Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Aimee Guidera of the Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign compared parents who opt their children out of testing to those refusing vaccination

..... risking other children irreparable harm?... One parent tweeted that opting out of vaccines can kill kids; opting out of tests can kill tests.... Reported by Leonie Haimson

Gates Foundation Explores new way to deliver common core tests

How desparate are the ed deformers getting?

Responses on change the stakes listserve:
Murry: Is it cupidity or stupidity?

Jeff:  Absolutely astonishing.  And of course, indirectly supporting our main point, that educators should be in charge of education. If "policymakers" need these kinds of data to direct the education of children, then they are not qualified to direct the education of children. They should get out of the way and let parents and teachers take over, because we actually know what we're doing.

Edith: Right on, Jeff! Opting out is more like refusing to take your child's temperature when you don't know what the thermometer looks like, how it's calibrated, and if the case protects your child from the mercury inside it. But a parent has the instinct to know if
his or her child is well or not.
Tory: It's an egregious and irresponsible analogy; vaccines are proven to save lives directly and create herd immunity indirectly. We know exactly why what mechanism each one works and they take DECADES of research, from bench to bedside.  Truly awful statement.
Jeff: I honestly can't believe the level of irrationality currently on display by people who obviously have never spent any time with children but nevertheless feel compelled to try to control everything that happens with them in schools.  Parents and teachers united will restore sanity. 

 Part of the quote is here:

Politico Pro quote is here, behind the paywall:

Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, said that when parents refuse to let their kids take state-mandated exams, “it is damaging to that individual child” because the teacher relies on achievement data to customize lesson plans. The collective good also suffers, she said, because when families boycott the tests, student performance data is incomplete — which makes it tough for policymakers to evaluate instructional approaches and pick the most effective one.
“The analogy is tied to the vaccine one: If you choose not to vaccinate your kid, you’re not only … possibly hurting your own kid, but in addition you may be … [putting] at risk the whole system,” she said. “I think there are grave analogies between those two situations.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

When “Teachers Want What Children Need”

