Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Countdown to a Vote on NYC Teacher Evaluation Agreement?


This Wednesday, the United Federation of Teachers Delegate Assembly is meeting.

Will the UFT members have an opportunity to vote on the teacher evaluation system? Will the DA authorize such a vote? (The NYSUT's statement on Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR); the UFT's statementand its factsheet.)

The system is based heavily on standardized tests. Yet critics in the education community, as opposed to the fly-by-night education entrepreneurs of the last ten years, have been criticizing the proposed New York State evaluation and similar programs with increasing frequency.

Speaking of a fiscal cliff, teachers are facing a career cliff with the evaluation system.

Note just one of the latest contributions from Bruce Baker at Rutgers University, School Finance 101 from December 5, 2012, cited in Diane Ravitch's blog. (This follows as the third piece of a series critiquing the evaluation system.)

Previously Dr. Ravitch has written other posts, under the theme, "Why VAM is Junk Science," on July 16, October 29 (She noted, "Remember: no other nation in the world is judging teacher quality this way. This is our own nutty idea. It’s main accomplishment: demoralization of teachers." and linked to Los Angeles Times' Teresa Watanabe on Los Angeles' system.), November 5 ("Linda Darling-Hammond and Edward Haertel of Stanford University explain why value-added assessment doesn’t work and how inaccurate it [value-added-assessment] is.), November 27 ("Here, we have a technically proficient author working for a highly respected organization – American Institutes for Research – ignoring all of the statistical red flags (after waiving them), and seemingly oblivious to gaping conceptual holes (commonly understood limitations) between the actual statistical analyses presented and the concluding statements made (and language used throughout).” “The conclusions are WRONG – statistically and conceptually.")

All of the juggernaut for the evaluation system is for getting $300 million. Yet, most indications are that the money would not go to the classroom, but for more dubious assessment or evaluation software. Read this contribution at New York City Public School Parents.

Shouldn't the UFT members have a vote on this system, as they do with DOE-UFT contracts?

Sign the MORE caucus' petition on the evaluation system.

From the DOENUTS blog:

Three Things You Should Know About the City's Upcoming Teacher Eval. System Let me just get right to it.

1. The rubric is too difficult and VAM is too unproven. The city's rubric (for observations and teaching artifacts) is tougher than many other Danielson-based rubrics. To be rewarded as an excellent teacher, based on observations and paper work, you'd have to move heaven an earth in your class -and then get lucky. The rubric that is worth 60% of the grade is designed to lump teachers into the middle two categories of 'developing' and 'effective'. As for value-added measures, they're calling it anything from 'Junk Science' to 'unreliable'. It is at best not yet ready for prime time and worst will ruin the careers of more than few colleagues. Certainly, it doesn't belong on a teacher's evaluation in its current form and will require a few years of improvements before they can even try calling it reliable. Yet it's coming and your job (and mine) will depend on it.

2. It's going to drastically increase our workload. Working to hit those points on the city's Danielson rubric is going to be the most difficult part.

[Ed.: Read these blog posts on the Danielson Framework for in actual application, the formula for administrators' micro-managing, expectations of perfectionism and teacher burn-out (who could really prepare to meet all the rubrics perfectly, make all the home contacts, and still have a normal personal life and decent rest?), this one on the misuse of the rubrics, this ICE-UFT post, which carries a link in the comments to the UFT Delegate Assembly's fall, 2011 resolutionteacher evaluation and endorsing the Danielson Framework, and this realistic Robert Rendo cartoon reproduced at EdNotes. As these references indicate, Danielson is deeply intertwined with the education entrepreneur community.]
(Rob Rendo cartoon from Truth on Education Reform blog.)

But the 'artifacts' for teachers will be a real pain. They'll count for almost 30% of our grade and they'll be comprised of things like our phone logs, PIP, student interventions and unit plans from throughout the whole year. Multiple measure from the local 20% (or local 15% if you're grades 4 - 8, ELA or Math) will mean we'll be spending more time observing peers (or being observed), grading mid term baselines (for HS teachers) and developing performance tasks than we've ever done before. It's going to be a lot more work.

