Sunday, September 6, 2009

Teacher Evaluations: Bill Gates and the Unity/UFT, Perfect Together

I'm just getting to the issue of that study on teacher evaluation being sponsored by Bill Gates in partnership with the UFT. At the bottom of it all is the neoliberal agenda.

We're certainly not surprised that they are in bed together. Bringing business practices to the classroom is part of the neoliberal agenda. And coming up with a way to measure teachers - for the purpose of weeding out certain types, like the ones who teach humanism and democratic principles instead od test prep - is a basic tenet. Neoliberals see democracy as an alien concept. Thus schools need dictators. As do unions.

We've been connecting the UFT to the neoliberals for a generation, especially since Al Shanker signed onto it in the mid-70's when the budget cuts hit deeply into the ranks, followed by his jumping on board the Business Roundtable's "independent" study, A Nation at Risk.

Unity Caucus is trying to play this as somehow being good for teachers. "Let's have a seat at the table." Just like the UFT/AFT had at the origins of NCLB. Nice job.

James Eterno put up an informal poll on the ICE blog, How Should Teachers be Evaluated?

There have been 25 comments so far. A Unity flack is wondering why James doesn't sign up. "Try it before you criticize Unity all the time." These cloying games by Unity ignore the basic fact: They are the enemy. Of course Ed Notes and ICE and so many other teacher blogs see through the games they play.

Unity flacks and the leadership play the bait and switch game as cover for the real agenda. New UFT President Michael Mulgrew responded to a teacher:

Almost all of the "reform" ideas that are being discussed both here in NYC and nationally are ideas that are brought from people who are outside of the classroom. I felt it was imperative that we engage in research that truly looked at what happens inside of a classroom and worked with teachers as the main part of the research. It is a way that allows us to control what happens in our profession instead of waiting for those on the outside to pound us with their ideas when they have never walked in our shoes. [The full letter from the teacher and his full response is below.]

Does anyone think the UFT/Unity Caucus leadership represents what happens inside a classroom?

Mulgrew's original letter to teachers claimed the study was "being conducted by independent third-party researchers." Sure. Just like The New Teacher Project's attacks on ATRs were viewed by the NY Times as "independent" studies. I'll bet someone has a dog in the race. And I bet there's some Gates money going to flow to some elements at the UFT. I mean, where could Gates buy a better partner to peddle his junk?

Mulgrew also said:
we all recognize that the work of teachers must be measured in ways that are fair and valid. Nationally, current measures of teaching rarely take into account the full range of what teachers do (no single measure really can), or the context in which they teach. The Measures of Effective Teaching project, on the other hand, begins right in the classroom and will explore an array of teacher measures: video observations, surveys, and student growth. It will compare these measures to each other, and to nationally recognized standards, and it will look at their inter-relatedness. It will be informed by actual teacher practice.

Measured, Mike? What if we measured the performance of the UFT leadership over the past decade? What the UFT is covering for here is the concept that we need ways to measure teachers quantitatively. A major plank of the neoliberal agenda to privatize education is to quantify students and teachers. Do we see this occurring with other jobs? Police/fire/ lawyers/ doctors/politicians? Imagine saying that we will never bring down crime rates until we improve the performance of the cops? Or cut the number of fires unless we get higher quality firemen? Or win a war without better soldiers? Why not set up charter police stations and alternative military? Wouldn't the war go better if there was some competition? Shouldn't Afgans have some choice in the army they get to come into their villages? Shouldn't they be able to chose from competing organizations as to which missile get to kill their children? Come on, they need choice.

Here are a few words from the introduction to a book sent to me by former teacher Louis Bedrock: Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools by Kenneth J. Saltman:

In education, neoliberalism has taken hold with tremendous force, remaking educational common sense and pushing forward the privatization and deregulation agendas....the shift to business language and logic can be understood through the extent to which neoliberal ideals have succeeded in taking over educational debates...