When “Teachers Want What Children Need”
Reconciling Tensions in Teachers’ Work and Teacher Unionism
Lois Weiner is a member of the New Politics editorial board and is Professor of Education at New Jersey City University, where she coordinates a graduate program for experienced teachers. Her newest book, The Future of our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice, explains why and how teachers need to transform their unions to save public education.
“Teachers want what children need—or do they?” Questioning—and rejecting—the slogan used by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to fight for collective bargaining in the 1960s, David K. Cohen, a contributor to Socialist Revolution, in 1969 dismissed the progressive potential of teachers’ unions.1 This article revisits the AFT’s slogan and Cohen’s question, examining tensions between “what teachers want” and “what children need.” The history of U.S. teacher unionism supports the argument that when teachers’ unions adopt a “social movement” orientation and press against the confines of the scope of bargaining embedded in collective-bargaining agreements, the unions minimize tensions between teachers’ rights to organize as workers in defense of their material interests and the unique political and social responsibilities of their work.
Though not apparent from either the capitalist mass media or many critiques of what has come to be called “corporate school reform,” the fate of the world’s children depends in great part on resistance from teachers and their unions. We in the United States are experiencing a version of a global project that financial and political elites began forty years ago when they imposed school reform on Latin America, Africa, and Asia, first under brutal military dictatorships supported by U.S. imperialism and then as a quid pro quo for economic aid. Though well-documented by scholars and activists in the global South, the project (and resistance to it) is still not well-known in this country.2 Specifics differ from one country to another, yet its program has the same footprint and purpose of making schools fit neoliberalism’s vision of what the world needs: vocationalization of schooling, privatization of the educational sector, and deprofessionalization of teaching. All of this is tied to reliance on standardized tests as the exclusive measure of students, teachers, and schools.3
The powerful elites who share information and policies across international borders understand (unfortunately, better than do most teachers) that despite their all-too-glaring problems, teachers’ unions are the main impediment to the full realization of the neoliberal project. As is true for labor unions generally, teacher unionism’s principles of collective action and solidarity contradict neoliberalism’s key premises—individual initiative and competition. Neoliberalism pushes a “survival of the fittest” mentality. Labor unions presume people have to work together to protect their common interests. Another reason unions are a threat is that they can exercise institutional power: as organizations they have legal rights; because of their institutional roots, they are a stable force; and they are able to draw on membership dues, giving them a regular source of income. These characteristics give teachers’ unions an organizational capacity seldom acquired by advocacy groups or parents, who generally graduate from activity in schools along with their children. Yet, the very factors that make unions stable and potentially powerful also induce hierarchy and conservatism. Neither unions as organizations nor union members as individuals are immune to prejudices that infect a society, even when these prejudices contradict the union’s premises of equality in the workplace.
Though the popular media cast teachers’ unions as powerful, the unions are more often than not weak where it counts most, at the school site. Union officials and staff are often disoriented and confused. The well-orchestrated, extravagantly financed anti-teacher and anti-teachers’ union propaganda campaign has greatly undercut the credibility of unions and even the idea of teacher unionism, even among teachers. Unfortunately, teachers’ unions have disarmed themselves in combating their delegitimation because of their embrace of the “business” or “service” model of union organization. This model, dominant for decades in U.S. unions, configures them as a business that exists to provide services to members, including lower rates for auto insurance, benefits from a welfare fund, pension advice, negotiating a contract, and perhaps filing a grievance. Officers and staff make decisions on the members’ behalf. Other than voting on a contract and electing officers every few years, members are passive. They are obliged only to pay dues and accept the leadership’s expertise. Because the service model is predicated on the members relying on officials, participation is minimal, and so leaders easily evolve into a clique—often one that is defensive and insular.
In response to what was, in retrospect, the first iteration of the neoliberal education project in 1992, liberal academics, progressives, education activists, and some union officials argued that teachers’ unions should respond to the calls for “excellence” and “accountability” in education by spurning stances that made them resemble “industrial unions.” Teachers’ unions, they argued, needed to be more conciliatory about changes to schools that would benefit students. One camp, advocates of “professional unionism,” advocated eliminating collective bargaining agreements, replacing them with “trust agreements,” in order to jettison the contentiousness of labor-management struggle. Teachers should be professionals who assumed responsibility for educational outcomes.4 Another segment of teacher activists argued for “social justice teacher unionism” to replace the model of industrial unionism that had dominated the education sector.5
Unfortunately, progressives who endorsed the “new teacher unionism” forfeited their credibility among rank-and-file teachers who looked to their union to protect their interests on the job—in the schools. Moreover, advocates of social justice teacher unionism were often unclear about how their vision differed from that of the new teacher unionism and thought the unions had to jettison hard-fought contract protections to improve educational outcomes. While many U.S. education activists who advocated social justice teacher unionism hoped to build support for their unions among parents and community, they underestimated the peril of inviting into education the kind of management-labor collaboration being heralded in private industry.6 In contracts and trust agreements, unions ceded vital job protections, like seniority, for salary increases. Peer-evaluation schemes and new salary schedules that created status inequalities among teachers by creating “master teachers” gave teachers responsibility for school outcomes without authority for deciding the most fundamental aspects of school life. Ironically, the reforms progressive activists pressed the union to accept in the name of improving school outcomes opened the door to a work culture that assumes teachers would be on-call seven days a week, fourteen hours a day. Neoliberalism now insists on this school culture, which is lauded as essential to boosting students’ achievement.
Another limitation of social justice teacher unionism in the United States was its unwillingness to address how the diminution of teacher union power related to the atrophy of union internal life, in particular the absence of vibrant democracy. This limitation was illustrated by TURN (Teacher Union Reform Network), an alliance of teacher union officers in both the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) who presented themselves as advocates of progressive education reform.7 Canadian researcher Stephanie Ross observes that while a union that states a commitment to social justice “may mobilize members, they can do so in conditions largely defined by leaders[that] can be easily accommodated within and could even reinforce top-down practices.” She notes that writers like Sam Gindin, Kim Moody, Michael Eisenscher, and Christopher Schenk “all make a distinction between mobilizational and democratizing approaches to union renewal, and in particular, how tactics are framed and utilized. They all suggest a variant of social unionism—most often referred to as social movement unionism—which combines an anti-economistic, anti-sectionalist, and transformative vision with new mobilizing repertoires and organizational forms. Here workers don’t just ‘participate’: they ‘actively lead’ and have democratic control over ‘the fight for everything that affects working people’ in their union, their communities and their country.”8
Ross indicates that in categorizing unions, it is essential to look at both a union’s stated purposes and the way it operationalizes those goals—looking beyond labels to actions. So, for example, we can see that while the British Colombia Teachers Federation calls itself a social justice union, it resembles much more closely the social movement teachers’ union that Ross describes.
Social Movement Teacher Unionism
Using the distinction Ross makes, I suggest that the term social movement unionism clarifies how the organizational form of the union (as a social movement) relates to the positions it takes (defense of social justice). Social movement unionism casts the union’s strength as a function of its ability to mobilize its members to struggle on their own behalf and to join, as an ally, with other social movements that aim to make our society more just and equal. Union power comes from the bottom-up, as it does in social movements. Members’ self-interest is defined broadly, as much more than immediate economic and contractual concerns. The union struggles for its members’ stake in creating a more democratic, equitable society, and the union allies itself with other movements that are working for social justice, peace, and equality.
Though elements of the social movement unionism I propose are new, many were present in teacher unionism’s birth in Chicago in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The movement’s most prominent spokesperson was Margaret Haley, an elementary school teacher and socialist, who had strong ties to socialists in the AFL, activists in the suffrage movement, and progressive educational reformers, most notably John Dewey and school superintendent Ella Flagg Young.9 The movement she was instrumental in organizing fought for the economic interests of teachers, embedding these demands for higher salary, pensions, and professional authority in a political and social program that aimed to democratize the schools and win economic and political emancipation for working people. With John Dewey, Haley advocated the centrality of public education and a professional teaching force in schooling citizens for a democracy.10 The Chicago union, Local 1 of the AFT, initiated militant campaigns to restore funding for public schools by taxing the corporations.
However, as was true of the union’s allies in organized labor, even among socialists, teacher unionism was blind to the injustice of racial segregation and inequality within both education and the society at large.11 Rereading Haley’s speech, “Why Teachers Should Organize,” with our understanding of the union’s acceptance of racial inequality complicates the claims she makes for the absolute correspondence between the needs of the teacher and the child. Haley first explains, “There is no possible conflict between the interest of the child and the interest of the teacher. For both the child and the teacher freedom is the condition of development. The atmosphere in which it is easiest to teach is the atmosphere in which it is easiest to learn. The same things that are a burden to the teacher are a burden also to the child. The same things which restrict her powers restrict his powers also.” But then she follows with a cautionary note: “The element of danger in organization for self-protection is the predominance of the selfish motive. In the case of teachers a natural check is placed upon this motive by the necessity for professional organization. The closer the union between these two kinds of organization, the fuller and more effective is the activity possible to each.”12
Haley acknowledges the conservative influence of teachers organizing for their own self-interest, “the selfish motive.” She assumes that the existence of a professional organization—in her day, the NEA—serves as a “natural check.” But in teacher unionism’s reemergence in the 1960s, there was no mass socialist movement as there had been in Haley’s time to spur engagement in a militant confrontation with capitalism. In addition, the NEA had morphed into a rival teachers’ union. Hence the “natural check” on the “selfish motive” no longer existed for either the AFT or the NEA.
Teacher unionism was reborn as a political force in the 1960s, in the wake of the civil rights movement’s challenge to U.S. society. Political battles between white teachers in city schools and black parents and community activists made teacher unionism, which came to be personified by Albert Shanker, seem to many left activists and academics an inevitable opponent of challenges to existing (racist) power relations. By 1975, Shanker had jettisoned any pretense that teachers and children had identical interests, arguing instead that public and union interests converged “occasionally,” making these instances the “happiest of times.”13
Cohen’s critique, not unusual in the New Left, boiled down to this argument: the left could not justify white teachers in city schools fighting for better wages and pensions in school systems that were failing minority children. As had been true of the movement Haley helped organize, teacher unionism in its rebirth was blind to systemic racism. Teachers’ unions accepted the circumscribed limits of contract unionism, fighting for more voice for teachers within undemocratic schools and an undemocratic society. In doing so, the unions limited their capacity to develop respectful alliances with communities of color who viewed school reform as an extension of the civil rights struggle. Community activists intent on “owning” the schools had a similar blindspot, failing to see teacher unionism’s claims for teachers’ dignity as workers.14 While Haley pushed the union and movement she headed to struggle for a “democracy in education” that excluded people of color, Shanker shaped the apparatus and movement he headed to the “business union” approach, defining members’ interests as improved pay and benefits within a status quo defined by U.S. capitalism’s global desires.15 The political and financial stability of the union apparatus, expressed in the union leadership’s pursuit of legislation that gave the union’s agency fee (the right to charge non-members for costs in negotiating and enforcing the contract) and dues checkoff (having membership and agency fee deducted from paychecks automatically), was cast as synonymous with the health of the union and of public education itself.
