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Bullying Teachers

A recent staff meeting was interesting. We had been asked by our principal to take a PARCC practice test (at least part of one) ahead of time so that we, as a staff, could have a discussion about it at this staff meeting. My principal is someone who I would not consider to be a drinker of corporate reform Kool-Aid, but who also seems to be, in my opinion, only somewhat aware of the larger issues involved in corporate education reform. He is the kind of person who doesn’t like to dwell on what he has “no control over.” That is an amiable quality in most cases and has helped us focus more on what we can and should do much of the time, rather than get overly frustrated with the nonsense that has been flooding into our daily existence as teachers. But this time, it was hard to focus…

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This is a revised version of a comment submitted a few days ago to Jm Horn for possible publication by Schools Matter:

I entered the following sarcastic comments on Anti-reform FaceBook pages regarding ASU professor Dr David Berliner’s, testimony regarding the number of bad teachers in California (which he later admitted were “purely ballpark or guesstimates”) upon which the judge in the Vergara case based his decision that ‘tenure’ resulted in violations of children’s basic (civil) rights to ‘good teachers’ :

I commented, under the heading “NEED A guess-speaker” saying “What kind of a phony would, for a few hundred dollar consulting fee, ruin the lives of thousands of struggling teachers? Well, one who wrote the book “Collateral damage” which was well received by many opponents of the much aligned Education Reform policies (Common Core Standards, Standardized Testing — unbelievably being used as teaching tool — and more privatization using Vouchers and Charters.” I further asked: “Is this just another case of ‘publish or perish’, or a case of a loose tongue making ill-considered remarks?”

I received feedback defending this ASU professor that, while recognizing his estimate of the ‘numbers of “grossly ineffective” teachers was incredibly ill-advised and unfortunate’, assured me “that he is a strong and very effective supporter of teachers and public schools” … and that (his) book that I referred to… “is a very effective exposé on the terrible effects of high stakes testing (and that) his “work is always well-researched, well-documented, and well-written (and that) It would be a shame for this one mistaken statement to be considered a significant indicator of his legacy.”

Here is my response:

While I respect Dr. Berliner’s work, “I don’t regret sounding out in this case because the Education industry is replete with teachers, professors and others who are all the time reversing their positions because they changed their view or accidentally said the wrong thing or the right thing the wrong way. Consider this recent waffling post from Diane Ravitch for example (reviewed in Schools Matter):…/diane-ravitchs-mutating…
I take every chance I get to remind teachers to stand up for themselves and give no ground; my feeling is that these pressures to privatize and substitute standardized testing for teaching have been clearly on the horizon for years but teachers have been asleep at the wheel. I don’t mean to blame this situation on teachers but they do need to wake up (quickly) and recognize that they are in a war and (that) they need to take command because they can’t trust anyone else (any court or administration or researcher) to speak for them.”

“For example, I just wrote a comment on Common Dreams suggesting that educators failure to stay heavily involved in Evaluation methodologies and their perfection within teaching environments is what allowed the ‘deformers’ to introduce and champion the worthless VAM methodology. (While) I could find studies (or commentary), debunking the use of student test data for evaluating teachers, there is much literature supporting more formative evaluations (based on professional observation data, review of lesson plans and presentation style) there did not seem to be a consensus as to who had the best model or evidencing a national dialogue directed towards designating one.”  

“One could see this big data approach (based on children’s test scores) coming and gaining steam for several years but everyone, except the statisticians who were being paid to construct empirically based VAM models without any proof that test scores had any correlation correlated with teacher or school independent variables.  The empiracle researcher’s (statisticians’) model is never regarded as invalid because their model is based on random and not casual correlations between variables. In science, empirical models are most useful for indicating variables with high predictive value that it causes others to start hypothesizing formal reasons where the correlations are coming from. So, since one can’t really call these statisticians that developed VAM charlatans, they were able to embed their models into the NCLB/RttT legislation without an indignant uproar and a claim that teachers already had good evaluation models in place. And that is basically why Berliner reached for his ass and not for published, peer reviewed studies for estimates of the number of ‘bad’ teachers in the Ca system. He should have said there are no definitive studies that identifies characteristics of teachers who should be regarded as “grossly ineffective” to the point where termination and replacement is the most cost effective solution. 

