On September 15, 2009 I posted an article in response to the "Worst Teachers" article published in the New Yorker magazine and written by Steven Brill. My article:
The Rubber Rooms and the Misinformation of Steven Brill
One of the reasons for my posting this piece on my website and blog was to try to get the NYC BOE Attorney, Dennis De Costa, to ask questions of Lucienne Mohammed relating to her allegations of wrong-doing by PS 65 Principal Daysi Garcia, and get this information into the 3020-a hearing record.
This effort was successful.
A little bit of background into the 3020-a hearing itself may be relevant: arbitrators either are reluctant, or forbid altogether, information about the administrators in the school from which the re-assigned teacher was removed. I heard one arbitrator say at a 3020-a hearing, "I will not hear any information about what the principal did or did not do, as [he/she] is the Supervisor. You must do what the Supervisor asks you to do, and grieve it later." Some arbitrators are less strict about the "dont ask, dont tell" policy of the NYC BOE and what I call the "rubberization" process.
Yet it makes no sense to me that a hearing could be fair if the reasons for a teacher to be observed as "incompetent" are not based on performance, but on some other "fact", and these "facts" or information are not permitted by the arbitrator to be mentioned. A principal who wants to remove a teacher from his/her school can see a 'messy' classroom when indeed the room may be picture perfect; a lesson may take ten minutes too long, says the Principal on the U-rating sheet, but that may not have happened at all; two students may be talking in class about the subject at hand (this is called "accountable talk"), but on the rating sheet the "U" is for deficiencies in classroom management. And so on.
What must be addressed is the visual prism of the Principal when he/she is observing the teacher, and I believe that this information must be allowed into a 3020-a hearing to clarify the record. By the way, as you can see in the information supplied by Ms. Mohammed in her statement about what was happening at PS 65, she signed up for the PIP+ Program, a totally-owned-and-paid-for-by-the-NYCBOE-no-bid-contract thing designed to help Principals. Who said that the program was designed to support the Principal? Executive Director Sandra Kase. Lucienne Mohammed's Peer Observer, who watched her teach and was supposed to help her 'improve', last taught in New York City in 1968 and was never trained in the Workshop Model (the program used at PS 65). The observations proved to be exactly what Principal Garcia asked for: total support for Ms. Mohammed's removal from the school because of incompetence. Watch out for the observers, and try to find out what their visual prism may be. By the way, I filed a freedom of information request of the NYC BOE for the RMC Contract, (see sections #1, #2, and #3) and I was asked to pay $52+ for the document - missing pp. pp. 88 - through 94; 114 – through 183; 187 – through 191; and 221 – through 252. I've appealed.
So, how can the teacher get in to the 3020-a record that the Principal was discriminating against him/her, and this may have been the root cause of the re-assignment? One way is to write about the Principal during the 3020-a, and anger the NYC BOE Attorney into forgetting that the hearing is not supposed to focus on anything the Principal has done or may have done in the school building. Another way is to have your Attorney ask questions about what the Principal was/is doing in the school, and any grievances or special complaints you may have filed, but this is not always accepted by the arbitrator, as I wrote above.
PS 65 Principal Daysi Garcia, in front of PS 65 in Brooklyn, NY
On September 17, 2009 Lucienne Mohammed went to day 37 of her 3020-a hearing and she was cross-examined by NYC BOE Attorney, Dennis De Costa of the BOE "Gotcha Squad". I was there for the afternoon.
Evidently when Lucienne and her Attorney Mr. Cavallero walked into the hearing room, Mr. De Costa had my article on the table before him. All of his questions to Ms. Mohammed were about the actions of Principal Garcia, based upon what Lucienne had sent to me for my posting online.
Mr. De Costa wanted to know if, indeed, Principal Garcia discriminated against Ms. Mohammed and another staff member (whose hearing was not completed, but at which Ms. Mohammed testified), and Ms. Mohammed was asked how, and when this discrimination took place. The possible motives of Principal Garcia to remove Lucienne Mohammed from her job at PS 65 for reasons OTHER THAN the actual performance of Ms. Mohammed were brought to the table and put into the record. This was my goal in writing the article.
The impossibility of "proving" incompetence in the hearing room at 51 Chambers Street is clear to anyone who attends these hearings. A good teacher is someone who knows the subject he/she is assigned to teach, and who transfers this content knowledge in an "appropriate" and "educationally sound" way - please excuse my use of these general terms, but my point is, both "appropriate" and "educationally sound" are based on the students you have in your class and the visual prism and mindset of the person reporting. Thus, arbitrators placed in the position of deciding cases of incompetence must try to understand the school culture and the specifics of the classroom of the teacher whose case is being heard. James A. Gross, author of the book "Teachers On Trial" puts it this way:
"This study has demonstrated that decision makers' conceptions of the way things ought to be and beliefs about the way things presumably are - unchecked and unverified by empirical evidence about the way things actually are - often lead to unjust decisions about teachers' conduct and performance and to outcomes that are detrimental to teaching and learning. Injustice and inefficiency will persist as long as policy makers and decision makers operate without sufficient evidence."
"This study has revealed the serious inequities that result when decision makers operate without objective standards or reliable evidence concerning the educational conseqences of various teacher behaviors both in and outside of the classroom. Of course, educational reform involves matters of productivity and performance as well as equity, and the objective should be to maximize learning and teacher effectiveness in ways consistent with justice and equity for teachers, students, and administrators." (p. 111).
I recommend that you beg someone for this book, or buy it yourself.
Of course in Lucienne Mohammed's case no one knows what the decision of Mr. Jay Siegel will be after the closing on October 27, 2009, but for now, the record is clear that Principal Daysi Garcia may have had a motive to make Lucienne Mohammed appear to be "incompetent" when indeed she was - and is - not.
Think about it.