The embrace by the teachers’ unions of business unionism’s narrow definition of teachers’ self-interest as workers and teachers has been self-destructive. It has paved the way for neoliberalism’s ideological victory in configuring teachers and their unions as a “special interest,” no different from the corporations entering the education “market.” Especially in schools serving students who are marginalized in our society, school organization and regulations can be inhumane. Partly because contracts severely limit the scope of bargaining and partly because of the embrace of “business union” thinking, teachers’ unions have pretty much accepted the school’s structure and organization as a given. The mis-fit between teaching as a personal, nurturing activity and schools’ hierarchical structures, culture, and organization (whether due to paternalism, bureaucracy, or a corporate ethos), has a corrosive impact on teachers’ morale and subsequently students’ learning. Teachers’ unions have a unique role in assuming leadership in working with parents, community, and labor—in coalitions, as respectful equals—to take on the way schools are organized. In this we have much to learn from Haley.
What we should not repeat is teacher unionism’s complicity in accepting racial oppression as society’s default setting. Tensions with parents are inescapable, especially when parents feel they are not respected by the union, as is often the case with groups who have experienced racial exclusion from labor unions. In cities throughout the United States, teachers’ unions confront the legacy of their failure to build authentic alliances with parents and community activists. Their failure to see beyond “bread and butter”—in particular, their unwillingness to put race and racism on the table as legitimate concerns of parents and students—has made them vulnerable to neoliberalism’s audacious and effective usurpation of the rhetoric of equal educational opportunity historically associated with progressive movements.
Teaching as Transformative Labor
A good teachers’ union has special moral and political responsibilities because of the unique nature of teachers’ work. From the point of view of the capitalist elite, teachers are to be controlled first and foremost because they are “idea workers,” that is, they play an ideological role in transmitting—or disrupting—social values and norms. This is a major reason the neoliberal project intends to remake teaching by destroying teachers’ autonomy and the space this creates in schools for critical thought, for ideas of freedom and social justice.16 Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell captures the special nature of teachers’ work this way: “Teaching is always transformative labour, bringing new social realities into existence; and is also fundamentally interactive, not individual. Teachers’ work is not social reproduction, but is creative and therefore a site of social struggle. In a long historical perspective, the modern teaching workforce is unique, and has the possibility of shaping the learning capacities of the whole society; this may now be uniquely important.”17
Elsewhere Connell explains why the focus on individual teacher quality is misguided. Teaching, she notes, has to be understood as a collective effort of those at the school site: “Much of what happens in the daily life of a school involves the joint labour of the staff, and the staff’s collective relationship to the collective presence of the students. The task of improving teaching, accordingly, cannot be understood only as a matter of motivating or re-skilling individuals.”18 In setting out the collective nature of teachers’ work, Connell explains why good teachers’ unions are essential for good schools. In this respect, teachers’ unions do want what children need, a collective voice for teachers who can defend conditions that support learning and teaching well.
Many teachers do not realize that they need a collective voice, nor that they are “idea workers” who do “transformative labour.” They enter the profession because they love being with children or the subject matter they want to teach. The architects of neoliberalism’s educational reforms know that regardless of conscious intent, teachers have the potential to affect social arrangements, challenging the authority of elites who have an interest in maintaining their power and privilege. For this reason, a union of teachers has a particular responsibility to safeguard teachers’ rights to help students think critically. Protecting teachers’ academic freedom is one of the union’s most essential tasks. That means fighting for tenure and the guarantee of fair, objective hearings when complaints are made about teachers’ professional conduct. What complicates the union’s defense of academic freedom and its members’ performance on the job is that laws requiring children’s compulsory attendance at school make them captive in classrooms. Therefore the union has an allegiance both to its members as workers and to the protection of students’ well-being. To satisfy its responsibility, teachers’ unions need to reject the quid pro quo that gives teachers collective-bargaining rights but limits the scope of bargaining.
Neoliberalism’s ideological success in equating “effective teaching” with improving student test scores has made defense of teaching’s civic and social functions all the more essential—and difficult. The stranglehold of standardized testing, having test scores linked to teachers’ pay and evaluations, has turned many schools that serve children of working and poor families into little more than training grounds for unemployment, low-wage labor, and prison. Both the AFT and NEA have capitulated to neoliberalism’s reduction of schooling’s purposes to its economic value. Yet, we cannot effectively defend teachers, teaching, and public education against neoliberalism without defending teaching’s non-economic functions, its role in educating people to think critically, and its socialization and nurturing responsibilities. Teaching is “women’s work,” and as Sara Freedman noted, presciently, improving the status of teaching is not possible “as long as one of the most important jobs of a teacher—that of understanding, working with, and emotionally supporting children—has little status outside of schools.”19
In its report on what students in Chicago deserve, the Chicago Teachers Union has inherited and improved on Haley’s vision of how teachers’ unions need to discuss teachers’ work and children’s well-being.20 While parents are worried about their children’s ability to compete for jobs, they also look to schools to safeguard their children. It is parents, not bankers or the politicians they bankroll, who are the constituency teachers and their unions need to move to our way of viewing school reform.
Haley’s warning about the “selfish motive” in organizing for self-protection suggests that teachers’ unions should try to create vehicles independent of the union, as exist in higher education in faculty senates, to protect teachers’ rights as “idea workers,” their ideological function, to develop courses of study, select books, materials, and teaching methods. Haley’s union supported creation of “teachers’ councils” that were organizationally independent of the union. Teachers elected representatives to the councils, which had an advisory role on educational decisions.21 At the same time, teachers’ unions need to respect the diversity of opinion among thoughtful teachers and parents about what works best in classrooms. Teachers who are closer to minority and immigrant communities can bring information and perspectives that are valuable in helping children learn.22 Too often the views of parents who lack formal education, especially when they are members of oppressed groups, are dismissed as being uninformed, when, in fact, these parents bring a much-needed critique of unfair and unequal treatment of minority students.23
Conventional (teacher-union) wisdom has it that collective bargaining improved teachers’ working conditions, and if we define teachers’ work primarily in terms of wages and hours, that is accurate. But in his historical examination of the NEA, Wayne Urban concludes that teachers in NEA affiliates actually had more voice in professional matters before the NEA engaged in collective bargaining.24 Because of the narrow scope of bargaining that unions accepted when they pressed for legislation giving teachers the right to bargain, teachers’ unions are generally precluded from addressing pedagogical concerns, like standardized testing and choice of teaching materials and methods.
Teachers and students are being damaged by union contracts that tie teacher evaluation and pay to standardized test scores—policies now endorsed by the AFT and NEA. The unions need to push back on teacher evaluation but cannot do so successfully unless they learn to build mutually respectful alliances with parents, community, and students. The unions must also engage in direct action, as Sam Gindin notes when he calls for a “complete revolution in everything about public-sector unions—from how they allocate resources, to how they train their staff and relate to their members, other unions, and the community, to (above all) making the level, quality and administration of services a prime bargaining issue.”25 Neoliberalism’s success in painting teachers’ unions as self-interested and selfish and the attack on the right to bargain contracts make this an opportune time to rethink the scope of bargaining—and even collective bargaining. The model of social movement unionism suggests that we need to understand our goal as being building a social movement of teachers who defend their professional and economic interests in a broader social movement to defend public education. The organizational form we adopt then supports the movement’s aims, rather than vice versa.
Do Teachers Want What Children Need?
Both Cohen’s question and the AFT slogan configure the issue as an either/or, but it should be understood as contingent: When do teachers and teachers’ unions want what children need? Like all workers, everywhere, teachers have the right to form unions to bargain collectively. At the same time, we need to acknowledge that teachers’ rights are hard to defend when unions cast their members’ interests as being separate from needs of students, parents, and community. While the union can and should broaden its goals, there is a tension we must learn to live with. Teachers’ unions are almost never strong enough to determine the contours of struggles, and especially now when both the unions and public education are under such sustained, brutal attack, very often union activists and supporters in the community must confront hard choices about how long and how hard to fight—and for what. Unions must be pressed to win parent and community trust and continue to earn it—while we all recognize that unions are subject to limitations (legal and internal) that advocacy groups are not.
Yes, teachers do want what children need, most of the time. However, the vision we should project for our movement—and the slogan we adopt—must embed the needs of teachers within a vision for democratic, quality schools and a society that is just.
  1. David K. Cohen, “ Teachers Want What Children Need—Or Do They?,” The Urban Review 2 (1968): 25–29.
  2. Our Schools / Our Selves, Breaking the Iron Cage: Resistance to the Schooling of Global Capitalism (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2008).
  3. Mary Compton and Lois Weiner, eds., The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers and Their Unions: Stories for Resistance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
  4. Charles Kerchner and Julia Koppich, A Union of Professionals: Labor Relations and Educational Reform (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993).
  5. Bob Petersen, “We Need a New Vision of Teacher Unions,” Rethinking Schools 11, no. 4 (Summer 1997), http://
  6. Lois Weiner, “Teacher Unions Not ‘Too Industrial,’” letter to the editor in “Readers Speak Out on Teacher Unions,” Rethinking Schools 13, no. 1 (1998),
  7. Adam Urbanski, “TURNing unions around,” Originally published 1998.
  8. Stephanie Ross, “Varieties of Social Unionism: Towards a Framework for Comparison,” Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society 11 (Autumn 2007), 28, The quotes inside Ross’s excerpt are from Sam Gindin, The Canadian Auto Workers: The Birth and Transformation of a Union (Toronto: James Lorimer & Co., 1995), 268.
  9. Lois Weiner, The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice (Chicago: Haymarket, 2012).
  10. Lois Weiner, “Teacher Unions and Professional Organization: Re-examining Margaret Haley’s Counsel on Councils,” paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, 1992,
  11. Kate Rousmaniere, “White Silence: A Racial Biography of Margaret Haley,” Equity and Excellence in Education 34, no. 2 (2001): 7–15.
  12. Margaret Haley, “Why Teachers Should Organize,” in the National Education Association of the United States, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the Forty-Third Annual Meeting Held at St. Louis, Missouri (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1904), 146,
  13. Weiner, The Future of Our Schools, 104. Originally in “Cracks in Shanker’s Empire,” New Politics 11, no. 4 (1976).
  14. Steve Golin, The Newark Teacher Strikes: Hopes on the Line (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002).
  15. Weiner, The Future of Our Schools, 104.
  16. Howard Stevenson, “Working In, and Against, the Neo-Liberal State: Global Perspectives on K–12 Teacher Unions,” Workplace 17 (2010): 1–10. This special issue of Workplace: A Journal of Academic Laborcontains other contributions by international group of researchers in the Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association,
  17. Raewyn Connell, “The Work of Teaching,” History of Education Review 38 no. 2 (2009): 9.
  18. Raewyn Connell, “Good Teachers on Dangerous Ground: Towards a New View of Teacher Quality and Professionalism,” Critical Studies in Education 50, no. 3 (2009): 221, 222,
  19. Sara Freedman, “Weeding Women Out of ‘Woman’s True Profession’: The Effects of the Reforms on Teaching and Teachers,” in Joyce Antler and Sari Knopp Biklen, eds., Changing Education: Women as Radicals and Conservators (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), 256.
  20. Chicago Teachers Union, The Schools Chicago Students Deserve, 2012,
  21. Geoffrey G. Tegnell, Democracy in Education: A Comparative Study of the Teachers’ Council Movement, 1895–1968 (PhD dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Education,1997).
  22. Michele Foster,”The Role of Community and Culture in School Reform Efforts: Examining the Views of African-American Teachers,” Educational Foundations 8 , no. 2 (Spring 1994): 5–26.
  23. Community Asset Development Re-defining Education (CADRE) and Justice Matters Institute (JMI), We Interrupt This Crisis—With Our Side of the Story: Relationships Between South Los Angeles Parents and Schools(Los Angeles, October 2004),
  24. Wayne J. Urban , Gender, Race, and the National Education Association (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2000).
  25. Sam Gindin, “Marx’s Proletariat: What Can Today’s Labor Movement Learn from Marx?,” New Labor Forum 21, no. 2 (June 2012): 20.

