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Modern School

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Member since: Sun Dec 12, 2010, 01:09 PM
Number of posts: 794

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San Francisco School Board Waives Seniority

The San Francisco School Board voted 5-1 this week to do away with seniority protections in order to save the jobs of 70 low-seniority teachers in 14 low-performing schools in the “Superintendent’s Zone.” They also voted 5-1 to issue 485 layoff notices, including 210 teacher and counselor layoffs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

An editorial in the Chron lamented that “low-performing schools won't improve if their most dedicated young teachers are the first to get pink slips.” This commonly believed and parroted delusion is based on the illogical premise that young and inexperienced teachers are somehow better than their more experienced peers. This is like arguing that an eager but inexperienced heart surgeon is better than an experienced veteran. In virtually all endeavors, experience improves one’s performance.

It also ignores the overwhelming causes of low achievement which are primarily socioeconomic in nature and have very little to do with their teachers. Even if we could staff low income schools entirely with the best teachers available and ensure that they were never laid off, low income students would still be coming to school sick, hungry, homeless, stressed and far behind their affluent peers in the requisite skills necessary for academic success.

Another argument that has been made in favor of protecting teachers at low income schools is that their schools tend to have the highest turnover rates and the largest numbers of layoffs during budget cuts. While this is true, it is important to look at the reasons for this tendency and find solutions that address the root causes, rather than slapping on ill-conceived bandages that do not really solve the problem.

SFUSD, like most urban districts, has high levels of low income students segregated in a portion of its schools. In San Francisco, the majority of these are located east of Twin Peaks in the Mission, Bay View-Hunters Point, Tenderloin, and OMI districts. And like most urban school districts, these low income schools tend to have the lowest test scores and highest dropout rates and the greatest pressure on teachers to work harder and longer to erase the achievement gap. Furthermore, the students at these schools tend to have greater emotional, intellectual and physical needs, placing further stress on the teachers. As a result, these schools tend to have higher attrition rates for teachers who burn out from all the extra demands or who transfer to less stressful teaching environments.

Consequently, the schools with the greatest need for quality teachers also tend to have the highest turnover of teachers, as well as a disproportionate number of young and inexperienced teachers who have low seniority. This is true even when budgets are healthy. However, during budget shortfalls, the lower income schools also generally lose more teachers to layoffs than their more affluent neighbors because they have higher percentages of novice teachers.

There is no question that this is unfair and a disservice to students. However, the solution is not to shred teachers’ contractual rights, nor to give younger teachers preferential treatment, as is being attempted in SFUSD (and as occurred in LAUSD this year). For one, there is no reason to believe that protecting those teachers’ jobs will solve the problem of high attrition at their schools. They will continue to face the same challenging students and be expected to raise test scores by impossible margins and implement a variety of new policies and curricula, without being provided the time or compensation to do it well.

Another reason why this strategy is wrongheaded is that it only protects teachers at 14 struggling schools, leaving open the possibility that teachers at other low performing, high turnover schools will still get the axe, including some highly effective veteran teachers. El Dorado, for example, which is not in the protected zone, will lose more than one-third of its teaching staff. The plan is ostensibly being done “in the name of social justice,” UESF President Dennis Kelly was quoted in the SF Chronicle. He went on to say, "You don't have justice for some," which is what will happen if the plan goes through. The union is considering filing a lawsuit to block the move.

One solution would be to reassign students more equitably, so that no schools are made up of mostly low income students. Unfortunately, the problem of Apartheid-like school systems segregated by social class seems to be intractable. It is one thing to offer lower income families the opportunity to bus their kids to a school far away from the gangs, drugs and poverty of their neighborhood, but quite another to tell affluent parents that their kids have been assigned to a ghetto school. Many of those with money will simply jump ship and invest in private school. Indeed, in San Francisco 29% of San Francisco kids were already in private schools in 2005, according to SF Magazine.

