Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chap. 30: The Real Teacher Evaluation System

    Chapter Thirty: Reform School, Part 5: Teacher Evaluations

[Although all of the stories about schools in this book are true, this chapter is another purely imaginative, i.e., fictional account of a conversation that might have taken place between NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and various employees, former employees, wannabe employees and lackeys on Feb. 24, 2012, the day teacher ratings for 12,000 4th – 8th grade teachers were made public.]

Former chancellor Joel Klein enters NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office.  An aide is present.

JK:            Mike, I just got the news.  Congratulations!
MB:            (Admiring a bottle of wine.)  Thanks, Joel.  1972 - and you know how much I paid for it?
JK:            I’m talking about the teacher ratings, Mike.
MB:            Oh, right.  Thanks.  (Puts down the bottle.)
JK:            I just wish we could have gotten it done during my tenure ….
MB:            Please, Joel, you know how I hate that word.
JK:            Sorry – during my term as chancellor.  But you know, Mike, they’re all talking about how unreliable these ratings numbers are.
MB:            Let ‘em talk.  At least I’ve got some objective data now.  I can start firing people.
JK:            How many teachers have you fired, Mike?
MB:            Well, none yet, but now we can really get going.  I’m dying to fire some of those lazy bastards.  It’s my third term, for God’s sake, Joel.
JK:            Tell me about it.  I know how rough the union is.  But didn’t you get rid of that real estate guy finally?
MB:            You mean that guy who spent 10 years in the rubber room managing a million dollar real estate portfolio?
JK:            Yeah.  I heard you got him.
MB:            Well, not exactly.  He retired before I could fire him.
JK:            Retired?
MB:            Well, actually he’s working for me now.  With his ability to manipulate the system ….
JK:            Good move, Mike.
Aide:            Here it is, Mr. Bloomberg.
MB:            Let’s have it.
Aide:            Well, I’ve added another constant.
MB:            That’s a word I like.
JK:            You mean sort of like how you want to rule the ci ….
MB:            [Gives Klein a level 4 intimidation gesture.]
JK:            Sorry.
MB:            That’s okay.  Just listen to this, Joel.  This is Horace.
Aide:            Nice to meet you, Mr. Klein.
JK:            Likewise.
MB:            Go ahead, Horace.
Aide:            Okay.  Now, you take the total scores on the state tests, add them all together.  That yields the base number.
JK:            What is this?
MB:            The formula for evaluating teachers.  Go on, Horace.
Aide:            You take their total test score number, subtract the number of in school suspensions and multiply by the number of report card grades above 75.  Then you subtract the total number of detentions, counting reprimands from teachers as .5019 of an actual suspension, reprimands from school aides as .6321209, from school security as .723643, from A.P.’s as .832398, deans, .86343, and principals .9312194213.
MB:            That makes sense.
JK:            What about a superintendent reprimand?
Aide:            Well, you know how rarely superintendents ever come near a real school.  We’ve only had 23 of those in the entire school system so we’ve left it out of the equation – statistically negligible.
JK:            But isn’t that important?
Aide:            Only for the teachers of those 23 kids.
MB:            No one will notice.  Go on.
Aide:            Well, you take that figure and add in the number of years of education of each teacher, then divide by their overall undergraduate G.P.A., then triple that to weigh it a bit more and add in the number of years of graduate work, doubling the weight of post-graduate work, tripling it if it was done at Harvard, quadrupling for Yale and factoring in the negative prorated state college constant.  You divide ….
JK:            What’s that for?
MB:            So we can claim that we’re taking into account the education level of the teacher.  We don’t want them complaining about that.
Aide:            Then we subtract the number of years the teacher has been a paying member of the UFT.
MB:            Excellent!
JK:            What does that have to do with it?
MB:            Who cares?  Go on.
