Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Teacher Quality at the Education Sector... a stacked deck?

WARNING: Read at your own peril.

The following post has been declared as gibberish and unhinged at Rotherham's Eduwonk world of ed reform fantasyland and this blogger has received an official Eduwonk "crazy" designation, not the first time we have been so designated. Just ask former principal(s), District Superintendent(s), UFT District rep(s), etc.

While over there, make sure to read Edwonk's "unfair and unbalanced report" on the ATR situation in NYC. Then you make the call as to whether you have accidentally fallen into a science fiction blog.

This morning at 9 AM in Washington DC, the Education Sector will listen to the voice of teachers – at a time no working teacher can attend.

Teacher Voice: How Teachers See the Teacher Quality Debate
May 7, 2008 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM (Capital Hilton)

The announcement says:
As policymakers, teachers unions, and other stakeholders react to changing demands on the nation's public education system, there is considerable debate about what teachers think and what they want. Too often assumptions define this conversation rather than actual evidence of what teachers want and how teachers see their profession evolving.

A new survey from Education Sector by Ann Duffett, Steve Farkas, Andrew J. Rotherham, and Elena Silva examines teachers' opinions and attitudes toward teacher unions, teacher unionism, and a range of current district reforms, including those aimed specifically at improving teacher quality. Join Education Sector for a presentation and discussion of the survey's findings

Ed Notes has taken the position that this emphasis on teacher quality has nefarious purposes. There will always be a bell-curve of teacher quality, just as there is a curve for doctors, lawyers, plumbers, etc. Funny, but I don't see the Ed Sector running events trying to discern the quality of the physicians poor kids with asthma attacks might see in the emergency room in the middle of the night and then come into school too sleepy to pay attention and how that factor affects teacher quality.

I'm anxious to see where the surveyed teachers come from. I wonder how many are from places where the ed reform "the fault is on the lack of teacher quality" movement has hit, often in urban schools under some form of mayoral control.

Now there are actually a few teachers on the panel. One is from Denver. And the president of the Providence Teachers Union is also on the panel. In March, he led a protest and called for a vote on no-confidence in the current administration of the Providence schools. The last time they did that was against Diana Lam, who was hired by Joel Klein for a disastrous run as chief of instruction. (If a union protests against someone, that person must be good for him.)

And a NYC teacher too. I have faith than anyone who has taught in the NYC world of BloomKlein, so beloved by the Ed Sector, will have plenty of good stuff to say – if allowed to say much.

I would have loved to see people like NYC educator or Reality Based Educator or Chaz School Daze but they wouldn't take a day off for this stuff. Not like.....

......It is particularly gratifying to see controversial Wash. DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee, a Teach for America alum and former Joel Kleinite in NYC, will be able to take time away from running a large urban school system to attend. A few weeks ago, Rhee also found the time to come up to New York to attend a weekday Manhattan Institute breakfast to push the usual ed reform line. What would they say if scads of teachers took time off to attend some of these things? Bad, bad, go to the rubber room. But Rhee's attendance at these events is indicative of the real ed reform agenda - ideology and politics, not education.

I don' t even have to go. Let's see, bet they say a hundred times: research shows that teacher quality is the single most important factor in a child's education (I was disappointed to see Chaz School Daze say the same thing on his blog.) I don't agree.

We could just as easily proclaim that research shows that small class sizes are the single most important factor in a child's education. That seems to be what I heard at a recent symposium at Columbia about the famous Tennessee study, where all classes, with the good, the bad and the ugly teachers saw improvements when class size was lowered. But fuggedaboudit. Ed Sector, unabashed admirers of BloomKlein would rather talk about teacher quality in isolation of other factors like class size or the difficulty of some children to learn – watch out for the dreaded "we aren't talking about comparing apples and oranges - followed by claims of the unproven and as far as I'm concerned unfounded – value added approach where teachers are rated based on the growth of kids based on past performance (on highs takes tests only, not on things like "Johnny entered my class s serial killer and left a lamb.")

Good Norm Twin: But let's be fair here. You didn't even hear the results of the survey. Maybe it will bear you out on class size.

Evil Norm Twin: Will the teachers surveyed say colleagues they view as incompetent should be made to drink arsenic? And teacher unions are horrible because they protect these people? Anyone check in NYC lately to see how well the UFT has been protecting teachers?