However, from the perspective of the teachers, a lot could be done to attract and retain the best and most experienced at challenging low performing schools, thus reducing the percentage of novice and low-seniority teachers. Perhaps the most important would be an abandonment of the accountability and testing mania that has been destroying public education for the past decade. This would take considerable pressure off of teachers to fix problems that are beyond their control and do wonders for the morale and climate at these schools. Simply “allowing teachers to teach,” combined with ample paid collaboration time and paid professional development, would also be strong incentives for retaining dedicated, high quality veteran teachers.

Teacher Seniority is a Labor Issue for All Working People
The final decision to deviate from seniority in the layoff procedure must be decided by an administrative law judge according to state law, which means the decision could stick, regardless of the unions’ position. Since seniority rights are collectively bargained between the union and SFUSD, such an outcome would be tantamount to the state ripping up the teachers’ contract. Keep in mind, teachers bargain with local districts, not the state. Allowing the state to trample on contractually agreed upon rights opens the floodgates for it to trample on other rights and protections.

It is also important to remember that seniority protections exist to prevent arbitrary and vindictive layoffs. Without seniority protections, higher paid veteran teachers can be laid off to save districts money. Teachers could also be fired for their union activities, being outspoken advocates for children or teachers, or for their extracurricular activities or lifestyles. Allowing the state to step in and override seniority could be used to balance continued budget cuts with a mass culling of the highest paid and most experienced teachers. It could also be used to weaken teachers unions by ridding districts of the most active and vocal union members.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri Mar 2, 2012, 08:05 PM (0 replies)

Fox Guarding Hen House: Rhee Buddies Up to Duncan During Investigation of DC Cheating Scandal

Michelle Rhee was the chancellor of Washington, D.C. schools from 2007 to 2010, during the time D.C. school officials cheated to raise test scores. The Office of the Inspector General in Arne Duncan’s Education Department has been investigating the case for the past six months. Considering how much the outcome the investigation could influence her career, it would seem a no-brainer that Duncan should not be fraternizing with her.

Nevertheless, the two sat side by side last month, as two of four featured panelists at an education conference in Washington. The conference was about the use of educational data.

Supposedly they did not talk about how to exploit educational data to further one’s career, as both Duncan and Rhee have done, or how to massage the numbers and game the system, as Rhee and her underlings supposedly did. It is also unlikely that the panelists discussed how much of a cash cow the testing and accountability mania have become for test and textbook publishers or revealed how much of their personal portfolios are invested in these companies. They most certainly did not talk about how little the tests and their data reveal about the quality of teachers and schools or how they undermine the quality of education by focusing on memorization and multiple choice guessing, while taking away class time and resources from arts, music, science, critical thinking and inquiry.

As the New York Times correctly pointed out today, Rhee’s reputation as a national leader of the education reform movement is based on the inflated D.C. test scores.

In March, USA Today published the results of an investigation of the D.C. schools that found unusually large gains at 41 schools and a suspiciously high rate of erasures on tests. This was one-third of the elementary and middle schools in the district.

In a rather amateur attempt to redirect blame to the Times, Duncan’s spokesman Justin Hamilton said, “It’s irresponsible for a New York times columnist to presume guilt before we have all the facts,” as if by not appearing publicly with Rhee Duncan might be biasing the jury.

The problem is that there is no jury—at least not yet.

This is an investigation by Duncan’s office. By socializing with a suspect under investigation, it gives Duncan and the entire Department of Education the appearance of being in bed with her, biasing the investigation and destroying what little confidence the public may have had that they would get to the bottom of the scandal or prevent any further cheating.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Mar 1, 2012, 11:48 PM (3 replies)

Only Slavery Can Save a School When Funding Dries Up?

Tilden Middle School in Philadelphia lost a number of teachers to budget cuts this year, as well as a secretary, noontime aides, and money for their before- and after-school programs. Despite the cuts, they managed to add a grief-counseling program, which may have helped kids deal with the loss of favorite teachers axed as a result of the cuts. The school also was able to maintain its extracurricular mentoring and truancy-prevention programs and tutors.