Aide:            We weigh that using the amount each teacher contributes to COPE and throw in a constant there. Call it the COPE constant.  That’s to make sure that that number weighs them down.  If they’re paying more than ten dollars a paycheck into COPE, for example, they can score no higher than a 44th percentile no matter how their students score on the tests.
MB:            Can Mulgrew figure that out?
Aide:            Did he go to M.I.T.?  I’ve disguised it under “miscellaneous criteria”.
MB:            Good, go on.
JK:            They’ve got some sharp people working with the union, Mike.
MB:            [Smirking.]  Tell him, Horace.
Aide:            Well, Mr. Klein, at age 3 and a half my I.Q. was estimated at 275.44.  I’m sure I don’t have to inform you that that is exactly 2.6343 times the I.Q. of the average public school teacher.
JK:            I knew that.           
Aide:            I graduated magna cum laude from Case Western Reserve at the age of 9, did my graduate work at Yale.  At age 13 I was a Rhodes Scholar and when the next administration comes in, I’m planning to realign the universe according to my new theory of quasi-relativity.  Do you know that there never was an actual “big bang”?
JK:            You don't say.
Aide:            And I’ve got the formulas and constants to prove it.  I invented one that I call the “God constant”. You can insert it into any equation and that equation will always yield pi minus 14.
JK:            How’s that?
MB:            Don’t ask.  Go on, Horace.
Aide:            In fact, Mr. Mayor, I was thinking of inserting my God constant into the teacher ratings formula for any teacher that exceeds 1 sick day a month.  I could make it reduce their actual rating, whatever that is, by pi minus 14.
MB:            Let’s see those union guys figure that out.  Go on, Horace.
JK:            Are you a math teacher?
MB:            Come on, Joel.  He can DO!  I wouldn’t let him anywhere near a classroom.  He knows too much about education.
JK:            That’s what you said when you hired ….
MB:            Go on, Horace, man.
Aide:            Well, Mr. Mayor, you take that number and divide by the number of days absent from school for each student and then prorate that number by the years listed as ELL.
JK:            That’s good.  They’re sure to complain about that.
Aide:            Then you multiply by the income of the family minus food stamps, housing allowance and any other state subsidy.  You take that number and average it against the average income tax return for all tax payers in the state with children in the public school system ….
MB:            They won’t be able to claim that we don’t take into account socio-economic status.
JK:            What about charter kids?
MB:            We’re leaving them out for now.
JK:            Why, Mike?  They’re certainly going to come out well above average.
MB:            Exactly.  We don’t want to let it out yet that we’re targeting the over-achieving kids for charter schools in order to make the public schools look bad by comparison.  Come on, Joel.  How many times did we talk about that?
JK:            Oh, right.
MB:            Want to taste that wine?
JK:            Not yet.
Aide:            Okay, so then you double the number of miles traveled by each student to and from the school, multiplying by 5.898723 if by subway, by 4.123423498 if by MTA bus, by 3.213476 if by school bus and by -2.31123 if they’re driven by their parents ….
JK:            What?
MB:            Well, come on, Joel.  We have to make them think that we're making a fair comparison between our kids and ….
JK:            Right.
Aide:            Then we multiply by the income figure and then set a ratio between that number and the original sum of all test scores, divide by the number of services proscribed by the I.E.P. or 2.45672 if there is no I.E.P….
JK:            Wait ….
MB:            No, Joel, that number comes straight from the Danielson group.
JK:            Oh.
Aide:            You take that number and divide it into the percentages of classroom work done for each teacher ….
JK:            You mean, if the teacher only taught them 30% of the time ….
Aide:            Exactly.  The difference is negligible but at least it’s in there.  Now, you take that number, add in the parent teacher conferences, phone calls and meetings with parent coordinators ….
JK:            I like that.
Aide:            Multiply by the average weight of the book bag and sneaker size – and this is where the constant comes in.
MB:            Go on.
Aide:            Well, if we use a constant of 13.8917326732619120309098123, we come out with a figure that has a margin of error of 52% for English teachers and 41% for math over six years.

