Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Tiny Norm Sound Bite: Obama Gets Tough on Teachers – What Does That Mean for NYC?

I spoke to Beth Fertig for about 10 minutes and chewed her ear off and about 5 seconds got used in this story. (David Bellel sent me the audio but I am not sure how to upload it.)

She didn't exactly use what I would have chosen, but I appreciate her effort to tell this story. What I stressed was the absurdity of trying to measure teachers, considering how almost no other job is being measured: cops (# of arrests?), firemen (volume of water out of the hose), reporters (# of words written or spoken), politicians (least amount of money stolen or wives cheated on. )

Her report talks about the 43% raise teachers got under Bloomberg, but I pointed out that a chunk of that is for a longer work day and not really a raise.

When she asked about the state law barring test scores for being used for granting tenure and how outraged Joel Klein was I pointed out that the law was irrelevant and everyone (but the press) understands that since non-tenured teachers can be fired if the principal doesn't like the way they cut their hair. This didn't make the cut.

By the way, when Obama talks about the firewall separating teacher evaluation from student results, how about his own performance so far? Mr. Obama, tear down that (fire) wall!!

Obama Gets Tough on Teachers – What Does That Mean for NYC?
NEW YORK, NY November 05, 2009 —President Obama is praising Wisconsin for changing its law to allow student achievement to be used to evaluate teachers. The president visited Madison, Wisconsin yesterday, to promote his Race-to-the-Top fund which will award over $4-billion in total to states in exchange for reforms. As WNYC’s Beth Fertig reports, that puts pressure on New York, just as the city and the teachers union are negotiating a new contract.

REPORTER: Schools Chancellor Joel Klein talks often about the importance of getting better quality teachers.

KLEIN: President Obama himself has pointed out time and again it’s not race, it’s not poverty, it’s not zip code, it’s the teachers you’re getting that’s going to determine the quality of your education and we’ve got to get right on that in America.

REPORTER: Klein was furious last year when the state legislature passed a law preventing student test scores from being used to determine teacher tenure. And that law has come under renewed scrutiny now that the Obama administration is tying billions of dollars in education grants to specific reforms.

Obama didn’t mention New York in his visit to Wisconsin yesterday. But he alluded to states with so-called firewall laws.

OBAMA: Now here’s what a firewall is. It basically says that you can’t factor in the performance of students when you’re evaluating teachers. That is not a good message in terms of accountability.

REPORTER: Obama went on to praise Wisconsin and California for changing their laws. He also singled New Haven, which negotiated a new contract with its union that uses student performance in part to evaluate teachers.

The chancellor of New York’s board of regents believe the state will be elligible for the extra $4 billion in grants, because the law against using data to determine tenure sunsets in June. But with the city negotiating a new contract with the teachers union, some say this is a prime opportunity to look at new ways of evaluating teachers.

WILLIAMS: What the president has done is raise the bar in terms of expectations for mayors and school boards around the country about what it takes to negotiate reform minded contracts.

REPORTER: Joe Williams is executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform. He says one weakness in New York City’s contract with the teachers union is the rating system. A teacher can only be given a satisfactory or unsatisfactory rating.

WILLIAMS: If we want to have a system that’s filled with excellent teachers it would be nice to have a designation for excellent teachers. Right now the best we can hope for is satisfactory. I have my own kids in the system, it would be nice to know they have better than satisfactory teachers that are in there.

REPORTER: But city teachers don’t trust principles to rate them and they think the mayor puts too much stock in test scores. Some think their union has already bent over backwards to cooperate.

The United Federation of Teachers is working with the Gates Foundation to study what makes an effective teacher. Volunteers will be video taped and surveyed, and test scores will also be taken into account.

Norm Scott is a retired teacher who runs an opposition faction within the United Federation of Teachers. he says the union has compromised in other ways:

SCOTT: They’ve proven it by merit pay. They’re opposed to individual merit pay but they put the foot halfway in door by allowing for schools to be judged by merit pay.

REPORTER: And the union won a 43 percent raise over Bloomberg’s tenure in exchange for a longer work week. The UFT notably stayed out of this year’s mayoral race by not endorsing Bloomberg’s Democratic opponent.

That might make it difficult for the mayor to get too demanding in the next contract - especially when a $5 billion deficit prevents the city from offering teachers any sweeteners. Which is why instead of measuring effectiveness, the mayor might focus on something else: namely, the so-called absent teacher reserve.

More than a thousand unassigned teachers are still on the city’s payroll as subs because they lost their positions and other principals won’t hire them. The chancellor has called for a time limit to hire these teachers, to weed out the bad ones, but the union says there are also many good teachers in the pool.

For WNYC I’m Beth Fertig.

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