With Governor Cuomo’s damaging education proposals in the open, it is incredibly important that parents become informed about what he intends and stand up to defend their children’s schools. The text below is a slightly modified version of a letter I have sent to the heads of the PTA in my children’s schools in New York City. In it, I lay out a brief summary of the Governor’s proposals, why it will harm our schools, and urge the PTA to take action to education our parent population about what is going on.
I invite anyone to use the bulk of the text to write your own PTA letters:
My child attends P.S. ***, and I am writing about an issue that I believe is of urgent importance for all parents of public school students in New York State.
Governor Cuomo delivered his State of the State address this week. As you probably know, he plans many changes to education, including dramatic changes to the ways teachers are evaluated. It is my belief as a lifelong educator with 21 years teaching experience from 7th grade to higher education and as a scholar of education practice and policy that Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation proposals are not merely ill advised; they are abjectly dangerous to the quality of education in every school in the state.
The Governor is proposing that the portion of teacher evaluations tied to student performance on standardized test scores be raised from 20% to 50%. He further proposes that the remaining 50% be based upon two observations, one conducted by a local administrator for 15% and the other conducted by an approved outside observer for 35%. The Governor also wants any teacher found “ineffective” on either measure to be unable to be rated as higher than “developing”.
The test score component is problematic for several reasons. First, it is based upon value-added modeling (VAM) which predicts student annual gains on tests and rates a teacher based on whether students met, exceeded, or fell below the prediction. VAMs, however, are both unreliable and unstable. The American Statistical Association is so concerned about the use of VAMs in teacher evaluation that they issued a statement last year warning that they do a very poor job capturing teacher input in student learning and should not be used. VAMs are also unstable, and teachers whose VAM ratings place them in the top quintile in one year can be ranked much lower subsequently which further demonstrates how poorly they capture teacher input. Teachers in excellent schools are not safe from these models. In 2011, the “worst” 8th grade math teacher in NYC according to the VAM was at Anderson School, a citywide gifted and talented program. The VAM placed her at the bottom of all 1300 8th grade math teachers in the city even though all of her honors students passed the Regents Integrated Algebra exam, a third of them with perfect scores.
If Governor Cuomo gets his way, such a teacher will have no recourse because the VAM will count as a full 50% of the evaluation, and a principal like ours will be limited to only 15% of that teacher’s evaluation. 85% of teacher evaluation will be determined by Albany with no local say.
Since NCLB passed in 2001, the increased stakes attached to standardized exams have resulted in a nationwide narrowing of curricula with subjects like social studies, science, art, music, and health losing instructional time because of the drastic consequences attached to mathematics and ELA. If Governor Cuomo gets the teacher evaluation system he wants, even teachers at PS 87 will be pressured similarly because of the emphasis on value added models and the plan to make principals effectively irrelevant to evaluating their own faculty. Further, as more experienced teachers are forced out of the classroom for questionable reasons, they will be replaced by new teachers facing steep learning curves to become effective teachers – if they survive long enough.
I strongly recommend that the PTA consider bringing this issue to the attention of PS *** parent community. There is a limited time this winter for lawmakers in Albany to hear from their constituents, and I firmly believe that every school in the state will be negatively impacted by this plan.
Thank you for your consideration.