The national education debate has centered on how to increase “teacher quality.” New York City Chancellor Cathie Black, for example, has called for first laying off teachers who were given “unsatisfactory” (U) ratings (along with those in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool). But there are more than a few cases in New York City that make clear that U-ratings are not always an indication of teacher quality, but sometimes are a result of retaliation against whistle-blowers and union activists.
The recent disciplining of Fordham School of the Arts principal Iris Blige for ordering her assistant principals to U-rate teachers whom she had never seen teach reveals a few important things about the DOE’s process of determining merit. First, U ratings can be arbitrarily ordered by a principal. Second, the penalty from the DOE for doing so is a slap on the wrist — a $7,500 fine for Blige, the same amount charged to teachers who used sick days when they were actually on vacation.
I was unfortunate enough to have witnessed this process firsthand at the Bronx High School of Science. In the fall of 2007, the math department welcomed a new assistant principal, Rosemarie Jahoda. Soon, however, we found that the newer teachers in the department were being subjected to a level of scrutiny and paperwork that was excessive. As soon as I spoke up about the issue, which was my responsibility as a member of a UFT consultation committee that met with the principal, I immediately began receiving unjustified disciplinary letters. These were quickly followed by groundless unsatisfactory lesson observation reports. I had had a spotless teaching record for my entire previous career, including at Bronx Science.
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