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Anti-Tenure – Union Busting FIRST, Students Second

Since Mr. Mehlhorn is on Twitter today trying to single handedly save the #ISupportJohnKing hashtag from teachers who know better, I thought a Throw Back Thursday post to the time I learned not to take most reform advocates seriously as honest and/or skilled arguers would be appropriate….

Daniel Katz, Ph.D.

One consequence of becoming active in social media and blogging is crossing paths with people that you would not normally encounter face to face. For example, among my normal Twitter feed comprised of classroom teachers, public school advocates, researchers and news sources, a certain gentleman was noticeably involved in several arguments. Shortly thereafter, he began following me on Twitter. His name is Dmitri Mehlhorn, and he is a former C.O.O. for Michelle Rhee’s Students First organization, and, suffice to say, he is a true believer in current education “reforms”. When Rhee announced that she was stepping down as the head of Students First, Mr. Mehlhorn penned this astonishing piece of apologia for The Daily Beast on her behalf, which despite saying she was “right about everything” cannot really name a measurable outcome of Ms. Rhee’s activism that has improved education. Mostly, he spends the article lamenting the attacks…

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“The best anti-poverty program around is….” a strong union.

Source: “The best anti-poverty program around is….” a strong union.

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New York State Commissioner: “Life is One Big Test” Good, Lord, IT IS NOT

When former Florida superintendent MaryEllen Elia was selected by the New York State Board of Regents to succeed John King, Jr. as Commissioner of the New York State Education Department, I predicted that parents could expect a “pro-testing charm offensive” as one of her first orders of business.  There was certainly no chance that Ms. Elia was selected in order to diminish the role of standardized testing in the state.  One of her key accomplishments in the Hillsborough school district in Florida was securing a $100 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a teacher evaluation system that, while including mentoring and other support mechanisms, made use of “fair and accurate measures of effective teaching” which is Gates Foundation shorthand for standardized testing.  And in fact, the system she developed did use standardized test scores for 40% of teacher evaluations.  She begins her job as Commissioner now in a state where the legislature awarded Governor Andrew Cuomo his desire to make student scores on standardized tests a full 50% of the teacher evaluation matrix.  In any fair evaluation, Commissioner Elia is an acolyte of today’s Education Reform Trifecta: Common Standards, Standardized Examinations, and Test Based Teacher/School Evaluation.

So our new Commissioner has begun the anticipated charm offensive with a visit to Sweet Home Middle School in Amherst, NY.  The Erie County school district is where Commissioner Elia began her career in 1970, and she explained to the parents, teachers, and administrators there that her office will begin a review of the Common Core State Standards, accompanying assessments, and their use in teacher evaluation. At the same time as her visit, the NYSED announced that London-based publishing giant Pearson will be replaced by Questar Assessment to create the Common Core aligned mathematics and English language arts tests to be be used next year.

Commissioner Elia was also honest enough to express her belief that testing is important and that teachers should be accountable for students’ scores:

“I am not a person who believes that children shouldn’t be tested,” she said. “Life is one big test. We have to get to the point where people are at peace with that.” (emphasis added)

“Life is one big test.  We have go to get to the point where people are at peace with that.”


Allow me to grant our new Commissioner with a fraction of a loaf: in life, people are evaluated in all kinds of circumstance, both within school and outside of school.  I have no particular interest in sheltering people, children or otherwise, from situations where evaluation is an essential component.  Further, I believe that it is important to embrace failure as both instructive and as a legitimate tool for building problem solving and problem coping skills.  Good teachers know that assisting children through the Zone of Proximal Development is both difficult and elating, and that most students will face real struggle as they tread “the distance between” their current developmental level and “the level of potential development”.  Almost any learning task worth doing is one where students will need to risk failure if they are to truly succeed in any form of sophisticated learning, and frequently new skills and knowledge have to be developed during the completion of the task.  Education is at its best when students “fail” frequently, examine the causes of their failures, make new plans, and try again.  Without evaluation in the form of goals and instructive feedback by teachers, such experiences are much more difficult and rely upon happenstance rather than teaching.

What does any of this have to do with standardized testing?  Almost nothing at all.

