A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by acts of corruption and fraud. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, and re-assigned. The terms "rubber room" and "ATR" mean that you or any person has been targeted for removal from your job. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
NECK, N.Y. — On Sept. 2, the day her principal shared each teacher’s annual
evaluation, Sheri Lederman came home from workand announced to her husband that she
was ready to quit.
Fourth grade math teacher Adelia Weatherspoon teaches her class Common Core math at Higgins Middle Schoolin McComb, Miss.
the span of one year, Lederman’s score dropped 13 percentage points,
suddenly demoting her from an effective teacher to an ineffective one. It was
enough to make her head spin.
marks Lederman’s 18thyear in the classroom. She
teaches fourth grade at the Elizabeth M. Baker Elementary School in Great Neck,
a middle-class suburb about 20 miles from New York City.
Following a statewide ranking system put into place in 2012, for
the first time 20 percent of her evaluation score was tied to local tests and
20 percent was based on whether students progressed on state tests administered
every spring. The rest of the rating was based on classroom evaluations.
Depending on the final percentage, teachers in New York receive ratings of highly
effective, effective, developing or ineffective. Teachers who receive
ineffective ratings for two consecutive years may face an expedited dismissal
The same year the new test-based evaluations went into effect,
New York State launched the Common Core State Standards, which aim to deepen
critical thinking and enhance problem-solving skills. And along with the new
standards came much more difficult tests, which sent student test scores
This was a problem for teachers now dependent on good scores to
achieve a rating that didn’t also put their job in jeopardy.
Lederman was an early believer in the Common Core. With a
doctorate in human development andeducational
psychology, she was drawn to the idea that students in different
states would possess a similar knowledge base and skill set across an array of
different subject areas. But the concurrent rollout of new standards on top of
harder tests, not to mention the addition of a high-stakes teacher evaluation
system, has more than soured her on the new standards.
Among educators, Lederman is hardly alone in her belief that
that the one-two punch of Common Core and new test-based accountability systems
is too much to handle and leaves teachers — and students — overwhelmed.
“There weren’t a lot of
conversations happening between people working on teacher evaluations and the
Common Core.” — Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education
At first Lederman was fine. Nearly 70 percent of Lederman’s
fourth-grade students met or exceeded reading and math standardson the new Common Core
tests, far above the state average. With aperfect scoreon her classroom
observations and local district tests, she easily achieved an effective rating.
But this year, the state awarded her only 1 out of 20 possible
points on the state test ranking, because a new class of students didn’t do
significantly better than her group from the year before. Instead, they dropped
two percentage points in reading and increased slightly in math. Her 18
students far surpassed state averages in both subjects (often by more than
double), and she once again did well on the district scores, but not well
enough to overcome the low score on the state portion of the evaluation.
So, Lederman did what any frustrated educator, armed with a
litigator spouse, would do. In late October, she filed a lawsuit against the
New York State Education Department. The lawsuit alleges that such metrics
punish rather than reward excellence, with educators whose students outperform
state averages unable to show sufficient progress from year to year. A hearing
is scheduled for March 20.
Lederman’s lawsuit is one part of a major backlash that’s
erupted in the last year against both teacher evaluations and the Common Core.
The backlash has become mainstream, no longer relegated to teachers and
administrators, and has fueled legislation and multiple lawsuits aimed at
dialing back the new policies.
The Common Core was introduced in 2010, and more than 40 states
had adopted it by the following year. At the same time, nearly 40 states have
adopted laws linking teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized
tests over the past four years. Essentially, two separate groups of reformers
were plugging away at ideas to transform education — and they came barreling
down the track at exactly the same time. Though New York was one of the
earliest adopters of teacher evaluations tied to student test scores, other
states are now launching new evaluation systems while also implementing new,
harder state tests tied to the Common Core. Ultimately, the aim is to use
performance reviews to decide tenure, promotion or termination.
In New York and elsewhere, many educators cite a deeply flawed
rollout of the two policies, with each inadvertently undermining the other.
Now, even die-hard enthusiasts for the new reforms are wondering whether the
clash of high-stakes evaluations tied to new, more difficult standards will
ultimately derail both ideas.
Sandi Jacobs, the vice president and managing director of state
policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit that advocates
tougher teacher standards, described it as the accidental convergence of
efforts to solve “two really big issues in education” — standards woefully
lacking in rigor along with a broken teacher evaluation system.