3. That workload will come with no raise and no new contract for city teachers. If you just read that claim for the first time here, then you haven't read this blog ... or this one ... or this one ... or this one. Although the union hasn't said anything about it, it's seeming fairly clear to many people, including me, that the teachers' union won't actually fight for a raise for their teachers as they move to agree to this evaluation system. I won't spend a million words describing the analysis here, but if you read this post from Chaz's School Daze or this one from Accountable Talk or this one from Perdido Street Blog or this one (originally entitled "...I Smell a Sellout" based on the URL) from NYCEducator or this one (including the comments) from the ICEUFT Blog, you'll get the same sense that I do; no raise with this new increased workload.*

And those are the three things I think you should know about the APPR.

*And why would you have to hear that from a blog? Because your union doesn't particularly care to communicate that with you. That's why. So if you did just read that claim for the first time here, just remember; you had to hear it from some dude name (feggin') doenuts before your own union would tell you. "...dark day for teachers", indeed.
It is just incredible how the UFT leadership has not openly thought through the ramifications of the ways that the system that the evaluation program's reliance on test leaves open avenues for administrators' abuse and vindictive personal biases. As blogger Chaz writes here and here, it is really a teacher termination program:
I can just see how a vindictive Administrator would push some of the worst preforming and behaving students into a class which will disrupt the learning environment for the teacher he or she does not like or want and switch higher achieving students into a class of a teacher she likes. The potential for abuse is very real and the teacher evaluation system would be the nail in the coffin of the targeted teacher. Remember, only 13%^ of those teachers rated "ineffective" would have real "due process" while the other 87% should be looking for another job. Therefore, the teacher evaluation system is really a termination program that an Administrator can manipulate to remove a teacher he or she wants out of the school.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bloomberg Lauds Quinn for Making NYC Government Better Than NYS Government

Dana Rubinstein writes in Capital New York in City Government Works Better Than Albany, Bloomberg Says, Thanks in Part to Christine Quinn
12:42 pm Aug. 30, 2012
Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning said that, compared to Albany, New York City's government is well run, and Council Speaker Christine Quinn deserves a lot of the credit for that.

"I think a lot of that's because Chris Quinn has in all fairness over the last four years, implemented a lot of changes that makes city government more open and [more] conflict-free," said the mayor on Thursday morning.

The purpose of the press conference was not to reinforce the notion, yet again, that Quinn is his favored candidate for mayor in 2013, but to unveil Staten Island's first bus rapid transit service, along Hylan Boulevard, connecting the Staten Island Mall to Bay Ridge.

The new service will launch September 2, making it the fourth rapid transit route in New York City. Unlike regular city buses, which often merely crawl through snarled city traffic, New York's so-called "Select Bus Service" gives buses dedicated lanes, require they make fewer stops, and in some cases, have passengers buy their fares from kiosks at bus stops, rather than on the bus itself.

But during the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, reporters were more curious about the demise of Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez amid sexual harassment allegations, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's involvement in secretly settling some of those allegations, and what the mayor thought about all that.

As before, he declined to say much, making him one of the few elected officials at this point not to, at the very least, condemn Lopez's alleged behavior with female staffers.

But he did take the opportunity to compare New York City's political culture favorably to Albany's, something which he credited, in part, to Quinn.

Quinn is running for mayor next year and, among the field of people vying to replace Bloomberg, Quinn's thought to be his favorite.

He did nothing to dispel that notion today.

Bloomberg called the City Council and city government, in general, "one of the most open and conflict-free legislative-executive governments [of] any place I know."

"I think it's the ethics of New York City—you know, you can always make it better, but there's an awful lot more disclosure here, there's an awful less potential for things being done incorrectly," he said. "We have disclosure, the public advocate, the comptroller, the mayor's office, the City Council. I think a lot of that's because Chris Quinn has in all fairness over the last four years, implemented a lot of changes that makes city government more open and [more] conflict free."

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Are President Obama's Education Policies Helping Our Kids?

AlterNet / By Kristin Rawls, June 19, 2012
Are the President's Education Policies Helping Our Kids?:
An end-of-term report card assesses how the Obama administration has performed on five critical education issues.
When Barack Obama ran for office in 2008, he did so on an education platform that was “ambitious” to say the least. Then-candidate Obama was clear that he aimed to reform America’s entire education system, from preschool on up through higher education -- and during his first term as president, his administration has indeed made significant changes to educational policy. But have those changes been for the better? Have schools, and their students, benefited from the Obama administration’s educational maneuvers over this first term? As it turns out, the answer is: not necessarily.