Common Core Standards: Ten Colossal Errors Anthony Cody Nov 16, 2013

Common Core Standards: Ten Colossal Errors

A recent book described the "Reign of Errors" we have lived through in the name of education reform. I am afraid that the Common Core continues many of these errors, and makes some new ones as well. 

The Business Roundtable announced last month that its #1 priority is the full adoption and implementation of the Common Core standards. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is likewise making a full-court press to advance the Common Core. Major corporations have taken out full-page ads to insist that the Common Core must be adopted. Many leading figures in the Republican party, like Jeb Bush, have led the charge for Common Core, as have entrepreneurs like Joel Klein. And the project has become a centerpiece for President Obama's Department of Education.

Yet in New York, the first large state to implement the tests associated with the new standards, students, parents and principals are expressing grave concerns about the realities of the Common Core. Common Core proponents like Arne Duncan have been quick to ridicule critics as misinformed ideologues or delusional paranoiacs.   Defenders of the Common Core like Duncan and Commissioner John King in New York insist that only members of the Tea Party oppose the Common Core. In spite of this, the opposition is growing, and as more states begin to follow New York's lead, resistance is sure to grow.

With this essay, I want to draw together the central concerns I have about the project. I am not reflexively against any and all standards. Appropriate standards, tied to subject matter, allow flexibility to educators. Teachers ought to be able to tailor their instruction the needs of their students. Loose standards allow educators to work together, to share strategies and curriculum, and to build common assessments for authentic learning. Such standards are necessary and valuable; they set goals and aspirations and create a common framework so that students do not encounter the same materials in different grades. They are not punitive, nor are they tethered to expectations that yield failure for anyone unable to meet them.

The Common Core website has a section devoted to debunking "myths"  about the Common Core - but many of these supposed myths are quite true.  I invite anyone to provide factual evidence that disproves any of the information that follows. (And for the sake of transparency, I ask anyone who disputes this evidence to disclose any payments they or their organization has received for promoting or implementing the Common Core.)

Here are ten major errors being made by the Common Core project, and why I believe it will do more harm than good.

Error #1: The process by which the Common Core standards were developed and adopted was undemocratic.  

At the state level in the past, the process to develop standards has been a public one, led by committees of educators and content experts, who shared their drafts, invited reviews by teachers, and encouraged teachers to try out the new standards with real children in real classrooms, considered the feedback, made alterations where necessary, and held public hearings before final adoption.

 The Common Core had a very different origin. When I first learned of the process to write new national standards underway in 2009, it was a challenge to figure out who was doing the writing.  I eventually learned that a "confidential" process was under way, involving 27 people on two Work Groups, including a significant number from the testing industry. Here are the affiliations of those 27: ACT (6), the College Board (6), Achieve Inc. (8), Student Achievement Partners (2), America's Choice (2). Only three participants were outside of these five organizations. ONLY ONE classroom teacher WAS involved - on the committee to review the math standards. 

This committee was expanded the next year, and additional educators were added to the process. But the process to write the standards remained secret, with few opportunities for input from parents, students and educators. No experts in language acquisition or special education were involved, and no effort was made to see how the standards worked in practice, or whether they were realistic and attainable. 

David Coleman is credited publicly as being the "architect" of the process. He, presumably, had a large role in writing the English Language Arts standards; Jason Zimba of Bennington College was the lead author for the math standards.  Interestingly, David Coleman and Jason Zimba were also members of Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst original board of directors

The organizations leading the creation of the Common Core invited public comments on them. We were told that 10,000 comments were submitted, but they were never made public. The summary of public feedback  quotes only 24 of the responses, so we are left only with the Common Core sponsors' interpretation of the rest.