There are a few times in life when performance on a standardized test has some critical impact on your future. College bound secondary students taking examinations like the SAT and the ACT (although a growing number of schools either do not use examinations or are “test flexible” when it comes to admissions). Examinations such as the GRE, the LSAT, and the MCAT for entrance to graduate or professional study.  Various examinations that lead to professional licensure (PRAXIS, various state Bar exams, the USMLE, the civil service exam).  And that’s about it.  Almost every other evaluation students or professionals are subjected to are vastly different than standardized examinations, and the skill sets involved in standardized test taking are rarely significant skills when compared to the kinds of performances that students should do to truly demonstrate their readiness in a variety of life’s personal and professional endeavors.

When well written, a standardized exam which is administered unobtrusively and with very low stakes, can be a reasonable component of monitoring a school system overall.  Value added modeling when used at school or district levels can lead us to ask important questions about what some schools or districts are doing well that might be able to be replicated and which schools and districts need further investigation and possible assistance.  And that is about it, making them an important but relatively weak tool in our school improvement kit, and they certainly do not do a good job of telling us about what individual teachers are students are capable of.  Even this “next generation” of Common Core aligned tests that testing enthusiasts promise us will test actual meaningful skills fall far short of the goal and hardly justify their enormous expense and disruptive presence.  New York teacher Julie Campbell, who describes herself as in favor of standards and not opposed to testing, recently described massive flaws in the New York examinations:

The four-point extended response question is troubling in and of itself because it instructs students to: explain how Zac Sunderland from “The Young Man and the Sea” demonstrates the ideas described in “How to be a Smart Risk-Taker.”  After reading both passages, one might find it difficult to argue that Zac Sunderland demonstrates the ideas found in “How to be a Smart Risk-Taker” because sailing solo around the world as a teenager is a pretty outrageous risk! But the question does not allow students to evaluate Zac as a risk taker and decide whether he demonstrates the ideas in the risk taker passage. Such a question, in fact, could be a good critical thinking exercise in line with the Common Core standards! Rather students are essentially given a thesis that they must defend: they MUST prove that Zac demonstrates competency in his risk/reward analysis.

So one can hardly be surprised to find an answer like this:

 One idea described in “How to be a Smart Risk-taker” is evaluating risks. It is smart to take a risk only when the potential upside outweighs the potential downside. Zac took the risk because the downside “dying” was outweighed by the upside (adventure, experience, record, and showing that young people can do way more than expected from them). (pg 87)

Do you find this to be a valid claim? Is the downside of “dying” really outweighed by the upside, “adventure”? Is this example indicative of Zac Sunderland being a “Smart Risk Taker”? I think most reasonable people would argue against this notion and surmise that the student has a flawed understanding of risk/reward based on the passage. According to Pearson and New York State, however, this response is exemplary. It gets a 4.

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that testing advocates are vastly overreaching not only on kinds of meaningful skills that they can test at the mass level, but also on what kinds of uses they can tease from the results.  Commissioner Elia might believe that “life is one big test,” but it would be an appalling outcome if people “are at peace” with standardized testing and the misuse of standardized testing as some sort of sophisticated measure of what we can and cannot do.

Embedded in the Commissioner’s comment, however, is an assumption that I find not simply out of step with facts but deeply troubling if not outright sad.  “Life is one big test.”  Commissioner Elia suggests that testing is a good metaphor for life even though the kinds of tests to which she refers have almost no bearing on the important activities in which we engage throughout life, even the ones for which we are evaluated.  In fact, the tests she references have precious little to do with how we should want students to be evaluated in school except very occasionally and for low stakes reasons.  So even if we accept that her metaphor is accurate, and I do not, these are horrible evaluations to stand by as examples of life being “one big test.”

Besides, the metaphor is incomplete and a terrible way to present our lives.  While I accept and even welcome that life comes with times of evaluation, and I fully believe that it is necessary to fail at tasks in order to learn, there are simply very many times in our lives where the evaluative functions of tests have no real place.  What are some other metaphors for life  that Commissioner Elia did not mention?