How is all this possible?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, it was due to “robust community partnerships . . . a dedicated staff . . . a principal . . . who feels that he can't let a lack of money strip Tilden of needed resources.”

What the Inquirer neglects to mention is that much of this is supported by volunteer labor, particularly by teachers agreeing to work longer hours without compensation, sometimes “even walking students home.”

Compelling people to work for free is slavery. Sure, these people are “volunteering” and it is certainly generous and compassionate for them to do so, but it is still free labor and it is necessary only because funding has been stripped from public education. It takes advantage of teachers’ tendency to go over and beyond the call of duty for their students. In many cases, such extra work is called “voluntary,” but comes with so much pressure from administrators and sometimes even parents and peers that it is virtually coerced. No one wants to look like they don’t care about their students. So if others are jumping on the bandwagon, many teachers will feel like they have to, as well.

It is not just teachers who do this. Gloria Johnson, a school secretary who was laid off from Tilden in December, still shows up every day as a volunteer. Johnson referred to Tilden as her family and argued that she wouldn’t stop helping her sister just because she didn’t have money. A school police officer who was laid off, also volunteers at Tilden.

Of course children shouldn’t suffer just because funding has been cut, but the solution is not to make other people suffering (e.g., the adults who care for them), while allowing those responsible for the budget crises to continue enjoying historically low income, business, capital gains and inheritance tax rates.

It is absurd to argue that grownups should be slaves or have to volunteer free labor so that children don’t have overcrowded classrooms and support services aren’t cut. What happens when those adults can no longer pay their rent, mortgage or food bills? What about their children? And what happens to their students when they eventually find paid work elsewhere?

The only sane solution to the underfunding of education is to demand that it be generously funded. Buying politicians, as the unions like to do, as well as voting and demonstrating at state capitals, have proven to be ineffectual. Ultimately, those who work in public schools have to take a stand and refuse to participate, withhold their labor, and engage in other forms of direct action in the workplace. On the other hand, continuing to work, or working harder, for low or no pay sends the message to administrators and politicians that we are doormats and martyrs, ready and willing to accept greater burdens and exploitation, so long as it might help our students.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Mar 1, 2012, 11:47 PM (0 replies)

Teachers: the New Satanic Serial Child Molesters?

Attacking teachers’ unions, collective bargaining and due process rights, pensions, salaries and privacy has not ended the achievement gap nor mollified the critics of public education. Now the witch hunt for teachers is taking a new and twisted turn for the worse, thanks to several recent and coincidental abuse allegations against Los Angeles Unified School District employees and an orgy of hysterical media reports portraying the problem as rampant and due in part to the teachers union.

While it is, of course, imperative that schools provide safe learning environments and that everyone, including teachers, be held accountable for criminal misconduct, a cluster of child abuse allegations does not an epidemic make. Despite the fact that six L.A. Unified employees have recently booked on suspicion of sex-related crimes, while several others have been removed from duties pending investigations, local law enforcement officials have emphasized that they do not believe there is any increase in abuse or molestation, according to the Los Angeles Times. Rather, there has been improved reporting, as there often is following a high profile case. No one wants to get blamed for permitting abusers to flourish in their schools, so they are on heightened alert, looking more closely at any suspicious behavior, and promptly informing officials. Consequently, numerous teachers are under investigation for hugging “too long,” and similar allegations that may or may not be related to abusive behavior.

Nevertheless, LAUSD officials are now releasing information about allegations and pending investigations even before the investigations have been completed and the teachers have been prosecuted or vindicated, thus increasing the sense that molestation and abuse are rampant. In the past, officials withheld such information until after the investigations had been completed and credible charges could be made against the teacher.

