Chapter 66: Teaching Shelly Silver
The Latest Lie in Education Reform
You make your school reform … you lie in it.
Riddle: Does a sleeping dog lie?
A lie transmitted through the moneyed corridors of power is truer than the truth.
And let's not forget that if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, that tree is still on the ground.
The dogs at the DOE do, indeed, lie and they keep out of the sun as much as possible although at times the sun shines so brightly that even they, as the Luv Guv discovered, can't hide. Go no further than the nearest public school building where it may not be pronounced outside of union meetings, but pronounced the lies are. Teachers can feel it in their bones.
But “lie” is a strong word. I don’t know if it’s libelous to call someone a liar without backing it up with empirical, logical and anecdotal support, as the common corps(e) calls for. But when you’re told that black is white and threatened with loss of job if you point out that black is not white, then are you a sleeping dog? (Note that lap dogs go to Albany or into retirement along with Dennis Walcott and Cathie Black. Panting still?)
Governor Cuomo has called for a new teacher evaluation system on which 50% of the evalution is student performance on standardized tests. This is only step two. Step one, of course, was passing legislation in early 2014 creating an “evaluation” system for teachers, 20% of which was based on student performance. There is nothing in Albany but lap dogs and they were lapping it up at teachers’ expense.
So let’s lay out the ultimate plan:
Step One: 20%
Step Two: 50%
Step Three: 100%
They may find it politically expedient to insert an interim step between two and three at 75%, depending on how long it takes NYC Mayor De Blasio to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and appoint Rachel Noerdlinger Chancellor of the New York City public school system. Platform heels, after all, lead to the next step - except, perhaps, in the case of Sanford Rubenstein's accusor.
In the news is another analogy - the expanding lies of NBC news anchor Brian Williams. What started out as a little white lie - we were all shot at - became an orangish lie - the helicopter in advance of us was hit - and then a violet lie - we were all on the same mission - to finally the scarlet letter lie - the helicopter I was in was hit by enemy fire. Maybe Brian Williams' descent into self enfatuated fantasy qualities him as a new reform schooler - a job he may soon need.
Teacher evaluations should be based 20% on someone else’s performance.
Teacher evaluations should be based 50% on someone else’s performance.
Teacher evaluations should be based 75% on someone else’s performance.
Teacher evaluations should be based 100% on someone else’s performance.
Teachers' livelihoods and sense of well being should depend 100% on the performance of their most dysfunctional students.
I’m reminded of the great Alfred E. Neuman, who pointed out that math scores will improve when students finally give 110% effort.
The latest lie of the education reform schoolers is that you can base one person’s performance on the performance of someone else. It’s absurd on the face of it. Yet we know that the bigger the lie and the more often you tell it, the truer it becomes. When you have everyone from the president of the U.S. to his hand-picked lackey Arnie Duncan to the slate of slimy state governors wallowing in race to the top money to every lower level school superintendent and administrator whose job depends on perpetuating the big lie, it takes on a reality of its own. It becomes a fatal fallacy.
You cannot judge one person on the performance of another. It’s that simple. Yet the big lie insists that you can and rather than simply reject the lie on the face of it, the lie is accepted. A lie transmitted through the moneyed corridors of power is truer than the truth.
Even many teachers have accepted this latest lie unquestioningly. Thanks to Michael Bloomberg, there is now a coterie of corrupt school administrators, who believe that shoving this lie down the throats of their faculty is their mission in educational life. Many of them were spawned by the despicable Leadership Academy, a lie in itself as are most of the new school names and reform acronyms, that was created for this very reason: to perpetuate this particular lie and to strike fear in the hearts of newly hired teachers. Spout the lie or be rated “unsatisfactory” or “ineffective” or, even worse, “dubious.” There was such a category, believe it or not. This person’s ability to spout the big lies is “doubtful.” Termination almost recommended. No wonder they got rid of that one.
A lie transmitted through the moneyed corridors of power is truer than the truth.
What teachers need to remember is this: teachers teach and learners learn.
I can remember a time (1960’s) in Massillon, Ohio, which is just up I 77 from West Virginia - no offense to West Virginians because I feel the kinship - when teachers felt it was very important to teach the difference between “teach” and “learn.” But it wasn’t that teaching was being confused with learning. It was that learning might be confused with teaching as in, “I’ll learn ‘em somethin’.” We learned that that was incorrect. The correct expression was, “I’ll teach ‘em somethin’.” I learned the difference between teach and learn, obvious as it was, but it turns out to be a very important distinction now that it is been subverted in the (under) hands of the new school reformers. Some of the advances in 1960s education are being eroded by the new reform schoolers. Maybe - God forbid! - some of them are from West Virginia and Ohio.