Herewith, a look at five critical education issues in America today, and how the president and his team have handled them so far:

1. Funding for Early Childhood Education

It is well-established that early childhood education is a crucial means of improving school readiness and performance among at-risk children. Studies show that preschool reduces high school dropout rates while increasing the likelihood that students will go on to higher education. Furthermore, early childhood education is a great investment: a 2005 MIT study found that every dollar spent on early childhood education reduces future social services expenditures by $13.

Given all that, Obama’s 2008 campaign promises to invest extensively in early childhood education seemed like a no-brainer. And on the surface, he seems to have delivered: the administration’s 2011 Race to the Top Early-Learning Challenge -- a $500 million grant competition that funds preschool programs like Head Start -- allocates a whopping 71 percent of 2011’s $700 million Race to the Top funds to early education.

But the devil, as always, is in the details. Of the 37 states that submitted applications for assistance, only nine won funding: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington. The winning states were required to make a number of corporate-based reforms in order to compete for the preschool funding – including committing to a set of accountability procedures provided by a privately managed preschool assessment agency called Quality Rating and Improvement Systems. QRIS heavily emphasizes things like classroom décor, teacher assessment and parent participation – but even corporate reformer Sarah Mead of Bellwether Education Partners says, “[T]here’s not much evidence that creating QRIS will produce any significant improvements in children’s readiness to learn… The research that does exist is not encouraging: A study…by researchers at the RAND Corporation found little to no evidence of a relationship between childcare programs’….ratings and…outcomes.”

Ultimately, the states with preschool facilities most in need of money and support – those that could not afford to introduce the new QRIS standards in time – were shut out of the competition. States had just three months to prepare extensive applications, and most did not have the time or resources to introduce comprehensive QRIS accountability measures in that short amount of time. For the states that won, this is clearly a financial boon – but in 41 other states, preschoolers are still wanting.

So has the Obama administration invested in early childhood education? Yes -- but in a way that, as yet, has done little to improve early education in the majority of states.

2. Primary and Secondary Education Reform

There is little doubt that President Obama is a strong supporter of the corporate “reforms” that have crept into American education policy over the past three decades – and he appears to be a particular supporter of charter schools. As Ken Saltman, professor of educational policy studies and research at DePaul University, tells AlterNet:

[Obama] has pushed charter schools and other radical market-based turnarounds, like closing schools and firing all the teachers and staff… In some states, like Michigan, the chartering is heavily for-profit. In other states, like Illinois, chartering is predominantly non-profit, but the non-profits still contract with for-profit corporations. In any case, the key issue is that the model that has won is one of market competition and choice.

Yet there is scant evidence that replacing traditional public schools with charter schools improves learning outcomes – even conservative pro-charter think tanks like the Hoover Institute and Mathematica have found little, if any, proof that charter schools fare better than traditional publics overall: A 2009 report from Hoover found that “charter schools performed worse than public schools 36 percent of the time, performed better 17 percent of the time, and performed no differently the rest of the time. The…study suggests that charter schools are twice as likely to make student achievement worse as they are to improve it.”

The report also goes on to point out that subsequent research “on charter schools in New York City, California, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota and New Jersey, among others, are all consistent with both the Mathematica and CREDO studies: Charters do not increase student achievement compared to regular public schools.”

Beyond charters, the Obama administration has pushed corporate reform in at least two other ways: 1) through the executive initiative called Race to the Top (RTTT); and 2) through continued enforcement of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Launched in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, RTTT rewards a handful of states with large sums of money in return for implementing far-reaching corporate initiatives -- like replacing public schools with privately managed charters, introducing school choice, tying high-stakes test scores to teacher evaluations and promoting corporate partnerships through computerization (i.e., online coursework). The program is, as its name implies, a contest, or “race”: States compete for a slice of the $4.35 billion in federal funding, winning or losing dollars based on how comprehensively they are able (or willing) to introduce these “reforms.”