Damage Control Through Teacher Control
LAUSD was justifiably worried about its credibility and potential litigation in the wake of the Miramonte scandal. Yet its response of firing the entire staff at Miramonte amounted to collective punishment for the misdeeds of one or two depraved individuals. Likewise, its new policy of publicly revealing accusations and investigations prior to their completion tramples on teachers’ privacy and due process rights in hopes of winning a cheap PR victory. Neither policy makes children any safer.

Now, Sup. John Deasy wants to abolish a contractual provision in which unproven allegations of misconduct are removed from teachers’ personnel files after four years because it could help the district bust potential bad eggs. The LA Times has contributed to the hysteria by calling it a “union” rule, rather than a collectively agreed upon provision in teachers’ contracts, as if the union itself is responsible for the abuse of children.

Both LAUSD and the LA Times have brought up the case of Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, who was recently charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct against students. Berndt’s file contained nothing about past misconduct despite at least four past allegations against him.

If anything, this case tells us that LAUSD and LAPD were asleep at the wheel. If there had been four or more allegations against the man and he really was a molester, then LAUSD and LAPD should have been able to bust him long ago, particularly if they had four years to do so. This is the real scandal—not the union’s desire to protect teachers’ privacy and due process rights by purging meritless accusations from their personnel files.

If allegations do not lead to disciplinary action against a teacher, it is reasonable to assume that the allegations were frivolous, vindictive and/or meritless, which is why the contract requires they be thrown out, or they were poorly investigated, in which case eliminating a due process protection would be useless. Holding onto bogus accusations as if they were evidence of something that likely never happened is a classic tactic used by police states and in witch hunts and should not be accepted in lieu of responsible and thorough police work.

Channeling the Satanic Day-Care Molestation Hysteria of the 80s and 90s.
It may turn out that most or all of those currently under investigation in LAUSD are guilty. If so, it is good that they were caught and removed from classrooms. However, the hysteria and demand for teachers’ blood that has followed is reminiscent of the Satanic Day-Care Molestation Hysteria of the 1980s and 90s, in which a few bogus accusations led to the arrests and harassment of many innocent people and a mass fear that every little old lady running a preschool was really a wolf in disguise.

The most infamous of these cases involved the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, leading to the longest and most expensive criminal trial in U.S. history and perhaps the most frivolous. From the start, observers and police should have been skeptical of the absurd claims of hidden tunnels, ritualistic animal slaughter, Satan worship, coprophagia, bloodletting and orgies. Furthermore, the credibility of the McMartin’s accuser, Judy Johnson, was suspect as she was a diagnosed schizophrenic and chronic alcoholic.

Rather than doing its job of investigating, questioning and critiquing with a skeptical eye, the media simply aped back the ridiculous allegations with prurient delight, thus pandering to the public’s lusts and fears, exacerbating parents’ anxieties about their children’s safety and creating mistrust of all preschools and day care centers.

The suspicion and mistrust lasted nearly two decades. In 1992, for example, a mother in Martensville, Saskatchewan, alleged that a local babysitting service was sexually abusing her child. Over twelve people, including five police officers, were ultimately charged with running a Satanic cult called The Brotherhood of The Ram, which supposedly practiced ritualized sexual abuse of children at a "Devil Church.” The son of the day care owner was initially found guilty, but a Royal Canadian Mounted Police task force later determined that the original investigation was motivated by "emotional hysteria.” The defendants later sued for wrongful prosecution and won $100,000 each.

The hysteria did not end there. In 1994 and 1995, Washington state police and social workers launched what was then the most extensive child sex-abuse investigation in U.S. history, with 43 adults ultimately arrested on 29,726 charges of child sex abuse in. The main witness was the 13-year-old foster daughter of one of the investigating police officers, Robert Perez. In the end, the city of Wenatchee and Douglas County, Washington were found negligent in the investigations, with the jury awarding the accused couple $3 million.

There were several other similar high profile cases during the 1980s and 1990s. Wikipedia provides a good summary of these cases and includes numerous credible sources. Will LAUSD’s current abuse scandals lead to a similar national mass hysteria and backlash against teachers and their workplace rights?