Life is an exploration.  This is not news.  Children’s earliest learning comes through exploration of their surroundings and the kind of play that enables them to do so. We take in enormous amounts of information via our senses and begin to place what we know into different categories.  While we tend to think of life as exploration being most important for very young children, it is an integral part of our lives as adolescents and adults as well.  The development of interests and avocations is not restricted to early childhood development, and if we want our children to be adept in their adult lives, we have to see to their abilities to explore new locations, new information, new interests as thoroughly as their very youngest selves did as well.

Life is an investigation.  Beyond our explorations in life are our more involved investigations where we propose, examine, and draw conclusions about the world around us.  Small children, again, are masters of this, but if we are being honest, we must admit that adults need the tools of investigation in our lives too.  There are numerous circumstances, both formal and informal, where the ability to form a hypothesis based upon observation and to devise ways to test that hypothesis matter in significant ways.  Without meaningful and rich skills of investigation much of our personal and work lives would be extremely curtailed.

Life is a demonstration and performance. Whether we are constructing our interpersonal personae for others to encounter and interact with or whether we are providing evidence our ability to integrate knowledge and skills in a meaningful set of tasks, we frequently are called upon to demonstrate and to perform for others.  In school, performance based assessments are, indeed, assessments, but they have little overlap with the traditional testing and especially tradition standardized testing with which most are familiar.  Such tasks integrate exploration and investigation with skills aimed at showing how to combine knowledge, skills, and management with multiple ways of showing what has been learned.  These are capacities that matter significantly in the work world, and they also matter in our daily lives and interactions with others.  Further, professionals have to enact the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of their fields in order to provide important services for others.  Nobody is a doctor, for example, who cannot enact diagnosis, and skilled work of all kinds requires this ability as well.  It is interesting to note that in professional tasks requiring demonstration and performance, people are often evaluated, but standardize tests are far more frequently employed as gate keeping tools rather than as actual assessments of work well done.

Life is a collaboration and negotiation.  Many people assert that life is a competition, and there are certainly times when your ability to best others is of importance.  However, if you line up the frequency of times when you are directly competing with individuals next to the frequency of times when you have to rely upon and work well with others, it is not really, forgive me, a contest.  Both our personal and professional spheres contain mountains of accumulated knowledge and experience in the form of our family, peers, and colleagues, and it is monumentally wasteful to not call upon it when faced with new situations.  When parents and teachers intervene too quickly in children’s disputes, they deny children the experience of working out their differences and negotiating compromises that facility collaborative work.  The “plays well with others” mark is not just a throw away to small children on report cards – it is actually an indicator of a skill that will only grow in significance later in life.

Commissioner Elia, life is NOT “one big test.”  Life is made up of many things, and some of those things will even be evaluated.  But almost none of them resemble the kind of test you hope people make peace with.  The sooner you understand that, the sooner you will understand why New York is still a growing home for test refusal.


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AFT Endorses Hillary Clinton – More than 200 Days Before the Iowa Caucuses

President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, blew up my social media feeds by announcing that the union of 1.6 million would officially endorse Hillary Clinton for President of the United States — more than 200 days before voters assemble for the Iowa Caucuses on February 1, 2016.  The news makes the American Federation of Teachers the first major labor union to weigh in with an official endorsement of any candidate for President, and the union executive board insists that it was the result of careful deliberation and consultation with members:


Suffice to say that my social media feeds lean harder to the left than most, so it is likely that the immediately negative replies that came pouring in are not precisely representative:

Some critics of the early endorsement assert that this was essentially inevitable given the long time close association between Randi Weingarten and Secretary Clinton and that Ms. Weingarten sits on the board of the pro-Clinton political action committee, Priorities USA.  For her part, Ms. Weingarten and the executive board insist that the union undertook extensive outreach to members, including meetings with candidates, town halls, surveys and the use of its “You Decide” website to reach more than “1 million members.”

While AFT members I follow on social media have complained about the sample size of the official poll (1,150 members overall with a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points; 683 Democratic primary voters with a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points), I have to admit that given proper sampling methods, such sample sizes are entirely valid, even if the relatively tiny total numbers compared to the size of the union leave many members feeling left out.  It should also be noted that the survey results are a little bit “massaged” in the official announcements.  When President Weingarten says that those polled favor Hillary Clinton by a 3 to 1 margin, that is true of Democratic primary voters only.  The survey reports that the 60% of AFT members identify as either Democrats or Independents, meaning that 40% of members are Republicans or third party supporters.  Presumably, in making the statement that AFT members back the Clinton candidacy by a 3 to 1 margin, that excludes the opinions of Republican members or of independent or third party members who lean conservative.