Teaching and learning are not the same thing. Teachers teach. Learners learn. If a teacher teaches an effective lesson but no one learns anything, the teacher is nevertheless effective. The lesson is no less effective even if not a single learner learns. It’s the learners who are “ineffective,” not the teacher or the lesson. Conversely, if a learner learns effectively but the teachers are ineffective, the learner is nevertheless judged “effective” in spite of the teaching, which is a separate issue. That learner should be congratulated.
Teachers teach and learners learn. Trees fall whether anyone other than the nite owl hears it or not.
Now let’s apply this obvious distinction to the new teacher evaluation proposals.
Teachers teach. The evaluation of teachers ought to be based on nothing more than their performance as teachers. Surprising as it might seem in this age of reform schoolers, that was precisely how it was done for more than a century, so obvious was it that a person should be evaluated on his/her performance and on nothing else. It was as obvious as the apple in apple pie that a teacher, like anyone else, ought to be evaluated on his/her performance of the job. If the teacher teaches good lessons, the teacher ought to be rated “good.” If the teacher teaches bad lessons, the teacher ought to be rated “bad.” Notice that nowhere in this does the learner play a role.
The learner ought to be evaluated in the same way. If the learner learns well, the learner gets an "A." If the learner learns poorly, the learner gets an "F." Notice that nowhere in this does the teacher play a role. Teachers come and teachers go but the learner is nevertheless responsible for his/her own learning. For more than a century this obvious truth - as opposed to the big reform lie - worked. If a teacher performed well, that teacher was rated effective or ineffective based on the evaluation of a supervisor who was in a position to observe first hand that teacher’s performance. It had nothing to do with whether or not the learners were doing their job well.
As for those learners, they, too, were rated successful or unsuccessful based on their own performance whether or not their teachers were rated effective or ineffective. Learners should be evaluated on their own performance as a learner, not on the performance of their teachers.
Teachers teach. Learners learn. The latest reform school lie is that teachers are responsible for BOTH the teaching AND the learning while the learner has no responsibility at all.
Don’t let them get away with it.
Everyone ought to be evaluated on their own performance - not on the performance of someone else. What could be more obvious. So let’s apply this latest reform lie to Albany and Governor Cuomo’s administration. If a teacher should be evaluated at least 50% on the performance of his/her students, then a governor ought to be evaluated at least 50% on the performance of his/her legislators. After all, if teaching is learning, then governing is legislating.
Move to the head of the class Shelly Silver! But it wasn’t an apple that this student gave to the teacher. It was millions of dollars of bribes and kickbacks (allegedly at this point in the legal process) that took Shelly to the head of his class. Where was Mr. Cuomo during all of this? Was he polishing that million dollar apple that Shelly gave him?
By his own criteria. Gov. Cuomo rates at least 50% INEFFECTIVE. Based not on his own performance but on the performance of those under his command, Gov. Cuomo doesn’t make it through his probationary first year in office. He doesn’t even rate a “doubtful.”
Gov. Cuomo campaigned on the promise of cleaning up corruption in Albany. Yet when he got close to the real corruption, he shut down the Moreland Commission. In educational terms that is akin to a principal noticing that attendance has dropped below Quality Review levels and suddenly discovering that all of those LTA's aren't really on the roster after all. In reform educational terms that is akin to a principal noticing that the graduation rate is likely to dip precariously below 60% and suddenly finding that some of those 19-year-olds with only 14 credits are better off in a GED program. It's akin to a principal promoting the best of the juniors to graduate with the seniors in the great graduation Ponzi discussed in an earlier chapter. It's akin to telling Regents test takers to leave blank the questions they don't know so that "graders" can fill them in later, as happened (allegedly) at one Bronx school where the principal found herself ousted but only to land in an even sweeter consultancy position - ehtical consultant, no less but we won't name (Lynn Passarella) names.
By now most of us are too cynical to believe a politician’s promises when running for office. But a lie transmitted through the moneyed corridors of power is truer than the truth. The governor is counting on this.
Maybe Preet Bharara should be the next NYC schools chancellor rather than Rachel Noerdlinger. Or maybe Tawana Brawley is looking for a job. At least,“Brawley” is how most NYC teachers feel at the end of the day.
Answer to riddle: All dogs lie (in the shade).