In addition, the administration has continued to enforce NCLB mandates, even expanding the focus on high-stakes testing. (The administration has begun offering one-year NCLB waivers to states – but only in exchange for more consistent implementation of corporate reforms.) For example, in March of 2010, the administration released a blueprint for revising NCLB that encouraged states to adopt federal guidelines called the Common Core State Standards Initiative. These “high quality statewide assessments” in reading and math aim to streamline curricula across states, and RTTT funding is tied to their adoption. The Common Core will also eventually result in students from states with poor educational funding being tested using rubrics nearly identical to those used to asses students in very wealthy states -- a huge red flag for anyone who understands that quality of education closely follows school funding, which is uneven at best across this nation.

Yet, ultimately, there is little substantive research that shows that corporate reforms of these kinds improve academic achievement overall. In March 2012, professor and public school advocate Gary Rubinstein’s released an analysis showing almost no correlation between high-stakes testing and student achievement over multiple years. These findings were consistent with a 2005 University of Arizona study that found “no convincing evidence” that testing improves student performance.

Still, the focus on test scores and “accountability” continues to grow, with solid policy backing from the Obama administration.

3. Access to Higher Education and Student Debt

President Obama’s record on higher education is mixed, but has more to recommend it than the rest of his education agenda. On the positive side, the administration has made real gains when it comes to expanding college accessibility and the treatment of student loans. It has doubled the amount of money provided for Pell Grants by cutting private companies out of federal grade exchanges, bringing the number of eligible recipients up to nine million -- a three million student increase during this first term in office. And administration has also promoted price controls to rein in tuition increases, though these have not yet been instituted in policy (such controls may actually be very susceptible to loopholes that allow universities to “revise their calculations of what families can afford to pay – and raise their tuitions accordingly.”)

In addition, the Obama team has made progress in making some student loans more manageable. Students who graduate in 2012 or later will not be required to make federal education loan repayments that exceed 10 percent of their income. Plus, if these graduates cannot repay the loans within 20 years, they will be forgiven.

But while this loan repayment program is clearly a step forward, it still doesn’t go nearly as far as it should. Though it will provided much needed help to the 1.6 million students who graduated or will graduate this year, there are another 34.4 million graduates with student loans who are not eligible to receive this benefit. Additionally, the program does nothing to rein in predatory private student loan companies like Sallie Mae that are hitting graduates with severe credit penalties, targeting them for harassment and leveling lawsuits against them. And students who have defaulted on student loans in the past cannot get help through this new program – even though student loans remain the only kind of debt not dischargeable through bankruptcy in the US.

Finally, the administration has made mixed progress in standing up to predatory for-profit universities like Strayer and the University of Phoenix. Encouragingly, the administration did issue an executive order banning these universities from recruiting among veterans and troops. But while veterans are now receiving protection from these institutions, there has been no move on the administration’s part to stop them from recruiting at, for example, high schools with large numbers of poor students -- leaving millions of young students terribly at-risk.

[Note: Last week, the administration announced a plan to grant legal work status – not a path to citizenship – to up to a million undocumented young people who would have been eligible for the DREAM Act. The memo removes the threat of deportation for these individuals and allows legal work status in the US. It is unclear whether the memo will have any impact on access to higher education at this time.]

4. Supporting Teachers

The country’s two largest teachers unions, the National Association of Educators (NEA) and AFL-CIO affiliate the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), endorsed President Obama in July 2011 and February 2012, respectively. They did this in spite of the fact that the Obama administration makes no secret of its disdain for both organizations. On May 25, Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for Obama 2012, tweeted the following off-the-cuff rebuttal of Romney’s insistence that the unions and the Obama administration are close:

FACT CHECK: Romney off on Obama’s relationship with teachers’ unions; it’s anything but cozy:
[Ed.: the above link leads to a dead Washington Post link. The following is a posting on Matt Browner Hamlin's Hold Fast blog that includes part of that now deleting article on Obama's mythical cozy relationship with teachers' unions.]
OFA & Teachers’ Unions May 25th, 2012 · No Comments

Stephanie Cutter is OFA’s Deputy Campaign Manager. She tweeted:

@stefcutter FACT CHECK: Romney off on Obama’s relationship with teachers’ unions; it’s anything but cozy: //

The article she links to is an AP fact check that outlines how Mitt Romney is wrong to say Obama is cozy with teachers’ unions. From the article:

ROMNEY: “President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses — and unwilling to stand up for kids.”

