Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chap. 100: Teacher Quotas: The New Pass - Fail System

Quotas: The Latest Trend in Teacher Evaluations

Chapter 100: The New Pass - Fail System

Dear Teacher,
Pass your students or you fail!

Who doesn't want to keep up with the latest trends?  Who wants to be considered out of date or, God forbid, old fashioned?  So let's keep up to date with the latest trends in teacher evaluations.  If you thought that firing teachers based merely on standardized test scores was the "most" in teacher evaluations, then you haven't heard of scholarship quotas.  The latest - and Cindy Adams doesn't even have this yet - the latest is that teachers can now be fired for not meeting their scholarship quotas.  Cops have to give out x amount of citations.  Teachers have to give out x number of free passes.

There are 94 New York City schools currently defined as “renewal” schools.  Post-apocalyptic - I’m sorry, post-Bloomberg New York City Mayor de Blasio and his chancellor Carmen Farina promised to stop closing schools and calling it reform.  Instead of closing schools that Bloomberg would have axed, they’ve redefined them as “renewal” schools and given them a three year reprieve.  If in three years these schools are not “renewed,” they will be closed.  We might go to a spa to get renewed but not so for schools.  Such is the keeping of political promises.

In an article by Elizabeth A. Harris entitled “De Blasio Unveils New Plans for Troubled Schools in New York" the New York Times on Nov. 3, 2014 reported on this renewal plan and noted the improvements that would have to be made:

             Schools in the Renewal program will work along a three-year timeline, which will require improved attendance in the next school year and enhanced academic performance the year after that. 

In other words, these schools have to show “progress” in getting truant students to attend school.  These schools must also improve their graduation and Regents pass rate “data,” which would be considered "enhanced academic performance."

Improved attendance can be dicey.  Since a school can do nothing to actually get students into the building, the only alternative is data manipulation.  This is done through various ruses, prestidigitation, subterfuge, magic formulas and sleights of hand.  Since the education reform powers-that-be have mandated that the school somehow do the impossible, the impossible is “done.”  Somehow attendance data shows progress, students or no students.

Steps toward “enhanced academic performance,” on the other hand, are more readily available to  administrators hoping to keep their schools open and their jobs / pensions in tact.

Disclaimer: What follows applies not just to New Explorers High School and the other 93 schools on the renewal list but to every school in New York state.  I use New Explorers High School as an example only because of my direct experience there.  The administrators at New Explorers are merely doing what administrators at all high schools are doing.  They are attempting to deal with absurd and unrealistic mandates and expectations put on them by people who care little about education but everything about their various agendas.

What exactly is “enhance(d) academic performance?”  By one measure it might be credit accumulation.  Credit accumulation is simply the number of classes passed or failed by any given student.  It's that simple.  Is a student passing enough classes in the 9th grade to be defined as a “sophomore” the following year?  School reformers are now scrutinizing the credit accumulation data of schools state and countrywide.  They want to know if 9th grade students are progressing to the 10th grade, 10th graders to the 11th grade, etc., at a rate deemed acceptable to them.  What actually constitutes a “freshman,” “sophomore,” “junior,” or “senior” deserves its own chapter and social advancement remains in disrepute even though it is not a good idea to have a 19-year-old predator sitting in a freshman class with 14-year-old girls, which happens if there is no social advancement.  I’ve had to deal with that situation first hand.

Unlike attendance, credit accumulation is something that administrators can get their hands on.  If students are not passing their classes, could it be that the teacher isn’t teaching them well enough?  Could it be that if the teacher just taught them better, they would pass and thus accumulate the credit?  Could it be that it’s the teacher’s fault rather than the student’s fault that the student failed?  Could it be that it is the teacher’s fault that the student does no work and doesn’t care whether he/she passes the class or not?  Could it be that in spite of the great lesson taught by the teacher, it’s the teacher’s fault that the student spent the entire class period preoccupied with daydreams, cell phone apps, gossip, teenage drama, food, t.,v., video games, movies, make-up and everything else that students do rather than learn?  Of course it could!  In fact, it must be the teacher’s fault!  This is the twisted logic of current school reformers.

The obvious solution?  Quotas.  If a school is mandated to graduate a certain number of students, why can’t teachers be mandated to pass a certain number of their students?  Such is the twisted logic of the school reformers.

