not forget that.  Whose schools?  Our schools!

Why Charter Schools Have to Try to Destroy Public Schools

Many observers have been perplexed about why Charter School Organizations in New York, especially Eva Mosokowitz's Success Academies, have been spending huge amounts of money to mobilize in behalf of Andrew Cuomo's entire package of education reforms, not only his proposal to end the cap on charter schools, but  also his punitive system of teacher  evaluations which vastly increases the "stakes" attached to Common Core aligned tests, and take power away from principals.

Why are charters, which were once promoted as sources of innovation which would improve public schools, now pushing hard for measures which would saddle public schools with huge numbers of tests, weaken teachers unions, and vastly increase state authority over school administrators?  Doesn't that approach undermine the original mission of charters?

It would be tempting to attribute this approach entirely to an effort to appropriate the anti-union politics of the Charter Movement's big money contributors, thereby assuring their continued support,  but the explanation also lies in the implications of the charter's own labor practices.  Quite simply, if charters are surrounded by strong, well led  public schools, they will not be able to keep their best teachers, who very quickly get worn down and fed up with the long hours and authoritarian adminstrative practices they experience in most charter schools.

Look what happened in New York City last years when for a few short months, the NYC Department of Education lifted its hiring freeze on new teachers which had been in effect ever since the 2008 Recession.   The city's top public schools were DELUGED with applications from charter school teachers desperate to become part of school communities where they were treated with respect, and not scripted, micromanaged and intimidated on a daily basis.

 If that hiring freeze lasted a few years, New York's charters would have lost a good portion of their teaching staffs, or would have come under incredible pressure to unionize.

 But you can't count on that happening so you have to do what is second best;; put such pressure on NYC schools to raise scores on tests that their administrative practices have to become indistinguishable from charters, turning into places where teachers autonomy and professionalism is systematically undermined and micromanaging and intimidation are the orders of the day.

 That is exactly what Cuomo's education proposals would do. Not only would they remove the cap on charters, they would force public schools to become "mini charters"- zones of pressure, stress and intimidation where teachers have little or no power.

  If you think this explanation is too conspiratorial, look closely at how most charters are run, and then look at what Cuomo's proposals would require public schools to do

 If implemented, they would make all public schools in the state places where fear trumps creativity, joy and love of learning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Response to Julian Vasquez Helig on PAR from Berkeley Math Teacher Masha Albrecht

It was with sadness and surprise I read the article by Julian Vasquez Helig at this link: (> surprise arose mostly from the author's misunderstanding of mathematics, although as a math teacher this also brought me sadness. My greatest sadness came from the realization that one more educator with purported progressive views was overlooking the unjust fate of so many of my teacher peers who are thrown into Peer Assistance and Review. In fact, the sneering tone of his article indicated that he was plainly not on our side. My colleagues and I have been scrutinizing the data on Peer Assistance and Review for several years now. As we watched our peers in the Berkeley Unified Schools tormented by this system of false accountability, we were amazed at the complicity of our union leaders in what was so clearly an attack on a teacher's most precious possesions: her classroom, her pedagogy, and her livelihood. We also became curious, why were so many of the PAR teachers experienced teachers, and why were so many of them teachers of color? 
A simple public request for information validated our hunch: this data set was disproportionately Black and disproportionately older. The numbers were not disputable. Through the hard work and dogged efforts of our colleague Brian Crowell we obtained PAR data from other districts: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Jose. In every case, the data showed senior teachers and teachers of color being put into PAR disproportionately. With all the noise around teacher evaluations and school accountability, much has been drowned out. Some brave voices try to speak through the din about budget cuts, increasingly anxious and malnourished students, senseless curriculum purporting to be rigorous. But no one is brave enough to tell the stories of these thousands of teachers: after a full life devoted to teaching often our must vulnerable students, they are thrown out of their profession, humiliated among their colleagues, described as "inadequate", and forced to retire on a smaller retirement than they planned for, or perhaps none at all. All this is accomplished with the full complicity of their union, and with the support of "progressive" voices in educational policy. So what about Mr.Vasqez-Helig's claim that the PAR data from Los Angeles does not show disparate impact?

 I looked over his analysis with another math teacher. We found his use of mathematical analysis baffling.

 Mr. Vasquez-Helig does some data analysis that has to do with age in the first case and with wage level in the second.  But neither of these addresses the issue of disparate impact.  He in fact explicitly admits that his analysis has not addressed either of these two areas:

 "The average age of White teachers is about 55. I don’t know the average age of teachers in LAUSD population, so this is just a “composition” analysis. I can’t calculate relative “composition” or “risk”. Which means that I cannot say from only a PAR sample whether older teachers are being targeted for PAR. You would need data for all teachers in LA Unified for that calculation to answer that question or make suppositions about the possibility."