 The process for adopting the Common Core was remarkably speedy and expedient.  Once the standards were finalized and copyrighted, all that was required for states to adopt them were two signatures: the governor and the state superintendent of education. Two individuals made this decision in state after state, largely without public hearings or input. Robert Scott, former state Commissioner of Education in Texas, said that he was asked to approve the standards before there was even a final draft. 

The Common Core process could not have been directly paid for by the federal Department of Education, which is prevented by law from enacting or promoting national standards. So Bill Gates footed the bill. The Gates Foundation has, so far, paid $191 million to develop and promote the Common Core.  Of that sum, $33 million was earmarked for the development of the Common Core. The remaining $158 million was spent on myriad organizations to buy their active support for the standards - with $19 million awarded just in the past month. Many of the voices in the public arena, including teacher unions,  the national PTA, journalistic operations like John Merrow's Learning Matters, and the National Catholic Educational Association, have received grants for such work. 

Although specifically prohibited from interfering in the curriculum or instruction in the nation's classrooms, the federal Department of Education has used threats and bribes to coerce states to adopt Common Core. Indeed, the active role of the U.S. Department of Education in supporting, advocating for, and defending the Common Core may be illegal,  as may the Department's award of $350 million to develop tests for the Common Core. The Department might reasonably argue that it was appropriate to encourage the development of "better" tests, but in this case the tests were specifically intended to support only one set of standards: the Common Core.

Public Law 103-33, General Education Provisions Act, sec 432, reads as follows:

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, [or] administration...of any educational institution...or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials...

In spite of this prohibition, Race to the Top gave major points to states that adopted "college and career ready standards" such as Common Core.

Here is what the Memorandum of Understanding that state officers were asked to sign said about federal support: 

...the federal government can provide key financial support for this effort in developing a common core of state standards and in moving toward common assessments, such as through the Race to the Top Fund authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Further, the federal government can incentivize this effort through a range of tiered incentives, such as providing states with greater flexibility in the use of existing federal funds, supporting a revised state accountability structure, and offering financial support for states to effectively implement the standards.

When the Department of Education announced Race to the Top there was a complex application process with a short timeline. The Gates Foundation created a process where their staff would assist states in applying for RttT grants. In order to receive this help, state leaders had to fill out a qualifying questionnaire. The first question on the qualifying criteria questionnaire is, "Has your state signed the MOA regarding the Common Core Standards currently being developed by NGA/CCSSO? [Answer must be "yes"]"

Thus, the Gates Foundation worked within the Race to the Top process to apply additional pressure on states to sign on to the Common Core. 

Coming at a time when state education budgets were under great pressure, these inducements were significant in overcoming any hesitations on the part of most governors. The pressure continues, as NCLB waivers depend on the adoption of "college and career ready standards," which are most readily provided by the Common Core.

 It is also worth noting that alongside the adoption of Common Core standards, both Race to the Top and NCLB waivers being issued by the Department of Education require states to include test scores in the evaluations of teachers and principals. This is a package deal.

Error #2: The Common Core Standards violate what we know about how children develop and grow.

One of the problems with the blinkered development process described above is that no experts on early childhood were included in the drafting or internal review of the Common Core. 

In response to the Common Core, more than 500 experts signed the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative. This statement now seems prophetic in light of what is happening in classrooms. The key concerns they raised were

1.            Such standards will lead to long hours of instruction in literacy and math.

2.            They will lead to inappropriate standardized testing

3.            Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other important areas of learning.

4.             There is little evidence that such standards for young children lead to later success.

 Many states are now developing standards and tests for children in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, to "prepare" them for the Common Core. Early childhood education experts agree that this is developmentally inappropriate. Young children do not need to be subjected to standardized tests. Just recently, the parents of a k-2 school refused to allow their children to be tested. They were right to do so.

Error #3: The Common Core is inspired by a vision market-driven innovation enabled by standardization of curriculum, tests, and ultimately, our children themselves.  

There are two goals here that are intertwined. The first is to create a system where learning outcomes are measurable, and students and their teachers can be efficiently compared and ranked on a statewide and national basis. The second is to use standardization to create a national market for curriculum and tests. The two go together, because the collection of data allows the market to function by providing measurable outcomes. Bill Gates has not spoken too much recently about the Common Core, but in 2009, he was very clear about the project's goals

He said,

...identifying common standards is just the starting point. We'll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards. Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of the stimulus package will be used to create just these kinds of tests - "Next Generation assessments," aligned to the Common Core. When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well. And it will unleash a powerful market of people providing services for better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large, uniform base of customers looking at using products that can help every kid learn, and every teacher get better.

 This sentiment was shared by the Department of Education, as was made clear when Arne Duncan's Chief of Staff, Joanne Weiss, wrote this in 2011:

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

In the market-driven system enabled by the Common Core, the "best products" will be those which yield the highest test scores. As Gates said: "The standards will tell the teachers what their students are supposed to learn, and the data will tell them whether they're learning it."

Thus, the overriding goal of the Common Core and the associated tests seems to be to create a national marketplace for products. As an educator, I find this objectionable. The central idea is that innovation and creative change in education will only come from entrepreneurs selling technologically based "learning systems." In my 24 years in high poverty schools in Oakland, the most inspiring and effective innovations were generated by teachers collaborating with one another, motivated not by the desire to get wealthy, but by their dedication to their students.  

Error #4: The Common Core creates a rigid set of performance expectations for every grade level, and results in tightly controlled instructional timelines and curriculum.

 At the heart of the Common Core is standardization.  Every student, without exception, is expected to reach the same benchmarks at every grade level. Early childhood educators know better than this. Children develop at different rates, and we do far more harm than good when we begin labeling them "behind" at an early age. 

 The Common Core also emphasizes measurement of every aspect of learning, leading to absurdities such as the ranking of the "complexity" of novels according to an arcane index called the Lexile score. This number is derived from an algorithm that looks at sentence length and vocabulary. Publishers submit works of literature to be scored, and we discover that Mr. Popper's Penguins is more "rigorous" than Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Cue the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to moan that teachers are not assigning books of sufficient difficulty, as the Common Core mandates. 

This sort of ranking ignores the real complexities within literature, and is emblematic of the reductionist thinking at work when everything must be turned into a number. To be fair, the Common Core English Language Arts standards suggest that qualitative indicators of complexity be used along with quantitative ones. However in these systems, the quantitative measures often seem to trump the qualitative.

Carol Burris recently shared a first grade Pearson math test that is aligned to the Common Core standards for that grade level. 

Would (or should) a 6 year old understand the question, "Which is a related subtraction sentence?"  My nephew's wife, who teaches Calculus, was stumped by that one. 

 Keep in mind that many New York State first graders are still 5 years old at the beginning of October, when this test was given.

You can review the first grade module for yourself, and imagine any five or six year olds you might know grappling with this.

 The most alarming thing is the explanation Burris offers for how these standards were defined:

If you read Commissioner John King's Powerpoint slide 18, which can be found here, you see that the Common Core standards were "backmapped" from a description of 12th grade college-ready skills.  There is no evidence that early childhood experts were consulted to ensure that the standards were appropriate for young learners.  Every parent knows that their kids do not develop according to a "back map"--young children develop through a complex interaction of biology and experience that is unique to the child and which cannot be rushed.