The same survey goes on to make a number of salient points about members’ overall positive assessment of Secretary Clinton’s chances, their likelihood to vote for her over top tier Republican rivals, and their assessment of her ability to handle major issues.  Surveyed members give Secretary Clinton an 11 to 1 edge over Senator Bernie Sanders in electability, give her a 41 point edge over Sanders in “standing up for public education,” and she holds a wider margin than Senator Sanders over possible Republican nominees such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  The report, in fact, goes well out of its way to highlight Secretary Clinton’s margins over Senator Bernie Sanders even though former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb are all declared candidates as well.

Smart money suggests that Secretary Clinton’s path to the nomination is fairly smooth (she secured 27 of 46 Democratic Senators’ endorsements by April).  However, with more than 6 months before the first contests with actual voters, it is not unreasonable to wait for a few more months while union members learn more about the candidates.  To be certain, Senator Sanders faces a huge struggle to gain enough supporters to prevent Secretary Clinton from winning the nomination.  He is enjoying strong support already in both Iowa and New Hampshire where voters’ early attention to the race may benefit him, but his national appeal to Democratic voters may peak as the contest moves to states with large non-white populations with whom he has found little traction so far.  Of course, a year out from the Iowa Caucuses in 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama  was only just gaining ground on then-Senator Hillary Clinton among African American voters, so while Senator Sanders has his work cut out for him, there is time for a few surprises.

Which goes back to how the AFT polling is being presented.  Yes, it shows Secretary Clinton with large leads on many important factors — but possibly well before many members are well informed about the candidates’ positions on issues such as public education and at a point when Secretary Clinton’s almost 25 years on the national stage lends her immediate advantages in name recognition over her rivals.  By endorsing so far ahead of the actual contests, the union risks turning some members’ attention away from the candidates’ positions and it allows Secretary Clinton to claim a mantra as the public education candidate — perhaps well before she has actually earned it.

At this point, it is easy to anticipate a question: do I think that Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, or Chris Christie would be better public education candidates?  So let me be clear.  No.  Good Lord, no.  No.  No.  No.  However, it is 2015, and if we have learned something about politicians and public education after two terms of President George W. Bush and nearly two terms of President Barack Obama, it is this:

We don’t need a public education candidate who is simply better than a likely Republican nominee.  We need a public education candidate who is better than President Barack Obama.

In 2008, candidate Obama spoke to the National Education Association two months before the election:

“Math and science are not the opposite of art and music. Those things are compatible and we want kids to get a well-rounded education. Part of the problem we’ve had is that ‘No Child Left Behind,’ the law that was passed by Bush, said we want high standards, which is good, but they said we are going to measure those high standards only by a single high stakes standardized test that we are going to apply during the middle of the school year…a whole bunch of schools said we gotta teach to this test, and art and music isn’t tested… It’s a shame.”

We know how this has turned out.  Through the Race to the Top program and promise of waivers from NCLB punitive measures, President Obama’s Department of Education has made matters even worse by pushing for the rapid adoption of common standards before anyone could assess their quality or prepare teachers for adoption, no decrease in the emphasis on tested subjects over the rest of the curriculum, and the adoption of student growth measures in individual teacher assessment — which ignores what the research says we can fairly and effectively do with test data.  While Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is staking his political future on being the nation’s biggest enemy of public sector unions, and while former Governor Jeb Bush is a devoted member of the corporate education reform club, it is not as if the Democratic Party is bereft of leading figures whose education policies line up neatly with corporate reform’s trifecta of testing, punishment, and privatizing public schools.  From New Jersey Senator Cory Booker to Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, prominent Democrats have been influenced by and endorsed what currently passes for reform in American education.

So it frankly isn’t enough that Secretary Clinton is “electable” and that she would be somewhat better for public education than a likely rival in the national election.  I want to know if she is going to be any better than the last 7 years of the Obama administration’s education policy led by his horrendous Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and backed by an entire chorus line of Democrats taking money from the same interests leading the charge against our public schools.