Hysteria or Common Sense Defense of Children?
Last week, Sup. Deasy ordered school district officials to go back four years to look for any potential teacher misconduct that should have been reported to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. He also asked principals to review all employee files, including expired ones going back decades, to flag potential issues and alert law enforcement authorities of any cases that weren’t but should have been reported. Furthermore, he directed principals to report any allegations they felt had not been addressed appropriately.

While this seems like a common sense protection for children, one might wonder why it hadn’t been done before or isn’t done regularly. On the other hand, one might reasonably ask why any cases need to be reexamined if they were properly handled in the first place.

Yet even these “common sense” procedures are not so cut and dry. The administrators union is resisting, pointing out that the district never had clear procedures for what went into site files and the procedures for reporting suspected child abuse cases has changed over the years. Furthermore, as site administrators change, personal files tend to go with them or get discarded. Since these files are unofficial and “personal,” there is no reason why they should be expected to be saved or passed on to future administrators.

UTLA, for its part, is keeping quiet on the issue, probably out of fear that anything they say will be used to portray them as defenders of abusers. The question is will they resist Deasy’s demand that unproven allegations remain in teachers’ files indefinitely.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Mar 1, 2012, 11:46 PM (0 replies)

Chicago School Board: Fire Them All & Let God Sort It Out Later

I am reposting this so the discussion can continue. I post my opinion pieces and articles precisely to inspire discussion. As I teach full time, work as a union organizer and have a four-year old child, I am not able to read and reply to all comments on a regular basis. However, I do appreciate hearing what y'all have to say, would appreciate it even more if you could say it in a civil and intelligent way without resorting to personal attacks.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) proposed a 30% pay increase for their new contract. The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) board responded yesterday by unanimously voting to close or overhaul 17 under-performing schools, resulting in over 400 teacher layoffs and the displacement of more than 7,000 mostly low income black and Hispanic students.

CTU president Lewis called the move a betrayal of democracy, according to the Chicago Tribune, ostensibly because most of the board was appointed by mayor Emanuel or his predecessor Daley and not elected by the public. While this may be true, Emanuel and Daley were elected democratically, and Chicagoans knew what they were getting when they chose them.

If anything, the move underscores the fallacy that democracy somehow means “the people” have the power and make the decisions, rather than the right to vote for one’s own rulers who then make decisions in their own interests.

CTU’s real power lies in their ability to withhold their labor, something Lewis encouraged her members to do by taking a personal day off to attend the board meeting. Now that the board has ruled against their interests, it’s time to consider taking more personal days or initiating an outright strike. Clearly having hundreds of parents and teachers speak out against the closings was a waste of time.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Mar 1, 2012, 11:31 PM (8 replies)

Chicago School Board: Fire Them All & Let God Sort It Out Later

Earlier this week, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) proposed a 30% pay increase for their new contract. The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) board responded yesterday by unanimously voting to close or overhaul 17 under-performing schools, resulting in over 400 teacher layoffs and the displacement of more than 7,000 mostly low income black and Hispanic students.

CTU president Lewis called the move a betrayal of democracy, according to the Chicago Tribune, ostensibly because most of the board was appointed by mayor Emanuel or his predecessor Daley and not elected by the public. While this may be true, Emanuel and Daley were elected democratically, and Chicagoans knew what they were getting when they chose them.

If anything, the move underscores the fallacy that democracy somehow means “the people” have the power and make the decisions, rather than the right to vote for one’s own rulers who then make decisions in their own interests.

CTU’s real power lies in their ability to withhold their labor, something Lewis encouraged her members to do by taking a personal day off to attend the board meeting. Now that the board has ruled against their interests, it’s time to consider taking more personal days or initiating an outright strike. Clearly having hundreds of parents and teachers speak out against the closings was a waste of time.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Sat Feb 25, 2012, 10:39 AM (10 replies)

Seniority Survives Another Year in Oakland Unified

Seniority rules and teacher transfer rights will remain intact in Oakland Unified for the remainder of the school year, in spite of Superintendent Tony Smith’s push for change, according to the Oakland Tribune. Teachers who are displaced by school closings or whose positions have been cut will continue to choose new positions from a list of openings for which they are eligible, with seniority determining who gets first pick.