Error #5: The Common Core was designed to be implemented through an expanding regime of high stakes tests, which will consume an unhealthy amount of time and money. 

It is theoretically possible to separate the Common Core standards from an intensified testing regime, and leaders in California are attempting to do just that. However, as Bill Gates' remarks in 2009 indicate, the project was conceived as a vehicle to expand and rationalize tests on a national basis. The expansion is in the form of ever-more frequent benchmark and "formative" tests, as well as exams in previously untested subjects.

Most estimates of cost focus only on the tests themselves.  The Smarter Balanced Common Core tests require the use of relatively new computers. Existing computers are often inadequate and cannot handle the "computer adaptive tests," or the new Common Core aligned curriculum packages. This was one of the reasons given to justify the expenditure of $1 billion of construction bonds on iPads and associated Pearson Common Core aligned curriculum software in Los Angeles. The Pioneer Institute pegs the cost of full implementation of the Common Core at $16 billion nationally - but if others follow the Los Angeles model those costs could go much higher. 

 The cost in terms of instructional time is even greater, so long as tests remain central to our accountability systems. Common Core comes with a greatly expanded set of tests. In New York City, a typical fifth grade student this year will spend 500 minutes (ten fifty-minute class periods) taking baseline and benchmark tests, plus another 540 minutes on the Common Core tests in the spring. Students at many schools will have spend an additional 200 minutes on NYC Performance Assessments, being used to evaluate their teachers. Students who are English learners take a four-part ESL test on top of all of the above. 

Thus testing under the Common Core in New York will consume at least two weeks worth of instructional time out of the school year. And time not spent taking tests will be dominated by preparing for tests, since everyone's evaluation is based on them.

Error #6: Proficiency rates on the new Common Core tests have been dramatically lower -- by design.

Given that we have attached all sorts of consequences to these tests, this could have disastrous consequences for students and teachers. Only 31% of students who took Common Core aligned tests in New York last spring were rated proficient.  On the English Language Arts test, about 16% of African American students were proficient, 5% of students with disabilities, and 3% of English Learners. Last week, the state of North Carolina announced a similar drop in proficiency rates.   Thus we have a system that, in the name of "rigor," will deepen  the achievement gaps, and condemn more students and schools as failures.

Because of the "rigor," many students -- as many as 30% -- will not get a high school diploma. What will our society do with the large numbers of students who were unable to meet the Common Core Standards? Will we have a generation of hoboes and unemployables? Many of these young people might find trades and jobs that suit them, but they may never be interviewed due to their lack of a diploma. This repeats and expands on the error made with high school exit exams, which have been found to significantly increase levels of incarceration  among the students who do not pass them -- while offering no real educational benefits. 

It should be noted that the number of students (or schools) that we label as failures is not some scientifically determined quantity. The number is a result of where the all-important "cut score" is placed. If you want more to pass, you can lower that cut score, as was done in Florida in 2012.  The process to determine cut scores in New York was likewise highly political, and officials knew before the tests were even given the outcome they wanted. 

Error #7: Common Core relies on a narrow conception of the purpose of K12 education as "career and college readiness."

When one reads the official rationales for the Common Core there is little question about the utilitarian philosophy at work. Our children must be prepared to "compete in the global economy." This runs against the grain of the historic purpose of public education, which was to prepare citizens for our democracy, with the knowledge and skills to live fruitful lives and improve our society.

A group of 130 Catholic scholars recently sent a letter expressing their opposition to the Common Core.  They wrote,

The sad facts about Common Core are most visible in its reduction in the study of classic, narrative fiction in favor of "informational texts." This is a dramatic change. It is contrary to tradition and academic studies on reading and human formation. Proponents of Common Core do not disguise their intention to transform "literacy" into a "critical" skill set, at the expense of sustained and heartfelt encounters with great works of literature.

Error #8: The Common Core is associated with an attempt to collect more student and teacher data than ever before.

Parents are rightfully alarmed about the massive collection of their children's private data, made possible by the US department of education's decision in 2011 to loosen the regulations of FERPA , so that student data could be collected by third parties without parental consent. 

There are legitimate privacy concerns, for both students and teachers, as data, once collected, can be used for all sorts of purposes. The vision that every student's performance could be tracked from preschool through their working lives may be appealing to a technocrat like Bill Gates, but it is a bit frightening to many parents. 

This is one aspect of the project that is already in big trouble. The Gates Foundation invested about $100 million to create inBloom, a nonprofit organization that would build a system to store the massive amount of student data their reform project requires. However, as parent concerns over privacy have grown, seven of the nine states that had signed up to  use the system have withdrawn. Only Illinois and New York remain involved, and in New York this week a lawsuit was filed to block the project. 

Error #9: The Common Core is not based on any external evidence, has no research to support it, has never been tested, and worst of all, has no mechanism for correction.

 The Memorandum of Understanding signed by state leaders to opt in to the Common Core allows the states to change a scant 15% of the standards they use. There is no process available to revise the standards. They must be adopted as written. As William Mathis (2012) points out,

"As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself."

Error #10: The biggest problem of American education and American society is the growing number of children living in poverty.  As was recently documented by the Southern Education Fund (and reported in the Washington Post) across the American South and West, a majority of our children are now living in poverty.

The Common Core does nothing to address this problem. In fact, it is diverting scarce resources and time into more tests, more technology for the purpose of testing, and into ever more test preparation.

In conclusion: Common standards, if crafted in a democratic process and carefully reviewed by teachers and tested in real classrooms, might well be a good idea. But the Common Core does not meet any of those conditions. 

The Common Core has been presented as a paradigmatic shift beyond the test-and-punish policies of NCLB. However, we are seeing the mechanisms for testing, ranking, rewarding and punishing simply refined, and made even more consequential for students, teachers and schools. If we use the critical thinking the Common Core claims to promote, we see this is old wine in a new bottle, and it turned to vinegar long ago. 

For all these reasons, I believe any implementation of the Common Core should be halted. The very corporations that are outsourcing good jobs are promoting the Common Core, which deflects attention from their failure to the nation's economy and their failure as good citizens. I do not believe the standards themselves are significantly better than those of most states, and thus they do not offer any real advantages. The process by which they were adopted was undemocratic, and lacking in meaningful input from expert educators. The early results we see from states that are on the leading edge provide evidence of significant damage this project is causing to students already. No Child Left Behind has failed, and we need a genuine shift in our educational paradigm, not the fake-out provided by Common Core.

The frustration evident in recent public hearings in New York is a powerful indicator of a process gone badly awry. The public was not consulted in any meaningful way on decisions to fundamentally alter the substance of teaching and learning in the vast majority of schools in our nation. This process and the content of these standards are deeply flawed, and the means by which student performance is measured continues to damage children.

This did not happen by accident. Powerful people have decided that because they have the money and influence to make things happen, they can do so. But in a democracy, the people ought to have the last word. Decisions such as this ought not be made at secret gatherings of billionaires and their employees. The education of the next generations of Americans is something we all have a stake in.

And so, fellow citizens: Speak Up, Opt Out, Teach On!

What do you think? Is it time to end the reign of Common Core errors?