            [Enter Chancellor Dennis Walcott.]

MB:            So that improves the margin of error for English teachers but not for math.
Aide:            Right but I’m still tweaking.  I think we can get English down to 45% over 4 years without losing any ground in math.
DW:            The formula?
MB:            Right.  Go on.
Aide:            I think if we insert a new constant between the backpack and sneaker figures, we can really start to get somewhere.
MB:            Well, what are you waiting for?  Hi, Dennis.
DW:            Hi, Mike.  Hi, Joel.
JK:            [Sneers.]
DW:            Can I help it, Joel, if I’m an educator and you’re not?
JK:            Didn’t I provide you with the software for the ATRs, the Accelerated Teacher Removal?
DW:            Yes, Joel, and I meant to thank you for that.  We’ve got those teachers running for cover now.  All the pundits are calling the ATRs “ineffective”.
MB:            Wait!  Is that true?  I mean, according to the objective formula?
DW:            What?
MB:            That all the Accelerated Teacher Removals are “ineffective”?
DW:            Of course not.  They’re ATRs because we closed their schools.  You know that, Mike.  Most of their schools – you opened them yourself specifically so that we could close them down and start excessing as many veteran teachers as possible.  Most of them are excellent, experienced teachers – you know, the ones making $80,000 or more.
MB:            The ones we’ve targeted.
DW:            Exactly.
MB:            But what if we publish ratings for them?  What if they come out at the top?
Aide:            Don’t worry, Mr. Mayor.  I forgot to mention the ATR constant.  We threw in a number for ATRs to make sure that if you get excessed, you can’t score higher than a 17th percentile no matter how many successful years in the system you’ve had.
MB:            So if you’re making more than $80,000, you’re rating is going to be less than ….
Aide:            That’s right, sir.  Didn’t you hear me mention the negative Tier 1 and Tier 2 figures?
MB:            I must have been thinking about the wine.  Hey, anyone want some wine?  I’ve got this vintage bottle ….

            [Enter Cathie Black.]

CB:            Did I hear someone say wine?
MB:            Yes, Cathie.  I must have heard you coming.
DW:            Hello, Ms. Black.
JK:            Hi, Cathie.  Did you get the memo I sent?
CB:            I haven’t been to the office in a couple of weeks, Joel.  I’ll look for it.
MB:            Any other figures I should know about?
Aide:            Well, just the rubber room constant.  I’m still trying to work that one in.  The problem is that we’ve already weighted the numbers so heavily against the teachers ….. sorry.
MB:            Oh, don’t worry about Cathie. She knows what we’re doing.  If she had brought you in ….
CB:            Come on, Mike.  I got it on my resume.  You know that’s all I ever wanted.
MB:            Glad to be of service, Cathie.
Aide:            Well, any new constant tends to throw all of the teachers into a negative number.  I’m trying to come up with just one more constant for time spent in the rubber room that will shift everything just enough but not too much.
MB:            Keep working on it.  That’s important.  We can’t have someone who has been sitting in the rubber room for years coming up with a high rating.
Aide:            That’s the problem, if they were actually good teachers before someone accused them of something ….
MB:            You’ll figure it out, Horace.  It can’t be as complicated as proving that God is a constant.
Aide:            I didn’t say ….
MB:            Now, wine anyone?

            NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Chapter 29: Kamikaze Teacher, Part 3

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Kamikaze, Part 3:

