Sunday, December 27, 2009
2009-12-19 10:06:00 ednews
Teachers’ Unions vs. Progress—Again
Marcus A. Winters
New York resists reforms that would bring in millions and improve teacher quality.
Ever wonder how effective your child’s teacher is? Officials in Albany would rather you didn’t know. At least that’s the lesson one has to take from their refusal to allow data systems to match students to teachers, though doing so would help the state compete for a pot of perhaps hundreds of millions of federal dollars. Narrow political interests stand in the way of improving our schools and easing New York taxpayers’ burdens.
The use of data to improve student learning is a crucial modern education reform. Standardized tests produce rich sources of information that researchers can use to identify effective policies and practices. The data revolution, moreover, promises to move education policy away from politics. Numbers don’t have agendas or run for reelection. Accurately collected and properly analyzed, data can reveal truths that escape our sight.
One such truth is the effectiveness of individual teachers. Data analysis is far from perfect, and no one argues that it should be used in isolation to make employment decisions. But modern techniques can help us distinguish between teachers whose students excel and teachers whose students languish or fail. There’s just one problem with the data revolution: it doesn’t work without data. States must develop data sets that track the individual performance of students over time and match those students to their teachers.
Unfortunately, New York has deliberately refused to take that step. The state already has a sophisticated system for tracking student progress, but it doesn’t allow this statewide data set to match students to their teachers. No technical or administrative factors prevent the state from doing so. Only political obstacles stand in the way. The premise underlying the policies favored by the teachers’ unions, which govern so much of the relationship between public schools and teachers, is that all teachers are uniformly effective. Once we can objectively distinguish between effective and ineffective teachers, the system of uncritically granted tenure, a single salary schedule based on experience and credentials, and school placements based on seniority become untenable. The unions don’t want information about their members’ effectiveness to be available, let alone put to practical use, and thus far they’ve successfully blocked New York State’s use of such data.
Along with its refusal to improve its data system, the state has kept cities from adopting reforms. When New York City hinted that it would use its own data system to evaluate teachers based on student test scores, the state legislature passed a law banning the practice. Fortunately, that law is set to expire next year and may never actually be enforced, thanks to the city’s new reading of it, which frees city officials to use test scores for tenure decisions this year. Still, the legislature’s actions illustrate its opposition to using data in any way that would identify ineffective teachers.
New York’s stubborn resistance to the data revolution not only harms the education our children receive; it leaves hundreds of millions of federal dollars on the table during a massive budget crunch. The Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant competition will distribute $4.35 billion to states that pursue modern education reforms. According to the competition’s rules, however, any state with a law that prohibits the use of test-score data to evaluate teachers is immediately disqualified from consideration. A state’s application also becomes more attractive under the guidelines if its data set matches students to teachers. Currently, New York fails on both counts.
It’s time for New Yorkers to push Albany politicians for real information about teacher quality. Getting New York into the running for Race to the Top funds is a compelling reason to make the change now rather than later.
Marcus A. Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, conducts research and writes about education policy, including such topics as school choice, high school graduation rates, accountability, and special education.
Comments (2 posted):
Doug Little on 2009-12-19 17:41:22
The Manhatten Institute is not some detached apolitical organization. It is a far right wing anti-union outfit with an agenda. Nobody is surprised by their position. There is no research that shows that this would be advantagous to education. There are simply far too many variables. It is a field full of contradictions. Even testing before and after a term/year and doing so-called value added if full of holes. Some groups are easier to move than others. This is another prime example of educational comment by people who are not educators and are not close to education. A know-nothing opinion.
Christine D'Amico on 2009-12-27 09:41:09
What "sophisticated data-system" is this guy actually referring to? You mean the faulty tests that are dumbed down and are not showing any real progress? The same NY State Tests that the Federal Government has just reported are too easy? Are you going to take into account all the variables involved in teaching. Perhaps a kid is from a wealthy home and gets tutoring on the side? Would that be taken into account when he scores well? And who gets graded the teacher or the tutor? Come on, this is the Obama administration side-stepping the real issue which is that CURRICULUM, which works and is research based needs to be the focus of these funds. Instead, they want to grade teachers for using curriculum which is often NOT of their choice to see whether or not they are effective teachers. For the RECORD, the Bloomberg administration SIDE-STEPPED lots of Federal Funds when they chose the MONTH-BY-MONTH Phonics program which had no research whatsoever behind it, because it was cheaper than a solid program like Sing, Spell, Read & Write which has 35 years of research to back it up.