Continue the dialogue with Anthony on Twitter. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Tale of two bordering states: New Mexico and Colorado

The following appeared in the same paper today, the Albuquerque Journal. The first is about how Colorado teachers accept the new evaluation system and the second is how neighboring New Mexico teachers reject it.

Colo. teachers on board with new system

T.S. Last / Journal Staff Writer7 hours ago
Posted: 12:05 am
After some initial resistance, teachers in Colorado are going along with a new teacher evaluation plan being rolled out this year.
Mike Wetzel, a spokesman for the Colorado Education Association, the state affiliate of the NEA, said the union originally opposed SB 10-191, the 2010 law that put the teacher evaluation plan in place. But since it became law, the union that represents approximately 30,000 Colorado teachers is moving ahead with the new plan.
“It’s the law now, and we believe we need to make this the best law we can for students, teachers, principals and everyone involved in the system,” he said. “We want this system to be a tool for teachers and principals to raise performance.”
Wetzel said teachers were at first concerned about how evaluations could be used against them, but the union has stressed the benefits of the feedback they get from them.
He said teachers still feel a fair amount of anxiety over the system, because it’s something new, “but what we’ve done is, we’ve tried to lessen that anxiety with training across the state. We find the more information teachers get, the anxiety lessens.”
The Colorado model is similar to New Mexico’s in that 50 percent of the evaluation is based on student academic growth using test scores.
But while classroom observations count for 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in New Mexico, under the Colorado model, observations are just part of the second half of the evaluation, which is supposed to measure “professional practice.”
“In order to fill out our rubric, there would be some measure of observation, but there’s really no way to quantify it as a percentage,” said Katy Anthes, executive director of educator effectiveness for the Colorado Department of Education.
Also factoring into the model are such elements as self-assessment, review of goals and performance plan, classroom observations, a mid- and end-of-year review, and planning for the next school year.
Colorado’s teacher evaluation system was piloted last year and this year is a hold-harmless year.
Anthes said there’s a learning curve for everyone involved, but it seems the state’s educators are beginning to grasp it.
Wetzel said one reason teachers have been accepting the new plan was that they were involved in the process of developing it. Input was taken from teachers and three teachers served on the state’s Council for Educator Effectiveness that helped design the system.
“If I had any advice for New Mexico, I think it would be that the teachers’ voices are critical,” he said. “This is not something that should be done to teachers, but something that should be done with teachers.”
Collaboration, helps create a system that “improves the practice of teaching … the results you get will be better for students, and that’s what everybody wants – what’s best for kids.”

Evaluating … the evaluations: Critics decry new system for rating teachers; supporters say it helps kids