Why Teacher Evaluations Cannot Be Based on Student Performance:
Exhibit B

This is officially “Exhibit B” only because I have other names for most of the chapters in this “memoir”.  Most of them, however, are exhibits of one sort or another or contain exhibits for the defense.  You cannot evaluate NYC teachers based on student performance.
It would seem self-evident that you cannot base anyone’s performance on the performance of someone else.  It’s a testament to the power of the media that such an idea can even be floated, let alone taken seriously by serious people.  If kids were hubcaps, maybe objective data could be collected.  Maybe objective would exist.  Kids are not hubcaps.
In chapter 8 I described a class in which I failed 48% of my students.  If you want to call that an objective number and fail me, here’s more objective evidence of my failure as a teacher.  There were 32 students on the final roster of this class.  I say “final” roster because administrators are forced to play the missing student game all the time.  [See chapter: Teaching the Present and Unaccounted for.]  Since the school budget is based on enrollment, it is in the interest of the school to keep as many students on the books as possible whether they are physically attending class or not.
The official roster for the class I’m about to describe includes 5 students whose names were occasionally on my weekly attendance sheets and occasionally not.  When it came time to put in the final grade, those 5 names did not appear.  As far as I know, I gave them no grade at all.  However, their names were still in the system at the end of the semester and objective data usually calls for some sort of accounting whether realistic or fanciful.  Since I had given some of them a “z”, which is the “grade” given to a student who never showed up in class at all, on earlier report cards, some of them may have received that.  Or maybe some of them got the failing 55 that I’d given them on earlier report cards.  If they show up even once, teachers are supposed to give the student a 55, the lowest passing grade.  This is phantom data that is no doubt collected by eggheads somewhere and which might be used in a future evaluation of my performance but which had nothing to do with my teaching.  Is it any wonder that teachers object to the very term “objective data”, let alone the claim that it can be used to reflect on our performance?
The official roster is found on ARIS.  This is the DOE on line site that contains the scholastic history of every student in the NYC public school system.  Teachers are directed to ARIS to find out how a student fared on the middle school exams, for instance.  Personal information is also there so we can find out which of our students are overage, which have been labeled “English language learner” and which have I.E.P.’s (for special services).  Phone numbers are found on ARIS but ARIS phone numbers are no more reliable than any others floating around the building.  Like the drop-out rate, the percentage of non-working phone numbers in schools like the ones I’ve worked in ranges from 30% to 70%.  Nevertheless, teachers are held responsible for making phone calls to these often phantom numbers.  Kamikaze.
One colleague of mine who was always very diligent in attempting to contact families told me of a call he made to one of these ARIS numbers.  The number turned out not to be the number of the student he was looking for.  However, an adult male did answer the phone.  This adult male was not happy about answering this errant call and expressed his unhappiness perhaps in the only way he could.  “If you call this number again,” my colleague was informed, “I’m coming to that school and looking for you.” Teachers are directed to clearly identify themselves when making these calls.  In this instance this conscientious teacher could only hope that his was indeed the wrong number.
In any case although there were 37 students on my official ARIS roster, there were only 32 on the list for final semester grades.  This may seem inconsequential until you consider who is compiling the objective data on teachers and how they are compiling it.  These 5 missing students were all overage.  Two of them were 16 years old; three were 17 – this on the register for a 9th grade class where 14 was “on age”.  I knew all five from previous years and knew that they had failed most or all of the classes they had ever taken.  It could be that they failed my class as well.  They weren’t on my final grade roster but they were on the official DOE roster.  Who gave them a grade and what grade that might have been I never knew.  If their data was integrated into my evaluation data, I also never knew.  As of Feb. 2012 high school teachers have not yet been subjected to these “objective” evaluations although Cuomo has now written legislation that requires it no later than Jan. 2013.  I can only wonder how these 5 “objective students” will come back to haunt me.  Kamikaze.
But this chapter is about the 32 students in that class who did receive a final grade from me.  I failed exactly half of them – 16 out of the 32.  I could have failed three more but didn’t based on my projection that within a year or two they would have matured into higher-functioning students.  If that sounds like social promotion, see my chapter on the necessity for social promotion.  Of course, it was social promotion, unless you want to call it social projection.  I was making an educated guess on how they were going to do based on 4 months of working with them in the classroom.  These three came to class regularly and showed signs of improving.  I’m talking about improving their behavior because poor behavior is the only thing holding most failing students back.

Of the sixteen I failed, eleven were overage.  Five were 15 years old; four were 16 years old; one was 17 years old; one was 18 years old.  The other five were on age (14 years old). [1]
Of the sixteen I passed, seven were on age (14).  Five were 15 years old; four were 16 years old.  None was older than that.
As you might have noticed only 12 of these 32 students were on age and had never been held back.  20 of 32 were overage, meaning they had failed at least once at some point before this ninth grade year.  Seven of the 12 on age students passed.  Eleven of the 20 overage students failed.

Of the sixteen I passed, 14 had attendance rates of 80% or higher.
Of the sixteen I failed, 13 had attendance rates of less than 75%.  Nine of them had an attendance rate lower than 50%.

Of the sixteen I passed, none had been suspended.
Of the sixteen I failed, 12 had been suspended at least once.

Of the sixteen I passed, 9 were girls; 7 were boys although 5 of the boys received the lowest possible passing grade (65).
Of the sixteen I failed, 9 were boys; 7 were girls.

I gave out 4 grades of 90 or more (all girls).  Three of these four students were 14; the other was 15.  All had attendance rates higher than 90%.
I gave out 4 grades of 80 / 85 – two boys and two girls.  [Note that for grades below 90 only multiples of 5 are allowed to be entered.]  Their ages were 14, 15, 16 and 16.  Three of the four had attendance rates above 90%; the other had documented health issues.
I gave out 2 grades of 70 / 75 (both girls).  Both were 14 years old and had attendance rates of 75% or better.  (One had near perfect attendance.)
I gave out 6 grades of 65, the lowest passing mark (five boys, one girl).  All had attendance rates of 80% or higher.  The three that passed only based on my projection of improved behavior were, of course, in this group (three boys).
Of the sixteen who received a 55, the only failing grade allowed, only one was both on age and had attendance of 80%.  This girl simply refused to do any work.  The other 15 were either over age or had poor attendance – eight fit both categories.

