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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Some Thoughts on Tisch's New Year's Wishes

So, here it is, New Year's once again.  2015 is upon us.  Chancellor Tisch's twenty-page letter of recommendations came just in time to welcome the New Year.  Has a Time-Square ball (or a facsimile thereof) fallen squarely upon the heads of teachers once again?  


I try to read her report with equanimity, but hard as I try, something always gets in the way.  The letter first points towards "significant steps" the State has taken, including simultaneously raising academic standards as well as graduation rates.

There is no mention of the abysmal roll out of the Common Core.  And does anyone care to remember that graduation rates across the City increased alongside half-baked schemes of credit recovery?  Does anyone care to know that teachers had their data thrust regularly before their eyes--with class averages falling below the realm of desirable highlighted in yellow?  Such stuff could make or break a school, an "Education Mayor," perhaps a federal grant.  It starts at the top with Race to the Top.  The implicit message below decks: man the oars or the ship will go down with you aboard.  The implicit instinct for most:  survival.  Can you imagine a world without tenure, or five years to it, as Tisch recommends (pp. 9-10)?  It's "aye, aye, Captain" always and swab down the decks.

Does anyone care to know how the amount of test prep has increased and the joys of teaching and learning are slowly sucked out of the classroom?  Would Ms. Tisch like to staff the hard-to-staff school--and suffer the consequences of an APPR over which she ultimately will learn she has only very limited control?

Tisch talks about reducing the amount of testing by ridding the evaluation system of the 20% once awarded to local measures.  She would have State measures count for 40%.  I say the test prep will grow even worse.  And I say Pearson will simultaneously be smiling all the way to the bank.  

Tisch wishes to "reward excellence in teaching" (p.2) and create "career ladder pathways" (p. 9).  She should think first about a simple plan to retain teachers given the level of demoralization and depression that has hit the profession.  How many in the City will be able to survive to retirement when the landscape about us is so very bleak?  I love working with the kids.  And I love shutting my door and doing what I do best.  Yet, I have seen one too many You-Tube videos of like-minded persons throwing in the towel thanks to the likes of Tisch with her merry bag of "reforms."  I have seen too many early retirements.  I have seen increases in stress, absenteeism and illness. 

Tisch would like "state-prescribed scoring ranges for the other measures of teacher and principal effectiveness (the observation subcomponent) rather than allowing them to be locally-negotiated" (p. 4).  It is not satisfactory to her tastes that 95% of teachers "were rated either Effective of Highly Effective" (p. 4).  She would have teachers rated ineffective on the Student performance subcomponents "receive an Ineffective overall rating" (p.4).  It can't be that some students are academically "ineffective" for one reason or another.  Low test scores can't be caused by the failure of students to study in a world of competing priorities.  It can't be caused by sometimes intense hunger caused by a lack of labor that pays parents a living wage.  Ms. Tisch, who in heaven's name do you think will work with the academically neediest when martyrdom is the reward?

Rather than focusing on how to keep teachers in the system, Tisch would like to focus on how to rid the system more quickly of teachers (p. 5).  She wants to give the State a larger role in administrative hearings.  She wants to "further clarify that a board of education has unfettered discretion to terminate a probationary teacher or principal, including for performance reasons, until a tenure decision is made at the end of the probationary period, as long as those reasons are statutorily and constitutionally permissible" (p. 9).  Does failure to follow marching orders due to morality constitute cause for instantaneous dismissal?  If it doesn't, who will distinguish that cause from another set of trumped-up charges?  Could be nice, I suppose, if you appreciate summary executions--or if it is not your head on the chopping block of junk science!

Chancellor Tisch wants to target teacher education programs that coach fewer than eighty percent of the "institution's students" to passing scores on "each of the required certification examinations" (p.7).  Looks like teaching to tests will become a national contagion at all levels.  Who's institutionalized now?  Perhaps Ms. Tisch can win more thanks from the humble folks at Pearson, Prentice Hall and the like.  "Increased performance" (p. 8) can only be measured by tests.  Where would we be if God and NY State had not created tests?