The cast of characters
Featured Presenters:
Andrew J. Rotherham, Elena Silva

This event will feature:
Greg Ahrnsbrak, Teacher, Denver Public Schools
Ann Duffett, FDR Group
Steven Farkas, FDR Group
Ellen Halloran, Teacher, New York City Public Schools
Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools
Steven Smith, President, Providence Teachers Union
Elena Silva, Senior Policy Analyst, Education Sector (as moderator)
Andrew J. Rotherham, Co-director, Education Sector (introductory remarks)

Greg Ahrnsbrak is on the panel because he led a battle to modify the union contract in his school, a trend in Denver. Rotherham loves teachers who are willing to throw out contract rules. He throws out the line we hear form the likes of Kahlenberg [on Shanker] and Leo Casey about the New Unionism (how has that worked out for NYC teachers?]

"If (unions) see this as an opportunity to redefine their roles, they will thrive," Rotherham said. "If they don't get in the game, it will pass them by."

The UFT has always been in the game, so how come NYC teachers feel oh, so passed by?

To get a sense of why Greg Ahrnsbrak is on the panel, check out this excerpt from

The Denver Post reported back in January (edited):

A bid for autonomy at Denver's Bruce Ran dolph school faces another test today, when union leaders meet for the second time to vote on whether to accept a waiver from the teachers contract.

The union, so far, has balked at the request — The school board approved its part of the waiver last month, and a majority of teachers at the school voted for the proposal. Last week, Manual High School in Denver made a similar request.

State Senate President Peter Groff may introduce a bill to encourage other schools to do the same, and more than $100,000 from nonprofit organizations has been offered to Bruce Randolph if the move goes forward.

National education experts are watching the Bruce Randolph proposal that would give the school control over its budget, teacher time, calendar, incentives and hiring decisions.

"It is going to be fascinating," said Andrew Rotherham of Virginia, co-founder and co-director of Education Sector, a national education policy think tank. "This is what progress looks like, messy and contentious."

The union wanted Bruce Randolph to clearly explain what parts of the contract should be waived. Last week, teachers submitted a five-page response, outlining each article and subsection they want waived or retained.

Union President Kim Ursetta said she discussed the proposal with representatives from the school Saturday.

"We want to be able to look at what contract provisions, if any, impede student achievement at Bruce Randolph," Ursetta said.

The union should be flexible, said Rotherham.

"If (unions) see this as an opportunity to redefine their roles, they will thrive," Rotherham said. "If they don't get in the game, it will pass them by."

"We took the worst middle school in the state and brought it to a low ranking," said Greg Ahrnsbrak, a teacher at Bruce Randolph and the school's union representative, who helped craft the waiver plan.

Now Greg Ahrnsbrak is at a school that had lots of problems and the staff has bought into the idea the way to fix these problems is to show a willingness to waive the contract, obviously pegged as the main culprit. The central union has been balking and teachers at Ahrnsbak's school are talking going charter.

Ahrnsbrak said some have encouraged the staff to go ahead and implement the proposal anyway, regardless of the union's stance.

Private foundations love the controversy and are leaping in. The Denver Post reported on Jan. 24:

....the Piton Foundation, ... offered the school $100,000 if the autonomy bid were approved...

"If somebody there says they'd like to do a charter," [said a Piton rep] "we'll give them the $100,000 and I'll go back and try and raise more money."

Ahhh. Bribery from the world of foundations. Check back with the teachers in a few years and see where the money has gone once the union is broken.

Looks like Ellen Halloran, our poor lone NYC teacher, will be seriously outnumbered.


NYC Educator said...

What do teachers want? Well, according to that crowd, it appears they all want to do ATRs and get fired. Wait, I mean they want to be placed on unpaid leave. That's the mutual benefit, as the report says.

Anonymous said...


You are definitely not crazy. Not the huge number of parents and teachers who refuse to buy the spin. The old boys (network) in the media, the so-called wonks, lawyers, managers, pr spinners, greedy businessmen (& women) and billionaires with big egos are hanging out here like vultures because, you see, the school system is nearly dead.

Geoffrey said...

i havent read it yet, but heres a link to the survey abstract/summary:


and heres the survey