Sup. Smith was pushing an initiative called "mutual matching," with teachers listing their top choices, principals listing their top choices, and the district making the final decision. Regardless of the merits of the superintendent’s plan, many teachers felt the process was being rushed and not given sufficient time for analysis. Without union support, the plan could not be implemented this school year.

For teachers, this is a good thing. The district plans to close five elementary schools in June, displacing over 50 teachers who will be able to seek new positions using the existing seniority system.

Critics like to say that no other industry hires people in this way. Yet hiring is NOT done in this way. Hiring decisions are in fact made by local site administrators. What we are talking about here are teachers who have been displaced because their school has been shut down, through no fault of their own. They have not been fired or laid off and they are not being hired or rehired. They are still employees of the same school district. They still have the same boss (i.e., the superintendent and school board) and the same person is still cutting their paychecks.

Critics also say that site administrators ought to be able to control who works at their sites to ensure the best “fit” for their school arguing this will improve learning outcomes for students.

Image by laurelrusswurm
This is a red herring.

All bosses want this power and most want it absolutely, not because there is any evidence that it improves learning outcomes, but because they think it makes their lives easier and makes them look better to their bosses downtown. Many want total control over every aspect of their schools, including the right to impose reforms, pedagogies, bell schedules, additional responsibilities and commitments, with complete compliance and support, regardless of whether they are violating teachers’ contractual rights or undermining the interests of their students.

While the “good fit” hypothesis may have some relevance in certain schools where “buy-in” for a unique culture helps maintain the integrity of that culture, a good teacher should be able to teach anywhere and be effective in any milieu, regardless of the culture. It is also questionable whether any given special culture plays a significant role in student achievement, while some special school cultures may actually undermine learning, curiosity and motivation. Schools that have obsessive and excessive cultures of testing preparation, planning and cheerleading may fall into this latter category.

The consequences of abolishing seniority and/or giving administrators more say in how transfers occur will be that the most senior employees (i.e., the ones making the highest salaries) will be let go in favor of cheaper and more malleable younger teachers. It will result in outspoken, critical or pro-union teachers being let go in favor of passive, quiet “yes men” who are willing to try every reform suggested and pile their plates high with extra responsibilities and commitments. It will allow administrators to rid themselves of employees they do not like for vindictive and arbitrary reasons.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Sat Feb 25, 2012, 10:37 AM (1 replies)

Cali Community College Budgets Slashed $564 million

California’s community colleges were slapped with a $102 million cut in January. This followed a $313 million cut at the start of the school year. While these cuts were devastating, at least they were expected. Now, according to Kathryn Baron, writing for Topics in Education, these same schools face a “February Surprise” of an additional $149 million cut that was not planned and that brings the total cuts to a whopping $564 million this fiscal year.

The “surprise” resulted from two miscalculations: property taxes and student fee revenues were both substantially lower than expected.

The Department of Finance was overly optimistic in its projection of how much revenue could be raised by increasing student fees from $26 per unit to $36 per unit, creating a shortfall of $107 million. Part of the shortfall was due to a large increase in students applying for Board of Governors fee waivers. Considering the dismal state of the economy, one must wonder how they could have overlooked this possibility.

Students, as usual, are the ones getting reamed—this time doubly, with a nearly 40% increase in tuition up front, followed by program cuts and a possible mid-year fee increase to offset the system’s miscalculations and shortfall.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Feb 23, 2012, 11:00 PM (3 replies)

Why Girls Don’t Go For STEM Careers

A new nationwide survey of 1,000 teen girls from the Girl Scout Research Institute suggests that girls are both interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers and have the confidence that they can succeed in these fields. The institute reports that nearly 75% of teen girls are already interested in STEM subjects at school, and 82% believe they're "smart enough to have a career in STEM."