Half of my class failed.  Did I fail?  I don’t consider myself a failure.  I presented a good lesson every day and did everything I could do to get students to read, write, listen and talk on task.  I received a “satisfactory” evaluation during the semester’s observation by my supervisors although that observation took place not in this typically low-performing 9th grade class but in a high-performing 11th grade class in which 93% passed.
One of the students in this class just described had a question for me one day.  This was near the middle of the semester.  By then it was clear that as many as half of the students in the class were not going to pass and that their behavior in the classroom was such as to make it very difficult for the working kids to learn.  The poor behavior on the part of most of the failing and 65-rated students wasted between 30% and 60% of valuable class time.  The students who wanted to work often found themselves waiting for deans to arrive or for other disciplinary actions to take place.
You might be inclined to blame me for not managing classroom behavior better.  If you do, however, I invite you to spend a semester teaching such a class.  I would assume that you’ve never done it because anyone who has taught such a class knows very well that much of the behavior is so outrageous as to be beyond the reach of classroom management tools, many of which I use and often to good effect but many of which are actually counterproductive with students who are prepared to walk out of the room and out of the building for good rather than conform to even the simplest rule.  [Look for a chapter on the Charlotte Danielson rubric for “effective classroom management”, the most absurd document to emanate from the Common Core movement that I’ve seen yet.]
Anyway this girl, one of the four who received a grade of higher than 90 for the semester, asked me one day if she were going to be seeing different people in future semesters.  This was not merely a logical question, given that she was shut up in a room with the same 32 or 34 or 37 – whatever it happened to be in a given week – all day long and had seen how much of her time was being wasted.  It was not merely a logical question, I say, it was a heart-breaking one.  As I’ve said, this memoir isn’t about me.  It’s about the good students who have been robbed of most of the things that once made high school education worthwhile – robbed by the Bloomberg reform schools and now the national common core movement whose intentions (at best) are to show improved graduation statistics at whatever cost and however dubious.  I’m not talking merely about the loss of most electives and extra-curricular activities in the reform schools.  I’m also talking about the placement of high-functioning students with low-functioning students in the hope that the bad kids will be dragged up in something academically called “heterogeneous grouping”.  Too often the good ones are dragged down.  Always, however, their time is not put to best use and the resources in the system are not directed at those who would make best use of them.
“Am I going to be seeing different people?” she asked.
I could only look back at her and say, “Half of these kid are never getting out of 9th grade.  You will see other people but not until next year.”  It wasn’t much of an answer but the truth of it was self-evident.  Fortunately this was a student with a great deal of patience – learned perhaps from coexisting for 9 years already with students unable to function in a classroom setting.  All I did was confirm what she already knew.
She smiled and went back to her book.
In other words, the best I could offer her was the pathetic admission that next year might not be as wasted as this year.  Perhaps unfortunately, it was enough for her.

NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.

[1] There was a 20-year-old senior whose name occasionally appeared on my weekly attendance sheets that semester.  He was vainly trying to make up lost credits at that late date and I knew him well, having failed him a number of times over his lengthy high school career.  However, his name appeared neither on my final grade roster nor on the final ARIS roster.  I don’t know how he washed out or what objective effect his name on my roster – even though sporadically – might have on my designation as “effective” or “ineffective”.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chapter 28: Exhibit A

“This Nigga’s Crazy!”
My Life as an NYC Teacher

W.D. Haverstock

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Why Teacher Evaluations Cannot Be Based on Student Performance: Exhibit A