Will Hillary Clinton be better if she reaches the Oval Office?

My tea leaves are not that hopeful on the subject.  How did the hedge fund front group, Democrats for Education Reform, react to Secretary Clinton’s announcement?  With elation:

“We join Democrats and Americans around the country in celebrating Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she will seek the Presidency. Hillary Clinton has a proven track record of looking out for students—from her days as Arkansas’ First Lady when she spearheaded efforts to reform and improve the state’s public schools through to her efforts as U.S. Secretary of State to stand up for the right of every child to attend school. We are hopeful that she continues that strong record, and carries on President Obama’s legacy of promoting quality teachers and benchmarks that give every student a chance to succeed no matter their background.”

DFER does not exist as some genuine grassroots efforts by rank and file Democrats to support change in education.  It is the brainchild of hedge fund managers like Whitney Tilson who invented the group to influence elected Democrats to adopt education positions more common among Republicans:

The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…

Financed by groups like the Walton Family Foundation, DFER and its companion organization, Education Reform Now, funnel money and influence to Democrats who in turn pledge to support standardized testing, weakening teachers’ unions, and replacing public schools with privately operated charter schools.  If they are overjoyed with Secretary Clinton’s candidacy, she has some serious outreach to classroom teachers she needs to do.

Peter Greene of Curmudgucation also notes that Secretary Clinton has deep ties to the Center for American Progress whose founder, John Podesta, is serving as the chair of her campaign.  While CAP has an overall left leaning agenda, on education it has been a predictable and reliable ally of corporate reform, pushing for the Common Core standards, emphasizing testing and attacking efforts to reduce it, and generally keeping up the drum beat of rhetoric portraying our nation’s schools as failures without any serious examination of childhood and community poverty.

Both of these examples are a bit of “guilt by association,” but if the rank and file teachers who make up a union like the AFT are going to see their leadership offer the entire union’s endorsement this early in the contest, they have a right to know what Hillary Clinton would actually do as President that is significantly better for our nation’s schools than what we have suffered for a decade and half now.

What could Secretary Clinton do, right now, that would be a beginning of the outreach that should have preceded this endorsement?

  1. Instead of playing the naif on how “politics” has gotten into the Common Core State Standards, she could recognize that they were political from the very start and promise states that they will suffer no consequences if they want to genuinely evaluate them and make informed decisions about whether or not to continue.  I believe that people of good conscience can differ on the wisdom of common standards and on the quality of these standards, but it is hard to escape the deep flaws with how they were developed and disseminated with no significant public engagement and on premises of a national crisis in education that is misleading and distracting from our appalling childhood poverty levels.  If Secretary Clinton moves the conversation in that direction, I will listen.
  2. Secretary Clinton should unequivocally call out the legal assaults on teachers’ workplace protections for what they are: billionaires (David Welch) hiring millionaires (Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown) to ruin the livelihoods of middle class teachers.  In doing so, they not only rely upon entirely false narratives about what tenure is and whether or not tenured teachers are actually a root cause of struggling schools, but also they are aiming to weaken or destroy among the last large groups of unionized, middle class professionals.  If Secretary Clinton clearly denounces these efforts and pledges to support teachers under attack (as opposed to current Education Secretary Arne Duncan who essentially praised the Vergara decision), I will listen.
  3. Secretary Clinton must call for a genuine draw down of standardized testing from its current place where it threatens to consume public education, and call efforts to tie teacher job evaluations to standardized test scores what they are — failures with no backing in legitimate research.  She should denounce Secretary Duncan’s repeated insults to parents protesting how testing is consuming their children’s schools and demonstrate that she at least understands why those parents are exercising one of the few powers they have by opting their children out of the examination, data collection, and school punishment system initiated with No Child Left Behind and made worse under Race to the Top.  If she shows that she actually understands the research on teacher evaluation and that she understands and appreciates what parents are saying, I will listen.
  4. Secretary Clinton should tell Democrats for Education Reform and Education Reform Now (and the whole host of advocacy groups out there seeking to capture policy makers and funnel as much of our educational commons into private hands as possible) to get stuffed.  I don’t pretend that this is easy.  Candidates for the Presidency need astronomical sums of cash, and these people promise it.  But Barack Obama’s Presidency and the actions of a host of other Democratic office holders has taught public education advocates that who a politicians owes for money can matter more than the voters who elected them in the first place.  But these donors are not in public education to do good; they are in it to do right well, and if Secretary Clinton refuses to accept any more support from them after having gotten the AFT endorsement, I can promise that I will listen.