The "TINA" thesis (There is No Alternative to the Market) that has come to dominate politics throughout much of the world has infected educational thought as omnipresent market terms such as accountability, choice, efficiency, competition, monopoly,
and performance [outcomes] frame educational debates. Nebulous terms borrowed from the business world, such as achievement, excellence, and best practices, conceal ongoing struggles over competing values, visions, and ideological debates. (Achieve what? Excel at what? Best practices for whom? And says who?)

The only questions left on reform agendas appear to be how to best enforce knowledge and curriculum conducive to individual upward mobility within the economy [education only has the goal of preparing for jobs, not as productive citizens in a democratic society - something neoliberals really abhor] and national economic competition as it contributes to a corporately managed model of globalization as perceived from the perspective of business.

This dominant...view of education is propagated by.. Thomas Friedman...and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation...[add Broad and a horde of others.]

Saltman bases his book on Naomi Klein's "Disaster Capitalism" but focuses on education as he lays out the nuts and bolts of it in his intro and then zooms in on 3 examples: New Orleans, Iraq and Chicago. I will post more as I read more.

Now, I've said it time and again that the only force capable of organizing resistance to these attacks are the teacher unions. And they've punted.

Why does the UFT go along with the people who have been aiming the blame darts at the very people the UFT is supposed to represent? There are a few explanations, which we'll get into another time in depth. But for now I will list two reasons: 1) the UFT basically agrees with neoliberalism and 2) what I often refer to as the "Vichy mentality" - if we don't cooperate with the Nazis they will destroy all of France, especially Paris, so we cooperate with the idea of preserving what we can." I am not equating this to cooperating with Nazis, but as a way of thinking the UFT engages in. For a while they called it the New Unionism - we'll cooperate with management - or Randi's favorite word, "collaboration." Pretty interesting since collaborators in WWII got their hair sheared off - or worse.

Here is the letter from teacher (T) to Randi, who forwarded it to Mulgrew, followed by Mulgrew's response, followed by an excellent post by Marjorie Stamberg.


I was wondering why the UFT is collaborating with the Bill Gates foundation in collecting data on how to establish an effective teacher. Over the past few years all in the name of educational reform, Bill Gates has undermined public education by opening up charter schools, he even went as far as opening up charter schools in public school spaces essentially taking over the school and displacing public school teachers. So with the growing number of schools being closed and then reorganized and ATR and senior teachers being harassed, it's no wonder why a growing number of teachers are becoming disenfranchised and only see our union as a dues collecting machine.

There are many good reasons but I have referred your email to the new President, Michael Mulgrew. -Randi

Mulgrew response:
Thank you for sending your concerns. As you have so rightly stated public education is under attack but more importantly to me our profession is under attack. The research project that we are entering into is one that starts and ends inside of the classroom. Almost all of the "reform" ideas that are being discussed both here in NYC and nationally are ideas that are brought from people who are outside of the classroom. I felt it was imperative that we engage in research that truly looked at what happens inside of a classroom and worked with teachers as the main part of the research. It is a way that allows us to control what happens in our profession instead of waiting for those on the outside to pound us with their ideas when they have never walked in our shoes. As for the Gates foundation they are funding the project but please don't confuse them with chancellor. When Gates finished the small school project they determined that it was not a success and that curriculum and school supports were more important than a school structure which was very ethical considering that the small school movement originated with them.

Thanks again,
Marjorie Stamberg lays out the position many of us are taking:
Greasing the skids: UFT participation in a teacher evaluation studyMarjorie Stamberg to ICE-Mail listserve:

Any "teacher measurement project" funded by the Gates foundation should start ringing alarm bells. What on earth is the UFT doing participating in this "study," as UFT president Mike Mulgrew just announced?

The UFT's "participation" reminds me of the" time-motion" study guy coming to the factory assembly line, and you're asked to help him out as he measures arm movements and clocks your bathroom breaks so they can use it for speed-up. No way.