“How didn’t we see this coming and the problems it was going to
cause with the federal government prioritizing these two issues all at once?”
asked Jacobs. “There wasn’t enough concern about how these things were running
down the path together until the tests became an issue.”
Two Separate Conversations
Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education
Reform, an advocacy group that supports test-based evaluations and changes to
current tenure laws, agrees that the concurrent rollout in New York has been
nothing if not clunky.
He describes different factions of the reform world seizing upon
opportunities that occurred at the same time, and ignoring what their
counterparts were doing.
“There weren’t a lot of conversations happening between people
working on teacher evaluations and the Common Core,” said Williams. “There were
two separate conversations happening. One hand didn’t necessarily always know what
the other hand was doing.”
Some supporters of the new standards have blamed the Obama
administration for its ambitious and controversial initiatives to overhaul
American public education. The administration’s competitive Race to the Top
grants, part of the 2009 stimulus package, made billions of dollars available
to states if they agreed to attempt multiple reforms at once, including
creating test-based teacher evaluations and adopting “college-and-career ready”
standards, which most states interpreted as the Common Core. The U.S.
Department of Education followed up on Race to the Top with waivers it granted
from No Child Left Behind regulations, which set similar guidelines for states
to receive federal dollars.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of
Teachers, which counts more than 800,000 teachers as active members, blames
Race to the Top, and its “fixation on data and testing,” for squelching the
enthusiasm that initially accompanied a new, more rigorous set of common
standards. New York’s rollout was particularly egregious, Weingarten said,
describing the rushed implementation as “profoundly disappointing,”
breeding distrust among teachers, parents and students.
“This does not create confidence in public education and a lot
of people are saying let’s just throw the whole thing out,” said Weingarten,
referring to the Common Core. “For those of us who believed in the potential of
the standards, we’ve also lost a lot of credibility.”
Jacobs described new, harder tests connected to the standards as
the “lightening rod,” which, when paired with the simultaneous rollout of
test-based consequences for teachers, has incited not only inflammatory
rhetoric, but subsequent pushback — with some states seeming to delay
accountability efforts indefinitely.
“Not that I could have written the master road map to avoid it,
but I do worry. We all should have been more thoughtful about the timing of
these transitions,” said Jacobs. “Looking back, we could see that we were
creating new tests at the same time we were beginning new evaluation systems.”
Phil Daro and Susan Pimentel both worked on
the standards’ side of things. Daro co-authored the Common Core math
standards. Pimentel was one of three writers of the Common Core literacy
Daro sees too many changes coming all at once — with testing
playing too dominant a role. “Right now, everything is being blamed on the
Common Core,” said Daro. “There’s an ‘everything at once’ mentality, as if
slowing down is bogging down.”
Pimentel, meanwhile, has been working to align materials and
tests to new standards, while helping teachers make huge shifts. From
Pimentel’s perspective, tying new assessments to teacher evaluations too
soon risks alienating teachers from the standards themselves.
“We need to unhook assessments from teacher evaluations for a
while. Teachers need time and support to acquaint themselves with the new
standards before high-stakes consequences are applied,” said Pimentel. “Once
assessments are fair, transparent and trusted, our advice would be to
then begin to tie student assessments to teacher evaluations.
Accountability for student results is a critical component of a
high-functioning system of education.”
In late October, she met with assessment and curriculum
representatives from 18 different states. Taken together, Pimentel observed
widespread experimentation, with most states tweaking how much the assessment
counts in a teacher’s annual evaluation, while others have
delayed accountability measures for the foreseeable future. “The bottom line is
that states are trying all kinds of different approaches — and
some are simply waiting.”
Even those at the forefront of the push for the new teacher
ratings and the Common Core have advocated a more gradual approach.
Earlier this summer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
called for a two-year moratorium on states or districts basing personnel
decisions on Common Core-aligned tests. And in August, Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan urged states to delay using test results for an additional year
when tabulating teacher ratings.
Despite a temporary reprieve, a recent study jointly
commissioned by Scholastic, the education publisher, and the Gates foundation
shows that, among teachers, support for the Common Core has started to wane. Among
1,600 teachers polled from around the country, the percentage of teachers who
are enthusiastic about the Common Core has dropped — from 73 to 68 percent in
the last year alone.