There is a big push to make supposedly “objective” student performance data the main ingredient in teacher evaluations – 40% of the evaluation is the number they keep throwing around.  That’s the number, of course, so that the pundits can claim that that it “isn’t even half” of the evaluation.  No doubt the 40% number was cooked up by the P.R. people as a way to get it in the door on the way to a future “tier” where nothing else matters but the numbers – the hubcap teacher.
On the face of it, it seems reasonable.  A good teacher’s students ought to perform well; a bad teacher’s students ought to perform poorly.  It seems cut and dried.  Just look at how the students are doing and fire the teachers accordingly.  I won’t go into the divide and conquer ruse being used now wherein significant sums of money are dangled in front of “highly effective” teachers, that is, teachers deemed “highly effective” by the very people dividing and conquering.
If teachers were making hubcaps, then it would be reasonable.  Just look at the performance of a particular teacher’s hubcaps on the standardized tests, fire the teacher making the dented hubcaps and replace him/her with a freshly minted hubcap teacher, preferably one young, inexperienced, malleable and coming into the contract under a new tier that gives the principal the right to fire them at will – not to mention reduced wages and benefits.  For the CEO of the city hubcap company, it’s a dream come true.
Kids, of course, are not hubcaps.  Some are well dented but it mostly is not the teacher(s) who dented them and in many cases it will take a counselor, psychologist, psychoanalyst, surgeon, preacher or prison guard to hammer out the dent.  Exhibit A: I once taught a student entering the 9th grade for the 3rd or 4th time – it was hard to say since this student had spent “x” number years out of the school system altogether, showing up only enough to stay enrolled or perhaps to gain some city or state benefits.  Which cohort was he in?  Which cohort should he have been in?  Who knows?  What was known was that this new “freshman” was eighteen years old – how fresh, I ask, was he?  His chronological cohort had already graduated from high school while he was still festering in the 9th grade with 2 credits accumulated in those 3 or 4 or 5 years of “studying” for the standardized tests he had no chance of passing.
It turned out that he was a fresh enough freshman to make his teachers uncomfortable.  Administrators were joyous when he finally started attending school regularly.  Attendance, like unprepared students sitting for state tests, is good for the school's overall objective data.  Teachers who had to “teach” this “student”, on the other hand, were not so joyous.  Unfortunately, I was one of them.
Fortunately, this student was in my last period class and so I only occasionally saw him.  This, of course, was going to be bad for my objective data since he wasn’t going to be passing the class and certainly wasn’t going to be prepared for any state tests.  It was good, however, for the working students in the class since on those occasions when he did show up, he absorbed an inordinate amount of time through class disruptions and attempts on my part to take disciplinary action against him.  He was literally stealing the education of those students who came to work but couldn’t because of his behavior.
When I started hearing stories of touching, fondling, and sitting on laps from other teachers, I became very uncomfortable and was even more glad that this student wasn’t regularly attending my class.  When I heard that he had exposed himself to the other students in the room, however, I went straight to the dean’s office to find out what action they were taking.  Writing such an incident up for detention or suspension, however, didn’t seem to fit the crime.  This, after all, was an adult male exposing himself to underage children.
It so happened that NYPD was stationed in the building every day.  The school was considered an “Impact School” because of crime levels within the building and in the neighborhood.  These crimes included smuggling 12 pounds of pot into the building – I wonder which category of “evaluation data” this falls under.  Another student set fire to one of the boy’s bathrooms – his teachers are to be evaluated accordingly.
Once I heard the easily identifiable sounds of a fight breaking out in the next room.  I immediately attempted to bar the door but it is impossible for one teacher to block two entrances.  That rumble, as it turned out, was between a student and an adult friend and aunt of another student - both females.  These two people had entered the building on the pretext of a parent teacher meeting but had instead marched to the designated room – they knew where they were going – intruded on the class and proceeded to exact revenge for some altercation that had taken place outside the building the previous day.  Fortunately NYPD was quickly on the scene.  That teacher will be evaluated in part on the behavior and performance of the original assailant.  
In any case, hearing the story of this student of mine exposing himself to my students, I asked the first police office I found if it wasn’t a criminal offense for an adult male to expose himself to 14 and 15-year-old children.  He said that, indeed, it was and went to look into it.  The student was taken in handcuffs from the building.  No charges were pressed, however, and this adult male “student” was back in the classroom with his underage “peers" within a week.  At least he had been warned that any further physical contact between him and the children in his classroom would be taken seriously, whatever that meant.
It must not have meant much because the behavior continued.  I told the deans that I would write up even the slightest incident but was told not to bother.  Minor incidents like throwing things in the classroom, cutting class, leaving early, talking loudly during lessons, insubordination of all types – these wouldn’t do them any good.  They needed an eyewitness to an actual crime – child molestation.  Anything short of that wasn’t good enough.