The judge’s decision should have faulted the state for not pursuing methodology to define procedures for identifying teachers for replacement based on their evaluations and the economics of replacement versus re-training.  When I have presented this view in the past (suggesting that teachers did not work hard enough on building Teacher-Evaluation fortress, to fend off the big data people and the little statisticians, I was accused of blaming the victims for having been overrun by the army of accountants out to dumb down standards, use standardized test scores to stand in for measures of teacher quality and data mine children’s information. Like, ‘how could I expect them to be able to fend off these powerful attackers?’ I was told to ‘wake up’ because teachers are hard-workers with the best intention.  Well, in my opinion, the time has come for Teachers and school Administrators to take active roles in improving evaluations as well as in how to take over the way in which they feel it appropriate to educate their charges.  I realize that many justifiably feel over-worked but they are facing a do-or-die situation.  For example, if you believe fervently in a ‘problem-oriented’ rather than the current ‘knowledge-delivery’ approach, don’t wait for the administration to suggest the change, start some classes yourself either within or outside of the regular curriculum.  If children and parents like the approach, then there is a chance to get those type of courses introduced as part of the regular curriculum.

Back to the subject, ‘if Dr. Berliner is as good and conscientious as you say, maybe he should call a press conference to explain why he was ‘forced’ to reach for a spurious answer to the question posed by ‘prosecution’ rather than quote some of the literature on models for defining termination scenarios (because there aren’t any in the literature). Then maybe we will get a little attention to the fact that no one has wanted to invest in better models based on peer review data or the money to implement them. The big-data VAM model is attractive for the same reason the Common Core is; the standardization makes it possible to eliminate the costs of having many different curricula and different evaluation models.
The moral of the story is that particularly when engaged in a war, one has to be extremely careful what one says in the presence of the enemy.
Stephen Stollmack, PH.D. Business Systems Analysis

Federal or state-imposed standards have both good and bad sides but using test-scores to evaluate teacher-performance (the final phase of objectifying and subjugating our schools to the 1%’s needs for a complacent population) is totally a bad idea.  Although President Obama cautioned teachers, in his 2012 State-of-the-Union speech, to “not teach to the standards”, we all know that that is exactly what RttT is forcing them to adopt as a survival tactic.  Non standardized education, that encourages and engages children’s natural curiosity about the world around them (rather than training them to demonstrate ability to memorize rules and thought patterns spelled out by these Standards), will have to await another revolution for all but the children who are home-schooled by well-educated parents.   However, while it may be entirely too late in the game to be opposing use of the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) to steer our k-12 education system,  development of some organized resistance to a full scale implementation of a test-score based teacher evaluation system (which would eventually eliminate dedicated and enthusiastic teachers) may not be totally beyond the realm of possibilities.

If a school or all schools in a district already have a peer-based evaluation system that they believe in, they are less likely to give in to its replacement by a standard test-score based system.  It will be interesting to see what States will do in such cases.  Certainly, the two systems can exist side-by-side or even serve  to complement each other.   It is also not beyond the pale to think that the implementation of the test-score based systems (because they are so noxious) might stimulate schools to invest more energy into developing or refining peer-review based systems as a means of making some sense out of the test-score data.

Schools that sit by, traumatized and overwhelmed by other responsibilities, will be buried in confusing statistics but any who have alternate evaluation systems (based on professionalism and recognized evaluation procedures) will, at least, have a fighting chance to be allowed to stand alongside and be used to moderate the student-test based systems that are being finalized.
If school teachers and administrators can’t accept this challenge of investing in more humane and information-generating systems, the fight to maintain energy and commitment of our teachers will be pretty much over.   Transformation to a total standards-based system will be a further disincentive for teachers to learn from each other and maintain a collegial environment.  I am anxiously waiting to hear about schools who have accepted the challenge.

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