Cuomo’s Latest Attempt to Destroy Public Education

Cuomo just pushed through a preliminary version of yet another teacher evaluation system for NYC public schools- a mere two years after the last one was implemented.  This is more than a logistical nightmare for the DOE and school administrators. Like the current teacher evaluation system, the new system is not designed to improve schools, nor is it designed to cultivate quality teaching or help children thrive.  This is a system designed to bust up the teacher’s union, destroy public schools and drive teachers out of their classrooms and into the arms of non-unionized, unregulated, corporate financed charter schools.

Under the new system, up to 50 percent of a teacher’s rating is based on increases in test scores from year to year. As with the current system, this will apply to teachers in non-testing grades ( K-2) as well as cluster teachers- meaning that 50 percent of a kindergarten or art teacher’s rating could be determined by one grade’s math or ELA scores for that year.

This would be disastrous for school culture and the quality of teaching. In my title one school, we “chose” to link all of our ratings to the third grade math scores. Last year, this resulted in art and PE teachers being told to include math in their weekly lessons as well as intense pressure on math for third graders and their teachers. We had two full months of unhappy third graders drowning in boring, frustrating test prep. If Cuomo gets his way and 50 percent of a teacher’s rating is determined by test scores alone, imagine the pressure when the one grade’s math scores can make or break the careers of up to a third of the teachers in a school. One year of low scores could put about 30 teachers at my school on probation.

To make matters worse, under Cuomo’s new plan, the other 50 percent of a teacher’s rating would be determined based on evaluations by an “independent observer”  as well as observations by school leaders. I’ve had some experience with independent evaluators, and this imperative is not only financially and logistically impossible, but also deeply unfair to teachers and students.

I have been rated effective two years in a row thanks to positive observations and good fortune with test scores. Let’s say scores are not as high as we hoped for this year. There goes half of my rating and suddenly my career is on the line. The next phase of my evaluation is the arrival of the “independent observer”- someone who does not know me, does not understand the culture of the school, and does not know the students. This person also is likely to be decidedly unprogressive in his or her approach to educating children. Said evaluator will necessarily have very little time to observe each teacher, and if they don’t like what they see in my classroom – for any reason at all – my rating could plummet further.

I have been observed by so called independent evaluators before. When I taught first grade at a charter school, I was observed once by two lavishly paid consultants. They observed me for 20 minutes total and then gave me verbal feedback. During our conversation, they told me that they both had previously taught high school, and had NEVER been in a first grade classroom before. They then proceeded to tell me that my teaching lacked “rigor.” That’s what this new system is going to produce: sky-high consultant fees and evaluation that is even more arbitrary, inappropriate, and unfair than it is now.

There is only one conclusion to draw from all of this nonsense. Cuomo’s new system is purposefully designed to fire teachers – even effective ones – and bust up one of the only remaining powerful labor unions in the country. His is a system that will result in experienced, beloved teachers fleeing public schools for charters, private schools and jobs outside the field. Cuomo knows this. But he is so hellbent on taking down the union and privatizing schools for the benefit of his corporate cronies, that he does not care about the millions of children who will suffer at his hands. As I see it, teachers have three choices: we can opt out, we can be forced out, or we can leave of our own accord.

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Homework: To Give or Not to Give?

Research has shown that homework has no academic benefit for elementary school students, plus parents and kids hate it. So why are our kids saddled with up to an hour a night starting as early as kindergarten?

This is just another example of knowing how children actually learn but ignoring what we know. On the very first day of school last week, students at my school were sent home with pages of math drills.  Some argue this teaches responsibility, and yes remembering to bring something back to school in the morning does require a degree of executive functioning skill. But aren’t there better, more meaningful ways to teach responsibility?

Learning should continue at home, but as reading, drawing, playing, building, exploring outside and talking. Instead of homework, let’s provide high quality after school programs and send every kid home with a lego set, books and a big box of crayons every September. For once, let’s listen to the research and do what we know is right for kids.  Let’s give less homework this year.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-24/study-finds-homework-has-limited-value/4330514

http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/rethinking-homework/