Friday, April 6, 2018

Danielson Rubric Update: Erik Mears Open Letter to Howard Schoor

Erik Mears from MORE has taken on issues related to Danielson. He appeared at a UFT Ex Bd meeting last month to raise a few of the issues he is concerned with. The UFT's Howard Schoor responded at a recent meeting and here Eric pursues the story.

Open Letter to UFT Secretary Howard Schoor (regarding Danielson Rubric)

Dear Mr. Howard Schoor,

You’ll recall that I addressed you and other UFT leaders at the High School Executive Board meeting in early March. I urged you, in light of four of the Danielson Rubric’s anti-labor sample comments, to demand that the DOE the discard Danielson and repair any damage that illegitimate portions of the Framework has done to teachers. You responded (via email) by noting that only one of the four comments corresponds to an element that teachers are currently evaluated on, and that that comment merely encourages administrators to violate the law in letter, but not in spirit. You added that if principals do follow the letter of the comment, teachers will have legal recourse, and the UFT will fight to defend them.

Your counterpoints, however, do not capture the full context. I shall thus elaborate the following points, to paint a clearer picture of why we need to end Danielson and right the wrongs that it has done to UFT members:

1) The DOE used all of Danielson in the 2013-14 school year, and may use the most noxious parts again, if the Framework is retained; 2) Danielson’s language is a gift for cynical principals who wish to abuse teachers; 3) The UFT contradicts itself by vowing to fight those labor violations that Danielson encourages, and meanwhile approving of Danielson itself; and 4) Any document that encourages administrators to degrade teachers’ dignity and encourage labor law violations must be discarded.

Recall the four sample comments that I spoke of in March:

One assigned a “Developing” rating to a teacher for failing to be suspicious of a colleague’s sick day use. Another gave a Developing to a teacher for being inadequately enthusiastic about the extra work that he did. Another rated a teacher Developing for failing to do extra work. A fourth deemed a teacher “Developing” for his lack of certainty that his principal’s post-observation suggestions were accurate. As you noted, only this last comment falls under 4E, under which NYC teachers are currently graded.
Point one: Thousands of NYC teachers have been evaluated by all of Danielson. In the DOE’s first year of using Danielson (2013-14), we used the whole rubric. Thereafter, we shifted to using only certain portions of it. But neither the DOE nor the UFT has denounced any labor-hostile language in the document. Vigilant critics of Danielson must therefore assume, as I do, that our partial of the rubric could be temporary – since neither the DOE nor the UFT have repudiated any parts of it.

What will the UFT do for the thousands of teachers - some of whom have been fired or denied tenure - who were evaluated in 2013-14 under competencies where Danielson encouraged abuse? Will the UFT repudiate sections 4D and 4F of the rubric? Will it at least take a position on whether the three comments from 4D and 4F that I criticized encourage abuse?

Point two:
Danielson is a gift to corrupt principals. Although you are correct that Danielson comments do not compel principals to abuse teachers, they can empower cynical principals.

Indeed, the abuses that the four sample comments encourage are already widespread: Many NYC principals do expect teachers to follow their feedback, 100% to the letter, regardless of whether it is sensible. Many lie to teachers about their sick day rights. Many use teachers as de facto spies against their colleagues. And many manipulate teachers into doing extra work. Principals did all of this before Danielson, and will do so long after we abandon it.

But under Danielson, more principals will commit more abuses than otherwise – since increased abuse is a predictable consequence of using a rubric that encourages abuse.

Consider this hypothetical:
If in 2013, Principal A gave Teacher B a “Developing” for failing to provide extra labor, the same principal has likely continued to demand extra work from teachers ever since then - even though we only use 4E now. For Principal A should know that she can use Danielson’s language to “play dumb” when she commits labor violations. She simply needs to point to Danielson and claim that she infers some labor law from the Framework. How, after all, could she have known that you cannot punish a teacher for failing to work after school? Danielson, which the DOE (and the UFT) says is a legal document, implies that you can, and she will use this argument if she is shrewd.

Principal A, moreover, need not even “play dumb;” she can just be dumb, as I daresay, too many NYC administrators are. She may, in other words, truly believe that she can legally punish teachers for not working after hours because of her experience with Danielson– and Danielson compounds this problem by giving her a legal “framework” to plead innocence.

Point three:
Danielson compromises the UFT’s ability to fight abuses.