Adam Urbanski doesn’t mince words. “I do not have confidence this
can be fixed,” said Urbanski, now in his 34thyear as the president of
the Rochester Teachers Association in upstate New York. He sees the
simultaneous rollout of new standards and test-based teacher evaluations as
“poisoning the well.”
Last year, labeling the rankings “junk science,” the Rochester
Teachers Association filed a lawsuit against the state, citing a discrepancy in
how urban teachers were ranked versus their suburban counterparts. During the
2012-13 school year, only 2 percent of Rochester’s 3,400 teachers received
highly effective ratings. One year later, that figure suddenly jumped to 46
percent. The lawsuit is now wending its way through the state court system.
“Unless you believe in miracles, I predict that next year, we’ll
see another incredible swing,” said Urbanski. Now a retired teacher, he
previously taught high school social studies. “Huge variations are part and
parcel of unreliable systems. If it weren’t so sad, it would be laughable.”
Urbanski says the new metrics unfairly penalize teachers of
disadvantaged students. Since the new evaluation system went into place two
years ago, he’s witnessed an unprecedented number of voluntary resignations and
early retirements. More concerning, he sees tenured teachers unwilling to work
with student teachers for fear of disrupting their students’ test scores and
Rochester-based private and charter schools using their exemption from the
Common Core to recruit faculty and lure students.
When advising colleagues around the country, Urbanski describes
New York as “an extreme example of how not to do it.” Though an early proponent
of a common set of national standards, he has since reversed his position.
“Sometimes it’s cheaper to just buy a new car than to fix a damaged one,” he
said. “The Common Core should be scrapped. As soon as you fix one thing,
something else pops up elsewhere that’s equally problematic.”
Joe Williams, however, cautions against reverting back to the
old evaluation system. In New York, teachers previously received two ratings: satisfactory
or unsatisfactory. “It wasn’t fair to teachers, especially to the really good
teachers,” said Williams. “Less than 3 percent were ranked unsatisfactory.”
Though proficiency rates in reading and math have hovered around
30 percent, large swaths of teachers haven’t exactly received negative ratings
since beginning the new evaluation system. Earlier this fall, 94 percent of
teachers across New York State received highly effective or effective ratings.
Meanwhile, in some districts, not a single teacher received an ineffective
While some states have taken a more gradual approach, Lauren
D’Amico, an elementary-school teacher in Arizona, has experienced the sudden
jolt of the new system. Arizona adopted College and Career Ready Standards, a
set of state-specific standards aligned to the Common Core in 2010, though
local schools didn’t begin implementing them until the 2012-13 school year.
Two years ago, her district launched test-based evaluations.
During the first year of implementation, test scores accounted for 25 percent.
Last year, classroom observations comprised 50 percent of her annual
evaluation, with 40 percent tied to state and local tests. An additional 10
percent relates to grade-level and school-wide growth as measured by similar
For the 2012-13 school year, D’Amico was labeled developing.
This past September, her score suddenly shot up two levels — to highly
effective. Much like New York, Arizona rates its teachers using four
categories: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective.
“I’m scratching my head and wondering what kind of teacher I’m
going to be this year,” said D’Amico, who is now in her eighth year in the
classroom. “If I went from developing to highly effective, what could this year
have in store for me? It’s a bogus system.” Besides test-based evaluations, her
district has further ratcheted up the stakes by implementing a merit pay
system. Final ratings now determine annual bonuses, which range between $1,000
Meanwhile, following Arizona’s abrupt withdrawal in May from the
Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of
two state-led groups that develop tests aligned to the Common Core, her
students now face a brand-new end-of-year test — with half of her annual
evaluation hinging on their performance. Four months into the school year, the
Arizona Department of Education announced AzMERIT, a state-issued Common
Core-aligned reading and math test, which it plans to unveil later this spring.
Following classroom observations, D’Amico used to come away with
detailed feedback from her principal. Now, she receives a number from zero to
five on a 26-point rubric. Among her colleagues, she can sense a precipitous
drop in morale once observations begin.
“When you have everybody reduced to numbers, it doesn’t create a
good atmosphere. It doesn’t help teachers teach and it doesn’t help children
learn,” said D’Amico, who initially supported the Common Core. The concurrent
launch of other reforms has since made it far less palatable. “Launching
everything all at once, it just takes the wind out of everyone’s sails.”
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused
on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about the Common Core.