Despite these numbers, only 20% of STEM jobs are filled by women, according to Good Education, which attributes this to girls’ ignorance about STEM jobs. Indeed, the report said that only 13% of girls listed STEM jobs as their top career choice, while 60% said they weren’t clear about which careers were available in those fields.

Ignorance of STEM careers is only a small part of the problem, however. Consider that well over 50% of the graduate students at UCSF medical school are women (64% in 2006), suggesting that women do want to go into STEM careers and many know exactly where to go to prepare themselves. Yet the only 45% of the postdoctoral fellowships went to women and only 40.6% of the faculty positions are held by women, suggesting that even with an awareness of STEM careers and a solid education to prepare for such a career, women are still being left behind.

This is probably due to a combination of factors, including bias. 57% of girls surveyed by the Girl Scouts Institute did recognize that sexism is a problem in STEM fields, saying they would "have to work harder than a man to be taken seriously."

However, women don’t just have to work harder to be taken seriously. They may also have to consider giving up motherhood or be willing to subcontract out much of their mothering responsibilities to nannies or other family members, something that is not always possible, particularly early in one’s career. Academic science positions are highly competitive and often require more than 60 hours per week to write grants, do research, teach, write and publish articles and participate in university committees and bodies.

Furthermore, once a female scientist has children, she often faces physical barriers that hamper effective mothering and her own health and wellbeing. At the UCSF Parnassus Campus, for example, there are very few places where a woman can go to safely and privately pump breast milk for her child, thus discouraging breast feeding and undermining the health of her child.

In a 2002 survey of UCSF professors, only ¼ of female and 1/3 of male professors felt like their jobs permitted sufficient time for their families, while 75% of women and 60% of men said they have to work an unhealthy and unreasonable amount. Female faculty were also particularly critical of the way the university welcomed new women and felt that there were unfair limits placed on their participation in the university. Furthermore, 50% of women, compared with 10% of men, felt they had faced discrimination.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Feb 23, 2012, 10:59 PM (4 replies)

Evaluation Deal is Major Defeat for NY Teachers—Harbinger for Others?

A statewide deal was announced last week setting the stage for performance-based evaluations for New York teachers, with state officials finally settling a lawsuit brought by the state teachers union. 700 local districts throughout the state will still have to negotiate the fine points with local unions.

The new framework bases 40% of a teacher’s evaluation on student performance, with 20% being based on student progress on high stakes standardized exams. The other 20% would also consider test scores, but would be measured using a union-supported method. The plan also makes it easier to fire teachers after two years of “ineffective” ratings.

According to the Wall Street Journal, all sides considered the deal a victory, with UFT President Michael Mulgrew saying that the new appeals process provides a "much greater degree of fairness."

VAM Evaluations Are Bad For Students as Well as Teachers
Regardless of the merits of the new appeals process, any use of student test data to evaluate teachers should be considered a defeat for teachers, as well as students and their schools.

First of all, the test scores and students’ progress on them are most strongly correlated with students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, not teacher quality. Consequently, teachers who have more affluent students will tend to get better evaluations, increasing the diaspora of quality veteran teachers from challenging, low income schools, where they are most needed, but least likely to get good evaluations and keep their jobs.

Secondly, there is no accurate, consistent or commonly accepted method for using student test scores to measure teacher quality. Various accounting methods tend to cause wildly fluctuating Value Added Measures (VAM) from year to year. Thus, an excellent teacher could easily get a “false negative” and get fired as a result, which would also be unfair to students, as well as the unjustly fired teacher.

Thirdly, the tests themselves are terrible waste of time and resources, sapping states and districts of much needed revenue for instruction and teacher retention. They do little or nothing toward improving the quality of schools or students’ educational outcomes. They take away class time from authentic learning, critical thinking and problem solving. They encourage teaching to the test and discourage creativity and curiosity.