Scoring system for school aid
Obama program assigns points to reform efforts in competition for funds
By Nick Anderson, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Educators argue endlessly about the merits of one idea or another to improve schools. But with billions of dollars at stake, the Obama administration Thursday will lay out a novel federal system for keeping score.
Making education funding a priority? Good for 10 points. Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps? That's worth 30. Developing and adopting common academic standards, turning around the lowest-achieving schools and ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools: Those are worth 40 each.
But improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance is worth more than any specific improvement: 58 points.
Those are the priorities in the Education Department's rulebook for the unprecedented $4.35 billion Race to the Top reform competition. States and the District of Columbia are invited to compete. Bids will be rated on the point system, which Education Secretary Arne Duncan approved. A perfect bid will score 500 points and could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The call to action on teacher-principal improvement, which means factoring student test score growth into job evaluations, is likely to draw intense scrutiny from unions.
"We're saying student achievement matters and teachers and principals make a huge difference in students' lives," Duncan said in an interview. "That has never happened in the history of this country before. We're getting a lot of pushback on this, but it is a game-changer."
The fund, created through the economic recovery law, is unique. No education secretary has ever had so much money for school improvement with so few conditions from Congress. Proposed rules, announced in July, drew significant criticism from teachers unions and stirred debate in the education world because they offered a window into Obama's thinking about how to move beyond the No Child Left Behind era. Officials said they drew up final rules with that feedback in mind but kept the essentials intact.
Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, who had criticized major elements of the proposed rules as "Bush III," praised the final version. She said the administration made changes to ensure that teachers are included. She also cited the addition of a key qualifier -- that teachers should be evaluated on "multiple" measures, including, but not limited to, student achievement.
"They worked hard to find the right balance. I see a real culture shift in these regulations from what we had seen in the previous administration," Weingarten said. "At the end of the day, the culture shift is about can we collaborate, work together to make schools better."
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union, with 3.2 million members, said the final rules were better. But he said he was disappointed by the continuing focus on tying test scores to job evaluations. "I think they missed the mark," he said.
Maryland and D.C. officials said Wednesday that they plan to compete in the first round, with bids due in mid-January. Virginia officials did not commit to a timetable.
"We've got great conditions on the ground that make D.C. a really interesting competitor," said D.C. State Superintendent of Education Kerri Briggs. She cited the city's growing charter school movement and a new teacher evaluation system. "We're on board."
At stake for the District is $20 million to $75 million. For Maryland and Virginia, awards could range from $150 million to $250 million each.
Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said the state is seeking help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to draft a bid. The funding, Grasmick said, "serves as a catalyst for a visionary approach to where are you going in this 21st century and how can you use the money to leverage very significant changes. That's what we want to do."
View all comments that have been posted about this article.
The elimination of free bus basses would inevitably be so catastrophic to so many families that it cannot be done or, cannot be sustained if the policy is approved by any one agency, including the MTA.
With the new legislation signed by our Governor, the MTA may have a big problem making the move that they suggested, with the bus passes (see below):
New York State Governor David Paterson Signs Legislation That Will Make Public Authorities More Accountable To Their Constituents
Several years ago there was a lawsuit to open the books of the MTA, and Straphangers’ Gene Russianoff sued, and won in NYS Supreme Court. Then the MTA hired Chief Judge Judith Kaye’s husband at Proskauer Rose to do the appeal at the Appellate Division, and the win was overturned (surprise???). Two of my daughters were on the Board of Directors last year of New York Public Interest Research Group, a great group that does some very terrific work and could certainly be brought into this fight, if necessary, I suppose (hope, would urge, etc)!
Here is my article from back then:
NY Metropolitan Transit Authority Continues On It's Path of Keeping NYC Unsafe, User Unfriendly
And, just to be optimistic, I really don’t see how the MTA could devastate the public school education system so drastically as denying free transportation to children who need to get to school.(Unless there is already a signed no-bid contract for public online schools to be mandated throughout NYC in September 2011, and this is a forerunner of this).