Thus it was that I was called into a disciplinary meeting by my A.P. concerning my “scholarship.”  Perhaps you thought that “your scholarship” referred to how you did in school.  If so, you know nothing of current school reform and the re-defining of the obvious.  “Scholarship” now euphemistically refers to the number of students passing or failing “your” classes.  Here is the letter that I and others at New Explorers received recently concerning this vital issue:  “Scholarship Meeting.”

Note the bromide at the bottom: "When students graduate, we all succeed."  I like to see students graduate.  But that's their success, not mine.

It’s brief and to the point, as you can see.  They wanted to discuss my “scholarship,” which perhaps exists as a euphemism for purposes of plausible denial.  A clever lawyer might twist the term “scholarship” into almost anything.  Among New York City teachers and especially those of us who have experienced these “scholarship” discussions, however, there is no doubt about what it means.  It means that you are failing too many students.

Most troubling is the last line:

           Because this may lead to disciplinary action, you may bring a union representative.

UFT Chapter Leaders also understand quite well what “scholarship” really means.

So in this era of school reform, disciplinary action can be taken against teachers who simply fail students who do failing work.  Kafka isn't just smiling.  He's lol'ing!

Let’s take the school reform logic to its logical conclusion.  New Explorer’s High School has been mandated to increase it’s graduation rate from 54% to 63% for the 2014-15 school year.  The fact that fewer than 63% of students at the school have legitimately met graduation requirements is moot.  A mandate is a mandate.

If the school has been mandated to graduate 63% of its students this year and more than that next year and more than that the following year, then students had better be acquiring their credits at a rate of at least 75%.  This year’s freshman cohort had better be up to snuff.

In other words, if a teacher is not passing at least 75% of his / her students, disciplinary action might be taken.  What form might this action take?

The Charlotte Danielson puppet has provided “objective” rubrics for evaluating teachers.  See Chapter 31: The Charlotte Danielson Rubric for the Highly Effective Husband.  This pretense at objectivity would be laughable if it weren’t being used to incriminate good teachers.  If a teacher fails to meet his / her quota, obviously some of the objective Danielson categories can be deemed “ineffective.”  A good teacher’s career can be brought to a screeching halt by students who don’t attend, don’t work, create chaos in the classroom and who don’t care about education in the least.  That, according to the reformers, is the teacher’s fault.

So let’s take this concept to its ultimate extreme.  After all, there is no reason why every student who never shows up at school or who does no work and spends the day in the hallways shouldn’t accumulate every credit and graduate in four years.  Let’s imagine one of these disciplinary meetings in the year 2018 when the old No Child Left Behind mandate of 100% graduation is the “standard” for public education.

A.P.    So, Mr. Haverstock, only 99% of your students passed your class.  What’s up?
Me    Well, I never saw Jimmy.
A.P.    And?
Me    Well, since I never saw him, there was no work in his portfolio.
A.P.    And?
Me    Since his name was still on the roster, I had to submit a grade.
A.P.    And?
Me    Well ….
A.P.    Let me see your outreach log.
Me    Ok.  Here.
A.P.    You called at the beginning of the term?
Me    Yes.
A.P.    That’s it?
Me    Well, the number was disconnected.  I heard from students that he was in ….
A.P.    What sort of interventions did you attempt?
Me    Well, since I never saw him except that one time on the stairs smoking ….
A.P.    Don’t you understand that it is your responsibility to make sure that every single student on your roster gets the intervention that he needs?
Me    I did chase him down the stairs that day.
A.P.    Did you catch him?
Me    He was on the football team, you know, before he ….
A.P.    You should have run faster.  Maybe if you’d tackled him, he could have passed your class.
Me    Well, I passed Susie even though I only saw her once after catching her on the Concourse.  She did some extra credit.
A.P.    That’s not good enough.  We need to graduate 100% of this cohort and because of you Jimmy is not going to graduate.  Do you know what that means for our school?
Me    Because of me?
A.P.    Okay, I’ve had this meeting with all of his teachers but that doesn’t mitigate your responsibility in our failure to graduate a student that we never saw.
Me    Well, all I can say is ….
A.P.    I’m afraid this will result in an “ineffective” rating for you this year ….

I could go on but it’s pathetically easy to spoof the absurdity of current school reform.

Could there be anything more absurd and surreal than giving teachers quotas on the number of students they have to pass?  Could there be anything more absurd or surreal than placing quotas on the number of students a school must graduate?  Could there be anything more absurd than current education reform?

This is the shell game that the education reformers are playing and they’re playing it for their own purposes that have nothing to do with education.  As always teachers are on the front line and are the first to fall.