Eventually it happened in front of me.  The adult student grabbed the arm of a 14-year-old girl.  When I told him not to touch her, he grabbed her shoulder.  When I told him again, he began rubbing her head, at which point the girl pushed him away and I wrote down the incident on a referral form.  At the end of the day I wrote a detailed description of the incident for the purpose of getting the adult male 9th grade “student” arrested and removed from contact with children altogether – and by the way, this story is as good an example of the need for social promotion as I’ve ever seen.  This adult ought to have been programmed with his true peers – seniors – even though he had accumulated only 2 credits by the age of 18.  Credits or no credits, passing or not, learning or not, literate or not, you can’t place an adult in a high school classroom with 14-year-old children or a 16-year-old in a middle school classroom with 12-year-olds. (See Chapter: The Need for Social Promotion.)
This student would have dropped out of school rather than be forced to sit in classrooms with his true peers.  It would have been better for every child in that school if this student had dropped out.  Another student dropping out would have negatively affected the school evaluation data, however, and so the school was desperate to keep him on the roster.  Administrators bent over backwards to pretend that this student wasn’t the monster that all of his teachers saw.  One administrator even admitted to me that [the administrator] would not be alone in a room with this adult “student” for fear of what the “student” might claim.  The administrator would meet with this adult student only with a witness in the room.  Nevertheless, it was in the interest of the school to keep this adult 9th grader on the roster both because the school budget is determined by enrollment and because the attendance of this student was relatively good.  (Although he often missed his first and last couple of classes, the policy in NYC schools is to count a student “present” if the student is in the building during the official attendance period or for 3 of the 9 or 10 periods of the school day – See Chapter: Kamikaze, Part 4 – Teaching the Present and Unaccounted for.)
Here is the kind of data that ought to be collected and it has nothing to do with grades or scores.  It is very difficult to quantify but it has everything to do with the success or failure of classrooms, teachers, schools and the high-functioning students who are the focus of this book.  This particular adult 9th grader cost an average of 5 minutes of class time every time he showed up.  This is my estimate.  There were times when he sat relatively quietly and other times when I had to waste 15 minutes of class time while writing up incidents such as his screaming, “Suck my dick!” across the room.  In talking to other teachers of this adult student, I would estimate that the student cost about that amount of time on average in every one of his classes.
Nine times 5 is 45.  That’s a full class period every time this student spent the school day in school.  I’m not talking about time that this Freedom Writer psycho wasted for himself.  He was not in school to learn.  I am talking about the time he stole from the students in the room who wanted to work but had to sit idle as their teachers tried to discipline this student.  On average this single student took away a full period of instruction and study EVERY DAY for each of the working students in the class.
In terms of student hours, multiply by the 25 other students usually present in the room – there were 35 or 36 on the roster most weeks.  This adult student stole 25 class periods a day in terms of student hours.  That works out to 125 lost classes per week – student study hours lost to this single individual and he wasn’t the only one in the room costing the good students time and study.  Many of those students needed that time to learn.  Although I cannot quantify it specifically, I know that some students failed because of this time lost.  It may have been as many as half a dozen students who could have learned enough to pass if not for this adult 9th grader.  This meaningful data is not being collected, let alone analyzed and factored into school or teacher effectiveness.
The result of this misguided reliance on “objective test-related data” and inhuman school evaluation data was an adult child molester sitting in a classroom full of underage kids.  Without the advice of an attorney, I cannot relate the outcome of this particular “exhibit A”.  People outside the system who think that it is perfectly reasonable to look at student performance and make assumptions about the “effectiveness” of the teachers need to spend some time with actual New York City teachers.  As a classroom teacher, it was my responsibility to do everything I could in order to get this adult student into the classroom and teach him.  My responsibility, in other words, was to expose innocent children to an adult with illicit motives who had no intention of learning anything and had proven that over a number of years.  My responsibility was to lure with phone calls, conferences and hand-shake deals an adult 9th grader into a room of (mostly) unsuspecting children, an adult who was going to do nothing but negatively impact the “objective data” on which I am to be evaluated under some new “objective” evaluation formula.  Maybe I ought to have called this chapter “Kamikaze, Part 8”.
Lest you think this is just a teacher blaming students or an isolated incident that would be too rare to affect the outcome of the statistical analysis of a teacher’s objective data based on student performance, stay tuned for many more “exhibits” from my lengthy catalogue of outrageous student behavior – behavior that the politicians, poobahs and pundits proclaim is the responsibility of the teacher.

            NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Chapter 27: The "Johnny Can't Read" Myth

Chapter Twenty-Seven: The “Johnny Can’t Read” Myth

For as long as I’ve been teaching I’ve been hearing the “Johnny Can’t Read” myth.  When I arrived at Bronx public schools 11 years ago, there was a chorus of it.  The short version goes something like this:

Johnny can’t read; therefore he acts out in class.