Tuesday, April 24, 2012

GEM Teacher Evaluation Forum: Arthur Goldstein

I'm posting individual videos from the April 17, 2012 teacher evaluation forum sponsored by GEM, Class Size Matters and Parents Across America.

Arthur Goldstein, chapter leader of Francis Lewis HS could not attend the forum due to a death in his family. Moderator Julie Cavanagh reads his powerful statement written in his inimical style. Also at: http://vimeo.com/40740344.

GEM Teacher Evaluation Forum Arthur Goldstein Statement from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.

There are certainly problems with evaluation systems. But I didn’t realize there was a crisis until recently. Apparently, we are overrun by bad teachers. They are everywhere. From what I see in the papers, they’re an epidemic, a plague of zombies, and they must be rooted out and eliminated by any means necessary. 

We teachers see other problems. All due respect, some supervisors are nuts. In New York City there is a Leadership Academy spitting out corporate style principals, with no background in education or teaching. One of them U-rated my friend a few times for the egregious offense of being a chapter leader. He had to go to court to get one reversed. Another is torturing a close friend of mine even as we speak, for the unpardonable offense of getting a grant for the school without first consulting leadership.

Unfortunately, I doubt that Gates, Broad, Rhee, the Walmarts and the other “reformers” pushing evaluation are remotely concerned about supervisors. Their eye is on this bad teacher/ zombie plague the Post is always writing about. The only cure, evidently, is to allow Governor Andrew Cuomo to advocate for students, because parents, teachers, and principals are all out for themselves. Only he advocates for children, just as only Joel Klein puts children first, and only Michelle Rhee puts students first. 

We are to conclude adults, especially activist parents, unionized teachers, and uppity principals, are bad, children are good, and we must protect children by any means necessary. Until they grow up, of course, and then they can be fired for no reason, enjoy the reduced pensions Governor Cuomo pushed through the legislature, and pay in other ways for the millionaire’s tax the governor took a “principled” stand against.  Though it’s kind of odd, as Tony Avella just wrote, children’s advocate Andrew Cuomo just killed 5000 bucks for Bayside Little League while giving Black Rock, the world’s largest investment manager, a 5 million dollar tax break. I’m sure he’ll explain how that helps children any moment now.
Meanwhile, the only way to fix the plague of bad teachers, according to Governor Cuomo, the only person in the world who can possibly advocate for students, is to judge all teachers by the scores of their students. No excuses. 

Most of my students come from China. Governor Cuomo has had it with lazy teachers like me complaining my students won’t instantly pass standardized tests simply because they don’t speak English. He’s had it with whiners like me saying it takes years to learn a language, and that all available research says you cannot just show up with no English and pass tests like the English Regents exam, without which my kids cannot graduate high school. And no, my students can’t take an exam designed for English language learners, whose needs are very different from those of us who were born here. Differentiating instruction is strictly for teachers, not student advocates. No excuses.

My school, which I would call one of the best in the city by any standard, is a community. We work together. In February, of my students stopped showing up three days before the President’s week break. I thought about calling her house, but every time I’d done so before her mom had said she was sick. By the third day, I figured they’d gone on an extended vacation.

When she didn’t come back after the break, I called. Mom wanted to change her to another school. I called the guidance counselor, who called mom into the school. That Wednesday, the girl thanked me for calling her mom. She was happy to be back in school. One of my colleagues set her up to get tutoring in math.

Under Governor Cuomo’s bold new paradigm, I’d hesitate before picking up a phone. I’d have to consider whether or not she would bring my grades down. Would she be absent from the test that determined my future? How would that affect my value-added?  Would she show up and get a low grade due to her absences? Would this get my name splashed on the NY Post as worst teacher in the world? Would reporters camp out on my doorstep to make sure my neighbors know? How would that impact our next block party?

My friend, a math teacher, was sitting with a young woman who was trying to edit a college application essay. She asked me to help. I sat for 45 minutes and went over every word. Why shouldn’t I help this girl if I can? 

Under Governor Cuomo’s plan, things would be very different.

We’d be spending every spare minute of our lives trying to increase the do or die test scores of our students. Not someone else’s. Why would we tutor other teacher’s students when we could be spending time with our own? After all, our jobs would be on the line here. If those scores don’t go up, we go out and sell pencils on the corner.

Another small problem is everything I read suggests that value-added has no value whatsoever. My friend scored 6 one year, 96 the next. He did not actually become an excellent teacher from one year to the next. He is very smart, a published author, who I’m confident is always an excellent teacher.

I don’t really think the bad teacher epidemic exists. Even if it did, this would not be the way to go. If the evaluation crisis existed, adding junk science to the mix would not improve it. How many principals, in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, will stand up and say, yes this value added stuff looks bad, but I’m keeping that teacher? What will the New York Post say about that principal, that school, that teacher?

No teacher should be in the paper tarred by junk science grades, or even praised by them. 

No teacher should be afraid to leave her house based on the nonsense the tabloids wrote about her. The notion of sharing invalid nonsensical junk science grades with parents rather than the tabloids is also unacceptable. Supervisors will likely spend all their time dealing with pointless transfer requests, and have no time to help teachers who really need support.
This system, like the small schools movement Gates initiated and backed away from, like the school closings that resulted from it, like the mythical charter schools that will save the world, like the notion that hedge fund billionaires care about our children rather than dismantling union, is absurd nonsense.

It’s our job to let people know, and make this ridiculous and baseless plan is treated as such. It’s our job to be role models, to have standards, and to check things before inflicting them on students and teachers. The state’s approach, doing whatever Bill Gates says to do without regard to consequence and hoping for the best, is less than optimal. Change for the sake of change is not the way to go. We need either to test first, and by all I’ve seen value-added is an epic fail, or emulate systems that actually work, like the one in Finland.

Odd that such things do not cross the minds of anyone in Albany or Tweed, but that’s what happens when you exclude educators, parents and communities from the business of education.

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