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“The Fierce Urgency Of Now” – Social Justice Must Be Educators’ Mission

I do not usually rewrite these after publishing — but a flurry of comments that followed my original publication required it. Too many politicians are somehow unable to bring themselves to place Roof where he belongs in the continuity of White Supremacists in our history. It must be called out.

Daniel Katz, Ph.D.

On June 17th, 2015, the 21 year-old Dylann Storm Roof, entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  The church, led by the Reverend Clementa Pickney who, in addition to his pulpit, was a state senator, is the oldest traditionally Black Church in the South and has long been a fixture of the struggle for emancipation and civil rights during its almost 200 year history.  According to witnesses, Roof sat down with the dozen people participating in weekly Bible study for nearly an hour before he stood up, took out his pistol and began shooting.  Before he was done, he had reloaded multiple times and left 9 people dead, including Reverend Pickney.  Survivors quickly reported that when his victims implored him to stop, Roof told them, “I have to do it.  You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.”

Roof’s victims are Tywanza Sanders

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A Message to My “Representatives” In Albany

You failed me yesterday.  You failed my children.  You failed my children’s schools and their teachers.

In the New York Assembly, member after member, declared some form of regret or misgiving or “heavy heart” regarding the poisonous education provisions that were woven into the budget bills before them.  They acknowledged that although Governor Cuomo’s back door voucher plan and charter school increases had been purged from the budget, his teacher evaluation plans were based upon the wrong priorities and likely to harm education in the state.  Legislators alternately called the bill “terrible” and declared their belief that teachers cannot be “blamed” for problems that exist well outside their classrooms. They gnashed their teeth and beat their chests.

And then they voted for the budget anyway.

This, in the world of politics, is the much beloved “compromise” whereby supposedly “responsible” politicians and appointees look at their differences and craft some sort of middle ground.  The middle ground is necessary because each side is supposed to give up priorities that matter to them and allow the other to have some say in what is finally crafted for the public good.  Voltaire is credited with coining the aphorism that the “perfect is the enemy of the good,” meaning that those who hold out for results that perfectly align with their priorities fail to let good compromises come to fruition. In the world of politics, it is an affirmation of process that accomplishes something.

In the world of policy analysis it is why we cannot have nice things.

The differences between the original Assembly budget bill and the agenda outlined by Governor Cuomo in his 2015 budget address were not differences between two equally competing visions of education in the state of New York.  They were the difference between a minimally acceptable plan to make a down payment on the money the state owes school districts, and a agenda that was entirely pernicious to the quality of education in the state.  Instead of standing firm on the minimally acceptable opening position, the Assembly negotiation opened the door to revisions to teacher tenure and evaluation that are objectively harmful to educational quality.  New teachers now cannot get tenure until they have taught for four years, and they must be rated as “effective” in three of those four years and may not be rated “ineffective” in the fourth year to obtain tenure.  Tenured teachers who are rated “ineffective” two years in a row may be removed in as little as 90 days.  The New York Stated Education Department will have to create a fully detailed evaluation plan by the end of June and districts will have to adopt an approved version of it by November to get the increased state aid in the budget.  Governor Cuomo wanted, and got, an evaluation system using standardized test scores, outside evaluators, and school principal observations, and the final budget agreement requires that this matrix be used to determined teachers’ final evaluations:

the matrix

(Chart via Geoff Decker of

NYSED will have to determine how the outside evaluators and school administrator portions balance, but the test score component is effectively 50% of the evaluation as it occupies the y-axis by itself.  No teacher found “ineffective” by the test score component can be found higher than “developing” overall, and an “ineffective” test score component will override an observation based rating of “developing” in favor of finding a teacher “ineffective” overall.  Teachers cannot be evaluated based upon actual artifacts of teaching and student learning unless they are assessed by a state approved system.