Tisch says that novice teachers should spend a year in classrooms through an internship program.  She says there is evidence to suggest a "positive impact on student growth and achievement" (p. 7).  We have had some fine student teachers at our school over the years, but they are forbidden from teaching any class that ends in a high-stakes exam.  No teacher wants to be the fall guy for his or her student teacher.  No student teacher wants to spend a month and a half engaged in intensive Regents prep.  

Tisch seems to favor destroying more school-based communities.  She would combine regional schools, close "failing" schools and recommend "conversion of the schools to charter schools" (pp. 11, 13).  She would lift the charter cap.  I take some heart when she references a 2010 charter law to "require the enrollment and retention targets be established for students with disabilities, English Language Learners and students in poverty in charter schools, and to make the repeated failure to meet or exceed those targets a ground for termination of the charter" (p. 14).  

All else she says though seems to raise the specter in my mind that she will close smaller charter schools in the name of expanding the Moskowitz Empire, so well-funded and so generous with its dollars in Albany.  Will Ms. Tisch agree that not all English Language Learners are on equal footing?  Will she agree that not all students in poverty suffer to the same degree, not all children with disabilities face the same degree of obstacles in their young lives?  Will the charter schools take on the neediest?  Will Success Academy mean "success" for those who seem to be farthest from it?

Surprise of surprise, Tisch would like some things to stay the same.  Much of it has to do with maintaining the status quo for appointments to the Board of Regents--which seems so well shielded from public opinion despite the disastrous "Swing Around the Circle" taken by former Commissioner King in his bid to sell the Common Core to an uninterested and sometimes hostile public.  Imagine if the raised "standards for accountability" (p. 1) applied to the NYS Board of Regents.  When she draws upon the history of the Board of Regents dating back to 1784 and the mantra of Alexander Hamilton to support the continuation of the present selection and appointment process for the Board of Regents, I fail to understand the logic (pp. 15-16).  If I know anything about Hamilton, he's rolling over in his grave now.  Tisch would further keep the same process for determining the next State Commissioner.  And she would keep mayoral control (pp. 14, 16).    

I don't disagree with everything Tisch says.  She rightly recognizes that State schools will face increasing burdens with more undocumented and unaccompanied students.  These children have a constitutional right to education, only their teachers may simultaneously be sacrificed at the altar of high-stakes tests.  I agree that "deeply disturbing inequities in resources" exist (p. 16).  Districts with high-needs ELLs do demand more services.  Career and Technical Education are very important pathways.  Pre-K is a bold experiment which will surely fail without further support (p. 17).  It will also fail, however, with test-based statistical measures of success.  

I agree with Tisch that school segregation needs to be addressed.  As Tisch points out, and as many of us remember, "a 2014 study by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that New York State has the most segregated schools in the nation" (p. 18).  Pretty sad when its beacon city has been founded upon diversity and relative toleration of differences.  Let us study further how some charter schools can increase segregation.

Tisch needs to retain teachers.  There's only so much "blended online learning" (p. 14) can do for kids when qualified teachers flock from the classrooms of the neediest students.  Tisch reports that it is "too soon to report retention rates" for novice teachers who work in "high-need schools" (pp. 6-7).  I'm guessing the news is not good.  If you don't believe me, march into an overcrowded classroom with thirty-four high-needs kids and see how many are focused on learning.  Start teaching and see how long you last.  What will you do, Mr. or Ms. Scapegoat, when the media is on your back and your students' inabilities to perform on tests spells your own doom--despite several advanced degrees and a caring heart?  Welcome to the World of Ed. Deform.  Welcome to the World of Chancellor Tisch.  Despite it all, 2015 promises to be a good year--so long as we remember that education teaches us to think and democracy teaches us to speak.  Perhaps it's time for more of us to add another resolution to our list this year:  one which we will fight hard to keep.  Happy 2015!

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