What makes an effective teacher? We do not accept the premise that individually evaluating teachers' "techniques" is relevant to improving education. The whole emphasis on "teacher evaluation", tied to students' test scores, is part of the corporatization of American education.

The UFT Teachers Center is an excellent resource that works with teachers to be more effective in the classroom. They do some excellent PD, workshops, cooperative modeling and team-teaching. This is NOT what the Gates foundation study is about.

We need good professional development, and we are committed to teachers' lifelong learning, and use of the most modern technology and methodology in the classroom. But that is very different from what is going on here.

The education "business" aims to "cut costs" in the classroom. Beginning in the 1980s, nationwide the education budget as a percentage of the GNP was sharply reduced. These corporate chiefs wanted to get more bang for their buck. This means attacks on teacher tenure, getting rid of senior teachers to drive salaries down to the level of teaching fellows. It means, not "spending time" in the classroom on enrichment activities, on general topics, reading, discussion that goes anywhere except how to pass standardized tests so kids can be useful for the employers. Now, it means the proliferation of charter schools which by getting rid of union contracts sharply increase teacher time, and regulated salary increases.

How do you "measure" a good science teacher? I've seen superb science teachers teaching high school kids in the Bronx, without a science lab, without the most minimal equipment, standing up on a chair in the hallway and dropping a ball to demonstrate gravity! If you want to measure what makes a good science teacher, how about giving him or her a decent science lab and then comparing the results before and after? If you want to help kids learn, have decent equipment in every high school, smart boards in every classroom, give every student access to computers that don't belong in a junkyards.

Coming from Mike Mulgrew, as with Randi, this offer to "collaborate" on a "teacher measurement" paid survey is typical of how they now operate. Instead of just saying "no", and opposing something outright, they cooperate with it and try to "make the best of a bad situation." Then we're stuck with the bad situation, and they say, "Well, it could have been worse."

The same thing happened when seniority transfers was given up in 2005. Instead of holding on, they traded it for a raise and the result ...... up to 2,000 teachers now in the Absent Teacher Reserve.

The answer is a union leadership that demands massive new investment in school facilities, training, and resources. Can't do it because of the economic crisis? Wrong, this is exactly when they ought to be investing. They find trillions to "rescue" the banks. Right now, a quarter of NYC schools don't have gyms, and 70 percent don't meet state requirements for hours of physical education' Of all schools in the Bronx, 22 percent don't have outdoor physical education activities at all?

Where are the art and music teachers? In the ATR pool or on the unemployment line.

The Labor Notes article on organizing charters in Chicago posted on Norms Notes.


  1. Hi Norm,

    I am no fan of Gates, and I’m deeply fearful of neoliberalism, but at risk of incurring your everlasting wrath, I think the UFT is right on this one. The teacher measurement & accountability issue is a train coming down the track, and I don't think laying our bodies down in front of it is a realistic option, because we WILL get run over. Make no mistake about that. The (misinformed) public is clamoring for measures of teacher effects, and if we don’t do it, it will be done to us. No, I think we need to climb on board this train and take over the controls.

    I actually believe that this could be a positive event because, if it’s done right, it will demonstrate to the public the complex and demanding work teachers do every day under incredibly adverse conditions. It’s going to demonstrate to a public demanding “results” that there are no quick fixes or silver bullets. If that message gets across, I would consider it a victory. And it will be a way of educating the public! What a great role for teachers! Of course, the “if it’s done right” is a big if, but if teachers are not at the table involved in the design, it will most definitely be wrong.

    If there is a mistake in what the UFT has done it’s that they only committed Gates to a 2 year project. What they SHOULD have done is told Gate this is not just a 2 year project, because you are not going to come close to scratching the surface in figuring out what good teachers do in 2 years. It’s not even a 5 or 10 or 20 year project, but really it’s a vast undertaking. So they should have told Gates we’ll go with you, but only if Gates is committed for the long haul, and only if they’re not going to pull out when they don’t get quick easy answers.

