|Governor Andrew Cuomo|
Teachers at popular school ask parents for help: This may sound ‘absurd’ but it’s true.
PS 321 in Brooklyn’s Park Slope area is a popular school. Parents and kids like going there because of the dedication of its principal, Elizabeth Phillips, and its approximately 100 teachers. Now, in an unusual move, those teachers are publicly turning to parents for help against school reform proposals by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that they say will harm the school. The letter clearly explains why some of the proposals that Cuomo has advanced to change teacher evaluation will negatively impact schools around the state. These reforms are not unique to New York, so the letter speaks to what is happening in schools around the country.
The reference to Liz in the letter is to the principal, Elizabeth Phillips. In 2012, I published a letter from Phillips to then New York State Education Commissioner John King (who is now a senior advisor to Education Secretary Arne Duncan) saying that there were many “flawed questions” on the state’s mandatory English Language Arts standardized test given to students for “accountability” purposes. The letter was sent after King had invalidated one set of now infamous questions on a the eighth-grade test about a talking pineapple.
Here is the new letter from PS 321 teachers to parents, on the school’s website, which I am republishing with permission.
February 23, 2015
Dear PS 321 Families,
It is with heavy hearts that we, the teachers at 321, reach out to you to ask for your help.
Governor Cuomo has proposed major changes to teacher evaluations in New York State. We want to let you know, from a teacher’s perspective, the changes this law could bring to PS 321 – and to our profession – if it passes.
50% of a teacher’s rating would be based on state test scores. (Currently it is 20%).
35% of a teacher’s rating would be based on the findings of an outside “independent observer” who will conduct a one time visit to the classroom. (This has never been done before. Currently our principal and assistant principals’ observations count for 60%).
15% of a teacher’s rating would be based on observations by the principal or assistant principals. The very people who know our work best would have the least input into our evaluation.
50% + 35% = 85% of our evaluations would be removed from the hands of our community and placed in the hands of the state.
And then, using these numbers, any teacher who is rated ineffective two years in a row can be fired. Liz might have no say in this.
So what might that do to PS 321? Realistically, many of us could be fired. Every year. And many more of us would be pushed away from the profession we love.
Here’s something parents need to understand. Even though, when our students take the standardized tests, most of them do just fine… many PS 321 teachers do not. Teachers’ ratings are not based on their students’ raw scores for the year, but whether their students improved from one year to the next. If a student with a ‘3’ gets one fewer question correct in 4th grade than she did in 3rd, that student might not have demonstrated the “added value” their teacher is expected to have instilled. Even though the student has mastered that grade’s content. Even though it’s just one question. And that teacher might, therefore, be rated in the bottom percentile of teachers.
That may sound patently absurd. However, that has already happened here.
If Governor Cuomo’s evaluation proposals come to pass, it might start to happen more and more. And if we are rated ineffective as a result two years in a row, we might be fired.
That is why so many schools in NYC spend so much time prepping for the tests. One or two wrong answers can make or break a teacher’s rating.
Faced with these changes, we’ve already been hearing from so many of our colleagues from across the city and state who will be forced to do more test prep. Even when they know that the tests do not give an accurate picture of student learning, or of the effectiveness of teachers. Even though they know teaching to the test is bad teaching. Faced with the reality of the loss of a paycheck – the loss of the career they are building, have built, or want to build – these proposals will push them to teach in ways they know to be counterproductive.
That breaks our hearts. But the truth is, faced with the same reality, there are those of us here who would be feeling the very same pressure. Not because we’d want to. We would try to resist. But it is inevitable that if the governor’s proposals go through, all schools will narrow their curriculum to some extent.
And that’s scary. And it breaks our hearts even more. Because we know what we have here. We love what we have— in you, in our students, in all that the PS 321 community represents. The joy that is present— every day, in our school. The value that is placed on intellectual curiosity, on creativity, on the arts. The love of learning that is visible when you enter our building, when you go into classrooms, and when you talk to students and teachers.
The values present in Governor Cuomo’s proposals are antithetical to our own. And they place them at risk. The numbers are clear: 50% of our value will be six days of tests. 35% of our value will be one day with an independent observer. And 15% of our value will be in evaluation by Liz and the assistant principals, those who know us best as educators.
Those are their values.
Our joy, our love of learning, our desire to help students become deep thinkers and problem solvers, our community, our commitment to constantly improving our practice… those are ours.
PS 321 Families: don’t let them take our values away.
We need your help. And we need it now. The education law is folded into the state budget. It goes up for a vote before April 1st.
We need you to let your legislators know that you disagree with this plan:
Post this issue on Facebook and tell your friends. Use social media to spread the word. Go to Albany. Make whatever noise you can.
- Email Governor Cuomo right now at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Visit http://www.nyteacherletter.org/ and sign the letter to let your legislator know you disapprove of the law.
- Contact your assemblymember. Go to http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/ to find their contact information. Don’t stop there. Go to their offices and demand attention.
We need you to come to the PTA meeting on Wednesday, 2/25, at 8am to learn more – and hear more from us.
And sign up today at ps321.org to receive information and updates from the Testing Task Force about what you can do to help support us.
What we have together is rare, especially today, when so many schools have succumbed to the pressures of testing. We must not take our school’s joyful community for granted. All that we have– all that we do together–is far too important and far too valuable to be taken away. Thank you, as always, for your energy, your support, and your inspiring, creative children.
Your Devoted Teachers