 "Again, I cannot say from only a PAR sample whether teachers in higher pay scales are being targeted for PAR, I would need data for all teachers in LA Unified for that calculation and to make suppositions about the possibility." His third analysis, the chi-square test, does show signinficant results, meaning that the hypothesis being tested (that race is a non-factor in determining PAR placement) is rejected by the data.  The value of his chi-square statistic is 77.43.  He states that this value has a p-value less than .00001.  He also states that p-values less than .05 are significant, meaning that his p-value of less than .00001 is in fact significant. The chi-square test value is a value that is calculated from a set of data, in this case data for PAR and non-PAR teachers of various races in LAUSD.  Small chi-square values (close to zero) indicate that the data is as-to-be-expected based upon a given hypothesis.  Large chi-square values indicate abnormal data. The further the value is away from zero, the smaller the probability (p-value) that the event would happen by chance if the hypothesis were valid.  To re-iterate, the author says that p-values below .05 are significant and that this data gives a p-value below .00001.  Thus his analysis reinforces the notion that PAR program placement is not neutral with respect to race.

 Thus his data analysis seems to be in agreement with the notion of disparate impact with respect to race.

It is not clear to us why he claims otherwise. My concluding thoughts really come as requests for those who write sites with titles like "Cloaking Inequity":

1. Please use mathematics correctly.

 2. Please get to know some of these PAR teachers. Get to know what their classrooms are like, their personal pain, and their students. If you are concerned about inequity in the classroom watch carefully for inequitable practices directed at teachers that are cloaked as something else. Masha AlbrechtMath Teacher, Berkeley High

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Reservations About PAR

I have tremendous respect for Julian Vasquez Heilig, but his latest piece challenging Brian Crowell's statistical analysis of PAR doesn't remove my very serious reservations about the policy.

Here is my position.The California school districts with PAR have seen the same decline in percentages of Black teachers and the same pushing out of high salaried veteran teachers as you see in urban school school districts like DC and NY who do not have PAR. PAR has not stopped those destructive trends. It makes the union complicit with those trends. I think it is time unions reject the entire Bad Teacher narrative and refuse to collaborate in any effort to blame bad teachers for poor school performance. PAR concedes too much at this point in history and disarms unions from the kind of life and death fight they need to make for their members. Some will disagree. But I think the time for compromise with the enemy- the union busting corporate leaders controlling education policy- is over. No more discourse of "accountability" No more school closings! No more ATR's! No more teacher jails! If school districts want to go on a witch hunt for Bad Teachers they should do it without union collaboration.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Brian Crowell Challenges Head of California Federation of Teachers to Repudiate PAR

My name is Brian Crowell. I have been actively investigating  discrimination  produced by PAR ( Peer Assistance and Review) for the last 3 years. My data base keeps growing and shows overt discrimination of against Veteran Teachers and Teachers of Color among those referred to PAR in cities throughout Calfornia.

I am live blogging from the CFT Convention. I ran into CFT President Joshua Pechault. I told him "you have a problem with PAR". I said I 'm Brian Crowell. He said "yes I know who you are, you filed that case with PERB ( Public Employment Relations Board"...
I ran down to him the overt cost cutting that districts have used in referring veteran teachers to PAR. I explained to him how management is not barging in good faith with their overt cost cutting through PAR and  the racial discrimination that has occurred as a result of teachers of color being pushed into the program. He mostly looked down at his feet as he listened. He acknowledged all of my salient points. 

In the end he said he would follow the case (a case he was already following) which set the a precedent for academic freedom in the State of California. Bottom line; Pechault is resorting to bureaucratoic measures to avoid dealing with this issue. My union friend delegate tried to get a resolution to the CFT Floor to oppose PAR. It was blocked by the Rules Chair. She will try again tomorrow but CFT openly supports age and racial discrimination with PAR.
In closing. I'm a member of NEA and AFT and I can't get representation for my informal settlement conference. The fight continues...

Friday, March 20, 2015

The PTSD Crisis Among Teachers in High Poverty Schools

Teachers in low-income communities now suffer from double PTSD. The first portion of it comes from dealing with students and parents  living under extreme stress whose pain inevitably enters the classroom directly and indirectly and whose challenges, whether medical, legal, economic or academic, tug at a teachers conscience and disturb their sleep. The second portion comes from relentless, daily assaults from media and politicians, coupled with bogus teacher evaluation metrics, compounded by micromanaging and scripting from fearful administrators who miss no opportunity to humiliate teachers to preserve their own jobs ( there are some administrators who protect teachers and insulate them from the assault, but they are the minority)

The levels of stress this double assault engenders is truly extraordinary. It explains why so many teachers leave schools in poor communities at the first available opportunity, either to leave the profession entirely, or to move to a school in a higher income area.

No one is doing anything about either assault. Income inequality grows, poverty worsens and the attack on teacher professionalism is still picking up steam.

And our poorest children, already living under stress, are deprived of both an anchor and much needed support and inspiration.