    Let’s not get sidetracked by the fact that all measurement of teacher effects to date have been done using stupid NCLB-mandated state tests. Let’s open up the discussion of what should be measured, and how. Let’s engage parents. How do they think their children’s intellectual and emotional growth should be measured? I’ll bet my bottom dollar they won’t say using dumbed down bubble sheet exams.

    The big problem with the neoliberal agenda when it comes to education is that it wants accountability on the cheap, so it reaches for the cheapest mass-produced measure of student outcomes it can find. Parents don’t want that, the public doesn’t want it, even Obama has said he doesn’t want it. So let’s get the debate started: what should we be measuring?

    The real danger as I see it is that Gates will be pushing for quick, easy answers, using standardized tests and whatnot. Teachers need to be at the table and push back hard against that, because if they are not there doing it, it will get done without them.

    Maybe I’m an optimist, but I think there is a way to take over control of the accountability train and steer it in a different direction. Every sensible person knows that teaching is a complex art and that teachers’ work is incredibly demanding. I think this is a way to show that to the other senseless half of the American population. At the very least, it will show the Arne Duncans of the world that measuring teacher effects with stupid standardized annual state exams is about the most idiotic thing we could do.

  2. ICE must think that absolutely nothing could be done better. Things should be stagnant and never change. The classroom should be exactly the same as it was 30 years ago. It doesn't matter that the world has changed.

    I agree that external forces that do not have an educator's background should keep their theories to themselves. It should never be forced into a classroom. That said, why is their immediate reaction to condemn when there's a new initiative that wants input from real teachers?

    I don't see solutions here, only criticism. I don't see potential ideas, only denouncement. All too typical of ICE.

  3. Melody
    I appreciate your thoughtful response, as opposed to the attack on ICE by a Unity slug. But I'll deal with that in a minute.

    First of all, the train has already run us over and the more we capitulate the worse it gets.

    What I think you are missing is that Gates is a leader of the neoliberal assault, not a follower. He has an agenda and I will bet my pension that agenda is not in the interests of teachers or students or parents.

    We know as Marjorie has said that measuring teachers can be impossible - and again I stress - WHY all this measurement of teachers and not other fields - like cops and doctors who can actually kill people?

    We have heard GAtes and so many others - including the Unity/UFT leadership - that a quality teacher is the most important factor.

    We reject that notion and all the crap going on about removing bad teachers when we full well know for all the teachers removed - and enough for nebulous reasons to place doubt on the process - there will be as many replacements with problems too - and people with little experience added to it. Check the dropout rate for TFA and TF in the first year. I bet it is beyond the % of teachers one would identify as poor.

    When you say "The big problem with the neoliberal agenda when it comes to education is that it wants accountability on the cheap" I think you are giving the neoliberals too much credit. They don't really care about accountability but are using it to undermine teachers and their unions.

    Their real goal is a free market where unions don't exist and every teacher is a free agent to bargain with as they do in charter schools. Then they can run school systems on the cheap and for their profit- longer days and maybe even lower class sizes - which they don't want to pay for in public schools but will be able to afford in a privatized low wage teacher as commodity school system.

    What we are asking the union to do is to create resistance and format a vision of true progressive reform and use its resources to organize and fight for it. You can't haev that by playing in their playpen on Mon, Wed and Thurs and putting up a tepid battle on alternate days.

    I'll get to Unity slug in the next response.

  4. It's pretty ironic to have Unity slugs call Ed Notes and ICE status quoers when some of us have been in the forefront of progressive ed reform for 40 years, often fighting against the slugs running the UFT.

    We haev called for real teacher power in the schools and the classroom, which you have allowed to deteriorate from even the low level they existed. Teacher powere would bring real reform for the classroom,

    Ed Notes has clalled for non-graded classrooms with teams of teachers and children not measured by standardized tests other than occasionally. We have called for no kids to be left back but instead to do what is necessary to fix their academic problems no matter the cost. You on the other hand stay silent and do no organizing to demand schools get the same bailout as Bear Sterns. Did any of the stimulus money go to drastic resuxtions in class size - anywhere? as an experiemnt even to compare to Obama's call for charters and firing lots of teachers as the solution? You, the one voice that could have made that point?