By approving of Danielson, the UFT is implicitly agreeing that principals may punish teachers for their opinions, their unwillingness to perform extra work, and their lack of treachery.
That logically follows from the union’s unqualified endorsement of a Framework with labor-hostile language. The UFT hence contradicts itself when it claims that Danielson itself is kosher, but that some of the labor abuses that it encourages are not. To avoid this contradiction, the UFT would have to make clear which portions of Danielson are illegitimate or illegal – which it has not done and seems unwilling to do.

You implied that this contradiction is irrelevant when you assured me (via email) that if DOE principals violate labor law, UFT members may take legal recourse, no matter what Danielson says. Perhaps. But many teachers are already afraid to assert their rights. The fact that Danielson implies that some legal rights do not matter, may cow many teachers into submission, even when their instincts tell them that their bosses are breaking the law.

Danielson’s language, because the DOE and UFT implicitly approve it, ultimately makes it more difficult for teachers to assert their rights, and for the UFT to defend them.

Point four:
Danielson is an anti-labor document. The four comments that I’ve criticized may represent a small portion of Danielson; but they encourage blatant abuses, and in turn, mark Danielson as an irredeemable document. The comments make clear that Danielson empowers principals to encourage treachery, extract free labor, and demand ideological subservience from their teachers. For this reason alone, no self-respecting union would sign on to the Framework. As seen above, moreover, thousands of active (and fired or discontinued) NYC teachers have already been affected by the whole rubric. But even if they hadn’t been, every teacher who is governed by Danielson now, is perforce humiliated by it. And so is our union.

Mr. Schoor, I admire you and our union’s key leaders. You perform an extraordinarily complex job, in the public eye, against many powerful enemies. I also understand the logistical problems that disentangling ourselves from Danielson will create - and how such problems might prompt you to err towards keeping Danielson, despite its flaws.

But consider whether in dismissing my concerns in March, you were acting too much as a defender of what the UFT has already done, and not enough as a true defender of workers’ rights. Whether we use part of it or all of it, the Danielson Framework compromises the UFT’s integrity, provides a gift to cynical principals, and uses language to humiliate and oppress teachers. Please stand up for tens of thousands of DOE teachers who detest Danielson – and demand that the DOE discard it and repair any damage that its illegitimate portions have done to our members.

In solidarity,
Erik Mears


  1. OUTSTANDING! Danielson needs to go. Tenured teachers should have 2 observations like our counterparts throughout the rest of New York State. We need to put the feet to the fire of the UFT to get this done!!!

  2. Danielson is just another means to infantilize teachers and demean them in the public eye. There are many more. Listen to "The Teachers' Revolt" podcast from Open Source with Christopher Lydon (posted on Stitcher and iTunes 4/5). Connect the dots to the wider problems, especially the politicians who have thrown us under the bus. Indeed time to light the fire; Danielson needs to go!

  3. Thank you for your work. We need more teachers to sign the petition against Danielson.

  4. It has not only become a vehicle of abuse for cynical principals, but for their assistant principals who receive their ratings from them as well, and they too are not protected by their own CSA union. Additionally, the evaluation process and language is flawed, as well. Advance FAQs (which by the way can no longer be found on the internet) states, "During both the formal and informal evaluative observations, no more than one Evaluator and two-school based observers may be present. The Evaluator is solely responsible for completing the Evaluator Form." Well the language in those directives are currently enabling administrators to "target" their teachers as well. There's nothing in there to prevent the "3" from "DISCUSSING!!!" Therefore, the observation isn't actually being performed by "1," but rather, by many, and in some cases, even when the Principal isn't there, he/she somehow becomes the final word on what the teacher deserves for their evaluation, even when they aren't actually "PRESENT" for the observation. Furthermore, what the Advance Guide should actually state is, "There is only "1" Evaluator, however, multiple observers (3...) may observe. When more than "1" Evaluator is in the room, an official observation cannot be conducted for a single teacher. In the case of a Team-Taught pair, the expectation is that both teachers will be observed, on the same day, by their AP's, to minimize the potential excessive observations from occurring, as in their case, it could result as many as 8 times, if the AP comes in to see only "1" teacher, however, both teachers are still technically being seen. For that matter, in the case of high schools, with multiple AP's, it should be mandated that only content AP's can observe their people in their department, rather than it being a free-for all, with inept people just doing the principal's bidding!


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