by | 6 hours ago

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
While teachers and administrators at Albuquerque Public Schools have been vocal in opposing the state’s new teacher evaluation program – hundreds of APS teachers rallied at a protest attended by the superintendent last month – the reaction has been mixed elsewhere in the state.
At Santa Fe Public Schools, teachers are critical of the new evaluation system but without a major outcry, and the district is collaborating with the state as it moves forward with evaluations.
Down south, in the state’s second-largest school district, Las Cruces, the teacher’s union strongly opposes the new system.
              Garcia teaches an English class at Santa Fe High School.
              Although teachers in the district are critical of the
              state’s new teacher evaluation system, the district is
              collaborating with the Public Education Department in
              moving forward. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Davida Garcia teaches an English class at Santa Fe High School. Although teachers in the district are critical of the state’s new teacher evaluation system, the district is collaborating with the Public Education Department in moving forward. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
And within Albuquerque, at least one state charter school says a similar teacher evaluation system has helped improve test scores and the quality of teaching.
Santa Fe just wrapped up the first of three rounds of classroom observations each teacher will undergo this school year. The observations make up 25 percent of teacher assessments under the state Public Education Department’s NMTEACH evaluation plan.
“We’re all scrambling to meet the Nov. 1 deadline the district imposed to have the first ones completed,” said Santa Fe High principal Leslie Kilmer, who had just left a meeting of district principals last week. “It’s been hectic.”
Reaching an accord with the state in mid-August, Santa Fe was one of the first districts to have its teacher evaluation plan approved by state Public Education Department.
Superintendent Joel Boyd said the district was initially “wary” of what was being imposed on it but decided to work within the rule in a collaborative effort with PED.
“This is a difficult process. It’s an extraordinary shift in how we go about evaluating our teachers,” Boyd said. “This is an extremely heavy lift for our district and is creating some anxiety among teachers. But we’re committed to doing it together and working side by side with our teachers because a change is definitely needed.”
In contrast, APS Superintendent Winston Brooks has been sharply critical of many of the system’s details and the state has rejected APS’ proposed alternatives, which varied greatly from the state plan.
Boyd said the Santa Fe school district collaborated with teachers before negotiating its plan with PED in which student surveys reduce the Standards-Based Assessment testing component value by 5 percent.
SBA and other test scores are used to measure student achievement growth under PED’s model and are supposed to count for 50 percent of the overall evaluation. Instead, the test scores in Santa Fe account for 45 percent of a teacher’s rating.
PED’s model also calls for 25 percent of the evaluation to be based on classroom observations by a school administrator and another 25 percent on locally adopted measures approved by the state.
Under its agreement with PED, Santa Fe’s evaluations break down this way: 45 percent based on test scores, 10 percent from the student surveys of teacher performance, 25 percent on classroom observation, and 20 percent on measures of teacher planning and professionalism.
Bernice García Baca, president of the National Education Association’s Santa Fe chapter, said teachers there are accepting of incorporating teacher evaluations into a system of “shared accountability” that the school district is working to instill.
But she thinks the plan put forth by PED is too rigid and places too much emphasis on testing.
“Teaching is a skilled art, it really is,” she said. “The creativity that we all remember being a part of teaching is really being limited by the system PED is subjecting us to. Trying to quantify it by sifting it down to numbers makes no sense at all.”
Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera doesn’t see it that way.
“I reflect on the old system, which was 100 percent subjective,” she said. “Also, it was binary, meaning either you met competency or you didn’t, which is rigid.”
Skandera said the art of teaching is captured by the new evaluation system. Through classroom observations and student surveys, teachers get feedback on how well they engage students and how well they are getting through to them.
“Through these evaluations, we can capture and acknowledge highly effective teachers, and for those teachers who are struggling we can capture where improvement is needed,” she said. “It gives us the opportunity to acknowledge good teaching while putting kids first.”
              October, a rally at Del Norte High School in Albuquerque
              heard speakers opposing teacher evaluations and more tests
              for New Mexico students. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque
In October, a rally at Del Norte High School in Albuquerque heard speakers opposing teacher evaluations and more tests for New Mexico students. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
‘Going with the flow’
García Baca said teachers in the City Different are no different from their colleagues elsewhere in the state who have strong reservations about the evaluation plan. But there hasn’t been the kind of uproar there has been in Albuquerque, where 600 to 700 people attended a demonstration last month protesting the new teacher evaluation program and testing methods.
“This town is good at going with the flow,” García Baca said of Santa Fe. “It’s something we just have to deal with. We do the best we can and try to change things as we go along.”
She said Santa Fe’s teacher corps has had morale issues in recent years, but much of that can be attributed to wages. Santa Fe teachers hadn’t received a raise in more than five years until they received a 1.5 percent bump in August.
She said the biggest objection she and the union have with the new system is the emphasis on student achievement growth, measured by students’ SBA test scores.
She especially objects to the “group achievement growth” component contained within that measure. It factors in results from past years and in some cases uses test scores from students the teacher never had in the classroom.
García Baca’s biggest concern, however, is the emphasis on testing. She said teachers complain that they spend so much time testing, or preparing their students for tests, they don’t have time to hone their craft. She noted that in Santa Fe, there’s mandated testing going on somewhere in the district 15 days out of each month.
Skandera said that, over the course of an entire school year, about 1,100 hours are available for instruction. Her data suggested that the total time spent on conducting student assessments amounts to about 1 percent – a little more than that at the high school level and a little less at lower grade levels.
Skandera noted that teachers or union representatives were involved while the new evaluation system was being vetted. And she said teachers also provided input for what they thought was important for students to learn, and tests are designed to reflect learning.
“If we’re assessing what we want our students to learn, that’s a good thing,” she said.
Different unions
Most teachers in Santa Fe are represented by the NEA, whereas the American Federation of Teachers is the dominant union in Albuquerque.
García Baca speculated that more outcry might be coming from Albuquerque because it’s by far the largest school district in the state and AFT has more of a presence in the Duke City.
“The union in Albuquerque is more visible and has two full-time people working for them,” García Baca said. “AFT tends to be more obstinate. There’s more energy because of the full-time people, and they tend to be more aggressive with their opposition, especially with the new PED under Skandera.”
AFT New Mexico last month joined a small group of teachers and state legislators in filing a legal petition in state District Court in an effort to stop the PED from implementing its teacher evaluation plan.
NEA New Mexico may be headed down that same road. Late last month, its state board passed a resolution for its leadership to consult with general counsel to explore a legal course of action.
“So many of us think this will all blow over in a year or two – maybe if there’s a change in governors,” García Baca said. “But we can’t count on that, so it was decided to step things up a little bit.”
Despite her criticism of the PED’s evaluation plan, García Baca said she hopes it will eventually evolve into something that restores the art to teaching and better reflects the effectiveness of a good teacher.
“Maybe we have a false hope, but I think most of us are hoping that we will make worthwhile changes as time goes on,” she said.
Kilmer said there is some consternation over the evaluations. “With my teachers at Santa Fe High School, I’m sure there is concern because this is something new,” she said. “I’ve tried hard not to stress them out, because I know that there is that level of concern. But I know my teachers are working hard and doing the best they can.”
Kilmer said she thinks the evaluations can serve as a good tool teachers can use to improve, but it will take time to refine.
“Something I’ve emphasized is that this is a process, not an event,” she said. “It’s not perfect, but we’re all learning, and we expect it to get better little by little. We’re trying to work through the process and work out the kinks.”
Las Cruces
In Las Cruces, NEA representative Patrick Sanchez said teachers’ reaction to the teacher evaluation system has been “close to nuclear.”
“Teachers feel they are under attack,” he said. “They don’t think this is going to do anything but exacerbate testing, and we’re already test crazy.”
Las Cruces Public Schools’ evaluation process has been approved by PED and is underway. One piece of the evaluation is being left to the teachers themselves.
Superintendent Stan Rounds initially planned to tell PED the district would use teacher attendance as a component to count for 10 percent of the evaluation, but backed off after hearing opposition from teachers.
Telling them he wants to be fair, Rounds last week told teachers they could decide for themselves what would make up that portion of their evaluation, either teacher attendance or a yet-to-be-developed student survey.
“The choice is yours,” he says on a nearly five-minute video memo to teachers posted on the district’s website.
Rounds explains that PED sets the rules that school districts must follow, and the district has control over a small portion of the composition of the evaluation.
He tells teachers he appreciates their hard work, trusts them and believes they should have an opportunity to decide the criteria to be used for the part of the evaluation the district can control.
“So we get to pick our poison,” Sanchez said. “But (the student surveys) haven’t been developed yet, so what kind of choice is that?”
PED already rejected the district’s first two evaluation proposals.
Jo Galván, spokeswoman for Las Cruces schools, said after receiving input from teachers, the district submitted proposals that included such things as professional development, pursuit of advanced degrees, service on committees or as a sponsor of a student club to count as part of their evaluations.
PED rejected those ideas, but Galván said PED told them it would accept teacher attendance or student surveys.
Nothing to fear
At left,
              Kathy Sandoval-Snider, principal of the Albuquerque
              Institute for Math and Science, cheers students
              participating in a PE activity while evaluating teacher
              Paul De Herrera, who is next to her. (Marla
              Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
At left, Kathy Sandoval-Snider, principal of the Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science, cheers students participating in a PE activity while evaluating teacher Paul De Herrera, who is next to her. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
In contrast to the harsh criticism by APS leadership, the union and many teachers, one Duke City school administrator can’t understand what all the fuss is about.
“A lot of the fear and complaints about the evaluation system that’s on the table are fraught with error,” said Kathy Sandoval-Snider, director of the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science. “I don’t know where people are coming up with some of this stuff. If their intent is to scare the crud out of teachers, they are doing very well.”
Sandoval-Snider attributes the teacher evaluation system her school implemented to playing a crucial role in the leap in student success that has occurred in recent years at AIMS, a state-sponsored charter school for grades six through 12 located on the University of New Mexico south campus.
She boasts that AIMS is the only charter school in New Mexico, and one of just 12 in the country, recognized as a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. “But we weren’t always very good,” she said.
The school has some built-in advantages – it’s small, with 312 students reported for 2013-14. Also, 30 percent of its students are eligible for reduced or free lunches based on income, compared to 64 percent in Albuquerque Public Schools. Families who send their children to AIMS are involved enough to enter a lottery seeking admission and there is a waiting list.
Still, Sandoval-Snider said it wasn’t until her school started implementing a teacher evaluation system five years ago that things started to improve.
Sandoval-Snider said that, in 2007, incoming sixth-graders at AIMS were measured to be 37 percent proficient in reading and 42 percent proficient in math.
“That same class (now in the 12th grade) is now 100 percent proficient in both reading and math,” she said. “I’m convinced, and my staff is convinced, that it’s because our teachers now have the tools they can use to help with instruction.”
Sandoval-Snider, who in 2011 was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to serve on an effective teaching task force, said one of those tools is a comprehensive system of evaluating the impact of teachers in the classroom, the framework of which she said was similar to the one introduced by PED.
Teachers are evaluated four times per year, twice by administrative staff, once by an experienced teacher and once by a neutral specialist affiliated with UNM. Together with test scores, these observations are used to evaluate teachers.
The teachers receive feedback after each observation, including suggestions for improvement and a framework of support. Teachers in each department and at each grade level meet to develop goals for professional growth, which are all data-driven and tied to student achievement. They then develop interventions and classroom strategies that can be applied in the classroom the next day. The results are reported back to their teacher groups.
Sandoval-Snider said the evaluations allow teachers to fine tune their teaching.
“We wanted (an evaluation system) that was objective and with multiple components, but also gave teachers scores that tell them this is what we’ve got to work on,” she said. “It gives them the power to make good decisions, and every decision is made with the classroom in mind.”