    ICE and Ed Notes has called for assistant teachers so new teachers are not thrown to the lions. Check out any private school in NYC and see if they allow newbies alone in the classroom.

    I find it interesting in that in the 45 years you have run the union, there is little real change in the classroom- see 34 in a class in high schools - and need I remind you it is you that have the power, not ICE.

    Why do we criticize everything you do? Because you are not to be trusted as anything more than a Potemkin village phony union front.

  5. Norm, I find it funny that you blame me for the last 45 years when I'm a few years away from that age. Also I think it's funny that you assume I stay silent when I'm as quick to check the DOE, private entities, politicians, and the media, as I am to check you when I smell dung being peddled.

    Your assumptions are ridiculous.

    But that's always been your problem Norm, you paint such broad strokes. What about shades of gray? When did it become if you're not with ICE then you're against it? ICE vs. Unity, blah, blah, blah. Maybe you should come to the realization that most people are somewhere in between.

    And seriously, when's the last time you stood in front of a group of 30 kids? Tried to teach a lesson to this new generation with the myriad of issues they face in daily life? And when's the last time you hung out in a teachers lounge filled with 15 people in their 1st through 5th years aged 22-27 and heard their conversations and concerns?

    Another tip chum, as it seems you've long lost touch with the new generation of educators, when you start throwing out labels like "neoliberalism" your psycho-babble turns people off (haven't you witnessed that from Angel's shtick?). Again, lay off of the broad strokes and assumptions.

    No need to thank me, I educate.

  6. Wow, we are getting touchy aren't we? It's a broad "Unity" you, not you you. I can blame you for partaking defending the policies that have caused ruin to public education, teacher rights, etc.

    Now I did spend 30 years in the classroom, more I bet than almost anyone in the Unity full-time patronage machine.

    The number of teacher blogs from experienced teachers still in front of kids that slam you every day is not an accident.

    And Angels's schtick seems to be playing very well as he tells of the FMPR in PR which had the sense to leave the AFT before you could do to them like you did to Portland Or.

    Your comments are ironic since I received this email at about the same time:

    "Norm. I'm wondering if you have a moment either tonight or tomorrow (I know it's Labor Day, so please don't feel obligated) to get some advice about the situation at our school."

    From a 2nd year chapter leader who is in the twenties. Notice how there is no call to the union.

    Or the twenty something Unity Caucus member denied tenure who called for help. How many think the union is totally useless? We have to explain there is potential if they get involved.

    Or the numbers of twenty something people who are attending various events ICE and GEM and Teachers Unite and NYCORE are sponsoring.

    Or the ICE supporter chapter leader who just got elected with the support of all the 20 somethings in his school after being opposed by the principal and the retiring CL while the UFT Dist rep played kissy face with the principal.

    Or how many young people are plugging into the neo-liberal concept since they have friends in Chicago and LA. Check attendance at any Naomi Klein event.

    Oh, there's trouble in river city all right. Keep collaborating. There's really nothing much else you can do. Eventually, the UFT will be hemmoraging members to charters like happened in Chicago.

    And by the way, will you guys be at the rallies at PS 123 opposing Eva's takeover of public schools? Oh, I almost forgot. You did the same undermining two public schools with the UFT charters. So I guess it won't be easy to take a stand there.

  7. Anon., where you say: "I agree that external forces that do not have an educator's background should keep their theories to themselves" — that would have to include non-educator lawyers like Randi Weingarten, who should have always kept her collaborative inclinations to herself.

    Her job was to recognize when every one of those "ed deform" initiatives came our way, then defend against them. But, she was ever the outsider on real teacher issues, blinded by a very misguided need to be play nice with these people.

    In an attempt not to paint "broad strokes," I will be very specific.