In order to boost test scores, many districts have abandoned or reduced arts, music, athletics and even science to make room for increased test preparation and remediation. Many schools have even implemented test preparation and homework for kindergartners to prepare them for a lifetime of testing and drudgery.

Basing teachers’ evaluations (and thus their livelihoods) on these same tests will only encourage more teaching to the test and discourage creative, student-centered teaching, thus decreasing the quality of teaching overall. It also legitimizes the tests and their publishers, strengthening their grip on this deplorable and brazen taxpayer giveaway.

Why the Sellout?
The deal had been in the works for two years. However, the stakes grew when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned the state last month that it was in danger of losing nearly $1 billion in federal Race to the Top money if it failed to overhaul of teacher evaluations.

In hard economic times, $1 billion is nothing to sneeze at. But it should not be forgotten that states and the feds have been consistently squeezing education of funding by slashing taxes on the wealthy and their corporations. The money to sufficiently fund public education could be provided, despite the recession, if there were increases in the marginal tax rate for the wealthy, combined with increases in the corporate, capital gains and inheritance taxes. Furthermore, if NY and other states simply refused to participate in NCLB testing, Common Core Standards, and other expensive “reforms,” they would save billions of dollars in expenditures on test printing, scoring and evaluating, new textbooks, making the Race to the Top (RttT) extortion racket irrelevant.

One other little incentive for the union to sell out was Gov. Cuomo’s threat of a state-mandated settlement, including the threat of cutting state aid to districts. However, it shouldn’t matter which boss is screwing workers, the response should be the same. If VAM and test-based evaluations are bad for students and unfair to teachers, they should be opposed vigorously, regardless of who makes the demand.

Teacher Evaluation Crisis or Red Herring?
Ever since the Nation at Risk report, pundits, politicians and Ed Deformers have been decrying the crisis in public education and looking for causes and culprits under every bed. The problem is that public education is better than it was 30, 40 or 50 years ago.

While it is not without its problems, the single biggest problem is the socioeconomic disparity between students, not teacher quality. Nevertheless, the teacher evaluation system is far from perfect. But the biggest problem is not that too many “bad” teachers are slipping through the cracks. Rather, the biggest problem is that there are too few evaluators with too little training and too much bias to do the job well. In most districts, administrators are responsible for observing teachers and rarely do they have the time and training to do it comprehensively. In 15 years of teaching, I have never been observed more than 3-4 times per year (sometimes never), nor do I know any teachers who have been observed any more than this.

Yet even, if site administrators had sufficient time to observe everyone on a weekly basis, they would still have an inherent bias that potentially undermines the validity of their observations. An independent and creative teacher might deliberately choose his or her own original lessons over an administrator’s recommended ones, or publicly question or critique an administrator’s reforms, leading to biased negative evaluations. Indeed, union organizers, outspoken critics and advocates, and original thinkers are often singled out by bosses and treated unfairly as a result.

The New York City agreement allows the union to send up to 13% of cases to a three-person panel to protect against harassment by principals, according to the New York Times. While Mulgrew has spun this as a victory for UFT, it means that 87% of “at-risk” teachers will simply be tossed aside, without due process or a grievance procedure. Considering how much poverty exists in New York City schools and the heavy emphasis on student test scores, there will likely be a substantial number of good teachers who will fall into this unprotected 87%, abandoned by their own union and without the legal support they paid for with their dues.

There is one theoretically positive outcome from the settlement: the evaluation system will bring independent observers into the classrooms to monitor the weakest teachers, the New York Times reported. I say “theoretical” because, though it is preferable to use unbiased outside observers, these observers will have caseloads of 50-80 teachers, which is far too large to do the job well. Indeed, they are only required to do three observations per year. Furthermore, the “outside” observers will be provided by a private company which stands to profit off the system, creating a new bias.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu Feb 23, 2012, 10:57 PM (3 replies)
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