Oh my gosh – this sounds almost too awful and could be true. Oh, by the way, the City of New York subsidizes public school transportation for private school (+ religious and charter) school students.
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
December 18, 2009
Students See Hard Future if Free Fares Are Ended
By SHARON OTTERMAN, NY TIMES
When Alejandro Velazquez, 15, was selecting a high school last year, he decided on Washington Irving in Manhattan because of its strong Spanish-English bilingual program. It was a 40-minute trip from his home in the Bronx, but his mother assented, in part because he could travel free.
His family’s calculus, he said, would have been different had he needed to pay $40 a month or more to get to and from school, a reality that will begin next fall if budget cuts passed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board on Wednesday are carried out. His mother, an immigrant from Ecuador, works as a cook in a Bronx restaurant to support him and his 10-year-old brother, and there is little cash to spare.
“If I had to pay for the MetroCard, my mother would have preferred a school closer to me — there’s one right down the block from our house,” he said.
The cuts to the student subsidies for the MetroCards are not yet final. The M.T.A. board will have a public comment period over the coming weeks, and then another vote early next year. If the cuts are approved, the 584,000 city students who receive free or half-fare MetroCards would all receive half-fare cards beginning next September. In September 2011, they would pay full fares — nearly $700 for a school year at current rates.
As elected officials wrangle over the responsibility to pay for the program, parents, administrators and students on Wednesday painted a drastically different school landscape were the cuts to go through. It would be one in which school choice, a program expanded under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, would be limited by students’ ability to afford transportation across the city. Absenteeism and truancy, many students predicted, would rise.
Students have had free transportation in New York City for decades, although urban areas in the state are not legally required to provide it, said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Education. (Rural areas are.) Even so, the system is the backbone of the competitive high school system, which has eliminated most high zoned schools in the city.
Robert Rhodes, the principal of Millennium High School, a sought-after college preparatory high school with a liberal arts focus at 75 Broad Street, said he feared that the change would significantly alter the composition of the school.
“We value the diversity of taking kids from different neighborhoods and different income levels,” he said. “Will it become a school that’s only available if you have enough money and live in a certain radius? Is that the kind of school that we want?”
Jamillah Burke, 24, is the legal guardian of her 13-year-old sister, who takes two buses to a Leadership Academy school each day from their house on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue. Ms. Burke, who recently lost her job, said she could not afford to pay for her sister’s MetroCard.
“I know a lot of kids who are not going to come to school,” said Iquan Richardson, 15, of Bushwick, as he arrived at the Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuvyesant in Brooklyn. “Or they’ll jump the turnstile.”
David Bloomfield, the former general counsel for the city’s Department of Education, said that the state would most likely face legal challenges were the cuts to go through. “If suburban students have the right to transportation,” he said, urban families would probably press for the same right.
“I believe it would have a devastating impact, especially on kids over 17,” he said. “This might be just another reason for dropping out of school.”
Participation in after-school programs would also suffer, students predicted. Right now, student MetroCards are good for three trips per day, to give students the opportunity to travel to competitions or other events.
The transportation authority says students took 7.3 million rides on the subway in October, and 7.2 million bus rides, a typical month during the school year.
As the cost of the program rose from $162 million in 2000 to $239 million in 2008, based on average fares, the city and state contribution remained relatively constant: about $45 million from the state and $46 million from the city. In 2009, however, the state’s share fell to $25 million, then $6 million.
Several members of the transportation authority’s board said that while they are legally required to pass a balanced budget before the end of the year, they would not vote for many of the specific cuts later. The mayor’s office said his four appointees on the board would not approve the student-fare cut when it comes up for a vote again.
State officials, citing severe shortfalls, say the transit agency should be able to find the money in its operating budget, which is due for an overhaul. The agency says it should not have to bear most of the burden for what is essentially an education benefit.
“No other transit agency in the country subsidizes free or discounted student travel,” said Kevin B. Ortiz, a transit agency spokesman. “Transporting students usually falls on the government body responsible for educating them.”
Karen Zraick contributed reporting.
SOUTH BRONX SCHOOL
Friday, December 25, 2009
See Ya Kid!!
So why am I writing this on Christmas day? One, I have the time, and two this is something very near and dear to me. I am writing about something in my school which I swore I won't do anymore, but now I am compelled to. I will attempt to put my cynicism and sarcasm away for a few moments.