    Weingarten did not defend against these ed reform campaigns that have changed the very nature of our profession:

    — the weakening of classroom autonomy and the de-skilling of educators (both well underway before Klein, now thoroughly installed),
    — one-size-fits-all methodologies and PD (stone silence on that one)
    — teaching to the test (Weingarten actually liked it when test scores went up and said so publicly),
    — school report cards (she never denounced them for the PR stunt they always were)
    — DoE lawbreaking to save costs that could hurt teachers (like special ed, when she asked teachers to go out on a limb and report violations on their own — get real!; or state graduation mandates for the arts etc. waived by the DoE, inexcusably bad for kids and leading to lost teacher positions as well)
    — intimidation (now rampant, and made worse by a gutted grievance procedure),
    — ATR debacle (she helped create that one, and sabotaged a protest or two against it)
    — TRCs abuses (what the heck?!)
    — disingenuous surveys put out by the DoE (the parents exposed the version they got as fake, Weingarten called them "an important first step" to improve education. What was she on? ).

    Mulgrew was in the trenches. I'm hoping in the face of absolutely NO evidence that things will be running any differently that they maybe could.

  8. Grave concerns have also been expressed about the influence of the Gates Foundation in the field of world health. The ways in which they meddle in any arena seem to produce many alarming parallels.

    According to the report cited above, the Gates Foundation has directly told people working in world health that they are, indeed, looking for a magic bullet. Since the Foundation is family-run, this is quite revealing of their own peculiar mentality about solving serious, long-standing human problems.

  9. Re: the train analogy... In general, ICE and other opposition groups advocate fighting, which I would argue is the opposite of laying bodies down in front of an oncoming train.

    It should be obvious to EVERYONE that there are massive problems with our union participating in a study funded by the Gates Foundation. The UFT’s position should be that, for a myriad of obvious reasons, we should not be using ANY student data to measure teachers. And once again, not only has the leadership capitulated to the idea of these measurements, but they are actively supporting the Gates Foundation's CONTROL of the measurement system!

    It is extremely naïve to think that teachers will be allowed in ANY way to influence the results of a study sponsored by a private company with a vested interest in the privatization of education. If you read Mulgrew's letter carefully, the "participation" he asks from teachers amounts to nothing more than allowing them to be the subjects of the study. Nowhere does he mention any kind of input from the participating teachers. Instead, "Gates-funded researchers" will be "collect[ing] information about their teaching from a broad variety of sources." It seems, from this letter, that the teachers and the UFT leadership will have zero control over how students will be tested, let alone how the results are used – and the UFT leadership is perfectly fine with that.

    Clearly, the main purpose of this study is to deal with the revealing fact that the majority of students in charter schools are performing equal to or worse than other New York City public school students on standardized tests. This must be humiliating for the privatization effort, because they are part of the same agenda that touts these tests as accurate measures of student achievement. If not for this fact, if kids in charters were doing as well or better than kids in other schools, you can bet that the Gates Foundation would be holding up the results of the ridiculous standardized tests we have now as "proof" that their schools (and their teachers) work better, and they would have no reason to even consider alternative methods of measuring teacher ability. Instead of exposing the charter school scam and supporting its own teachers, the UFT leadership embraces it.

    I am not the tiniest bit surprised that the Unity caucus came on here and implied that their opposition is just a small group of petty teachers. Their goal is to make those who demand that they actually [gasp!] defend the membership feel that they are small in number and isolated. Ignore this particular tactic of theirs. It’s old, tired, and smacks of desperation… they know they’re fooling fewer and fewer people every day.

  10. Anonymous wrote: "It is extremely naïve to think that teachers will be allowed in ANY way to influence the results of a study ..."

    Point taken. If this is a study that just treats teachers like rats in a maze with no control or input on substance or content, then it's just ... well, I can't find the right family-friendly word to appropriately express my disgust. Please pardon me for trying to reach for some hope. Why on earth would a union leader sign on to that?

  11. "Why on earth would a union leader sign on to that?"

    The short answer is that they are also neoliberals.


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