The reasons for not using value added models of standardized test scores to evaluate teachers are numerous and, by now, well trodden territory.  Consider how the standard errors in value added models are so large that it would take a DECADE of testing data to reduce the risk of mislabeling a teacher as “effective” or “ineffective” to only 12%. If that is not compelling enough, consider how teachers who score well on value added models often do not score similarly on measures of critical thinking among their students.  Still not convinced?  Perhaps you could consider how very small changes in the predicted growth measures can make teachers who very successfully teach very advanced students come out as “ineffective.”

However, because legislators did not consider these massive and ill-advised changes to education policy in the state through a normal legislative process, very few of them probably understood these issues at all.  There was no committee process.  Experts in statistical modeling and teacher evaluation did not testify.  There was no prolonged public comment period.  There were just a series of budget bills produced and debated for less than 48 hours but with consequences for our schools that will be felt for years to come.  And yet, because the bills came with increased school aid and because some politically unpalatable provisions were not in the budget, the Assembly is congratulating itself for “protecting schools.”

If someone gives you the option of being stabbed repeatedly with a rusty knife or of eating a poop sandwich, I do not think it is reasonable to congratulate yourself for merely eating the sandwich.

So my question for representatives in Albany, especially those who voted “yes” with a “heavy heart”: What next?  What will you do now to protect and nourish public education after agreeing to such an egregious set of policy incentives?

This is no idle question.  The governor’s education agenda only enjoys a 28% approval rating. 65% do not want tenure tied to test scores.  Yet, despite overwhelming disapproval, the Assembly was unable to hold fast with the voting public and stare down the governor. Mark Naison of Fordham University poignantly noted that the vote represents a complete failure of democracy as the will of the people could not win the day over the will of interests who are only interested in unleashing disruption upon our schools.  If the Assembly collectively believes that, backed by the clear will of the people, they cannot take an unwavering stand against blatantly harmful education policy, then what do they intend to do now that the budget is passed?

  • What will they do to ensure that local input on teacher quality is respected and not shunted aside by the yet to be named “outside evaluators”?
  • What will they do to ensure that districts do not have to reach into their own personnel budget to pay for outside evaluators who will be hired to replicate work done by 4500 principals across the state?
  • What will they do to facilitate teachers who challenge their standardized test based evaluation components given the enormous standard errors involved in evaluating teachers based on a single year of test data?
  • What will they do to allow those challenges to help young teachers gain sufficient effective ratings to reach tenure?
  • What will they do ensure the greatly expedited removal provisions for tenured teachers do not rely upon the statistically invalid standardized test portion of teacher evaluations?  How will they guarantee that the 90 day process requires the districts and the state to present a VALID case for dismissal and allows for a teacher response?
  • And, most importantly, how will they help principals, teachers, and parents to maintain real quality teaching in the face of these distorting incentives that will influence teachers to mimic the practices of schools that are actually proud of how they turn their students into “little test-taking machines“?

These questions demand serious responses given the failure to take a stand last night.  They cannot be answered by passing legislation limiting the number of hours spent on test preparation and calling it a win for students.  Our children’s teachers have been put on notice that the standardized test is valued above all else, and we deserve meaningful answers.

Do you have any?


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My Guest Editorial for The Record

You can read me today at NorthJersey.Com discussing the upcoming PARCC examinations in New Jersey.

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 66,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The only thing I can think to say about the news from Peshawar

May G-d bless and keep the children, families, teachers, and citizens of Peshawar, Pakistan.

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Reflections on Ferguson — What does education mean in a world like this?

I guess I am reblogging quite a bit this week….

Daniel Katz, Ph.D.

On August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18 year-old African American, was shot dead in the middle of the afternoon by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.  Eye witness and police accounts of how the fatal encounter began differ, but three different witnesses reported that Mr. Brown had his hands in the air when Officer Wilson fired the shots that killed him.  As news of the killing and its circumstances spread, Ferguson, a community of 20,000 that is two thirds African American, saw protesters take to the streets where, on the first night, some looting occurred leading the police force to use tear gas to disperse crowds.  On the next several days, different protests were met with similar tactics, and then on August 13th, this happened:

ferguson1ferguson 2 ferguson 3

The Ferguson Police Department, a force on 53 officers, only 3 of whom…

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