On Wednesday I said goodbye to a student. He is in second grade. He was held over this year. He went to another school where there is a special ed seat open for him, and he will have a management para. This is the best thing that could happen to him. I am happy for him and his mom. But I am saddened.
I have spent the better part of this year focused on this student. He has a lot of issues. Major anger issues, but also wants and needs major attention. Unfortunately he was getting too much negative attention. But he also has a huge heart, is quite verbal, and quite smart. Academically he is very behind. But through no fault of his teachers.
He has thrown chairs, flipped over desks, tried to stab students with pencils, blocked the door and refused to allow his class to leave the classroom. I can't count the times I had to look for him all over the school. He has a sense of entitlement, and all the instances I mentioned have come at the slightest perceived provocation.
But he loves music and art. He wants to be loved, and needed. One on one, or in a very small setting he shines. He is caring. He does have empathy. He is not a mean kid, nor a bad kid. He truly is good. He wants to be good. He just does not know how to go about it at times.
His mother is on the ball. The father is a sperm donor. He speaks a good game, but it is all talk. Mom is the one who has to deal with the phone calls, and the promotion in doubt letters, and the crap. I feel for her.
I told the kid that he can call me anytime, that mom has my phone number. I promised him I will visit him at his new school and that he better visit me. I will genuinely miss him.
But according to Joel Klein, I am a failure, even though I am not responsible for his academic progress. I know that somehow, someway I have had a positive influence in his life. I know that ten, twenty years from now something I said will click in his head and he will become a better person for it. I know when he hears my name in 2033 he will smile. But I can't now, and I don't know if I will then. The SYSTEM, not his teachers, has failed him thus far.
The SYSTEM is responsible for making learning unfun, everything skewed to some bullshit tests that only benefit the test making companies and the DOE. The SYSTEM is responsible for the large classes this kid should never have been in. The SYSTEM is responsible for monies going to Tweed lackies, Klein toadies, and charter schools instead of getting this kid a management para long ago. The SYSTEM is responsible for an asinine method of holding kids over no matter the test scores or ages when ever freaking study out there shows that the only time this benefits a student is when it is done in Kindergarten! Let's have more fifteen year old fifth graders and let's see how their self-esteem is doing. Yeah, I have seen such students.
The SYSTEM is broken. Joel Klein is walking around butt naked but very few wish to tell him the truth.
Posted by A Teacher In The Bronx at 4:24 PM
Not only that but telling him to call you can lead to an SCI investigation and charges of inappropriate conduct. Be careful, very careful.
December 27, 2009 9:30 AM
DAVID PAKTER said...
Re: "SEE YA KID" & SAYING GOOD-BYE
Bravo to South Bronx School for a very insightful and quite touching Christmas Day essay.
I write this comment from a small village near the border between Belgium and Holland.
Even being so far from New York cannot prevent or knumb the brain from recalling the institutional havoc and gargantuan human misery Joel Klein, Esq., NY's Faux Schools Chancellor by Special Waiver, has visited on one million innocent children, their parents and one hundred thousand hard working, dedicated teachers.
How ironic to think that had Michael Bloomberg never decided to purchase the Office of the Mayor of NYC, then a former Federal Prosecutor who knows zero about the field of Education would never have been appointed to a position he is so clearly NOT QUALIFIED for from any and every point of view.
How sad that for lifetime career educators like myself, no matter where we go in the world, even for a brief respite from the NYC DOE, it is never far enough to escape the awareness that such sorry excuses for human beings as Joel Klein, resides among us.
The young child who was so horribly cheated by the NYC DOE, so movingly and memorably described by South Bronx Teacher, reminds every NYC public school teacher of the thousands of children they also have encountered in their careers. Children who were and still are, being cheated of their futures and simple human dignity on the chessboard of the pompous power mad charlatans who treat all those who have spent their lives in Education as if they were only their personal pawns.
Those of us who have dedicated ten, twenty, thirty, forty and more years of our lives trying to level the playing field for all of New York City's mostly, at risk, inner city children know all too well what South Bronx School is speaking of when talking about biding farewell to a child who has become a permanent part of our lives.
Surely no New Yorker will feel any regret when our egotistical Mayor and "Legend in his own mind" faux, uncredentialed schools Chancellor are consigned to the scrap heap of New York City's history.