THE FACTS: Several of the core tenets of the Obama administration’s signature education initiative, the Race to the Top competition, are policies first heralded by Republicans and are in opposition to the steadfast positions of teacher unions on topics like school choice and merit pay for teachers.

… At its annual meeting last year, the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, sent a message to Obama that it was “appalled” with Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s practice of focusing heavily on charter schools, supporting decisions to fire all staff and using high-stakes standardized test scores for teacher evaluations, along with 10 other policies mentioned.

“Obama has taken on teachers unions unlike any previous Democratic president,” said Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. “Because of that his support among union members, although it is still there, is rather tepid.”

And again, this is an article that Cutter linked to approvingly.

Of course, Cutter is absolutely correct. Obama is not cozy to teachers’ unions. But the fact that the campaign is openly campaigning on the lack of support for workers shows they think unions are totally captured punks who won’t stop their support of Obama, even in the face of public humiliation like this. And, of course, OFA is right.

Update: Following pressure by pro-worker progressives on Twitter, Cutter has responded with this:

Pres. fights for unions/teachers b/c he believes in them-Mitt dishonest about being beholden to them MT@nitalovesmiles LAME.Explain yourself

Well Cutter certainly did a poor job expressing this. The article Cutter linked to does a pretty good job of showing how the administration’s education policies demonstrate real differences with teachers’ unions. These are differences manifested in concrete policy choices and frameworks for how they think about education. President Obama may way make the occasional good speech to a union audience, but his administration’s actions, especially around teachers’ unions, don’t really come close to his rhetoric. As is so often the case with this President, you are forced to ask, “Who am I going to believe: him or my lying eyes?”

When I read the fact check, I didn’t say, “Wow this is bad reporting,” I said, “Yep, that’s about right.” Staying within the GOP frame is not bad politics here (though it may be that too), it’s that the administration doesn’t have the policy record supporting statements outside the GOP frame.
Returning now to Rawls' article:

It may have been the most honest take on Obama’s relationship with the unions yet. The administration has indeed displayed very little “coziness” with teachers unions, consistently backing policies they oppose. Most importantly, the administration has expanded punitive teacher accountability measures beyond those set by NCLB. As noted above, Obama’s RTTT offers millions of dollars to school systems that tie teacher evaluations to student test performance, undermining job security protections like tenure. The result, Professor Ken Saltman says, is to “transform teaching into a low-skilled, low-paid workforce.”

Obama’s policies have also weakened the collective bargaining rights teachers still hold in some states.Though Obama claims to oppose mass teacher layoffs, and has introduced legislative measures to stop them, his support has been inconsistent: in February, Obama supported a Rhode Island school district’s plan to lay off all of its schoolteachers, and he has religiously supported so-called merit-based teacher layoffs for teachers whose students score poorly on standardized tests.

The only issue on which Obama and unions appear to see eye to eye is on school vouchers -- that is, the use of public money for funding private and religious school tuition. Like the teachers unions, the president has vocal and consistent in his opposition to vouchers -- but praise from far-right governors is at least one indication of how far to the right the president's education policies lie overall. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who has just pushed an extensive voucher program through the state legislature, publicly praised Obama’s privatization measures in March. He joined a number of other pro-voucher, anti-union Republican governors who have supported Obama’s education policies, from Bob McDonnell of Virginia to Mitch Daniels of Indiana.

5. Advancing Equity

Corporate reformers like to dismiss calls for equitable school funding by claiming that “throwing money at the problem” of inequality in education doesn’t solve the problem. Yet in 2010, a Rutgers study found that,

"Student poverty -- especially concentrated student poverty -- is the most critical variable affecting funding levels. Student and school poverty correlates with, and is a proxy for, a multitude of factors that impact upon the costs of providing equal education opportunity -- most notably, gaps in educational achievement, school district racial composition, English language proficiency, and student mobility.”

In other words, student poverty and under-funded schools are the most important predictors of, among other things, low student achievement. As New York University professor Pedro Noguera points out,

"The achievement gap is first and foremost an educational manifestation of social inequality... In cities where the economy has collapsed and there is a shortage of good jobs -- as in Detroit; Cleveland; St. Louis; Buffalo, New York; and Erie, Pennsylvania -- schools lack the resources to improve and students increasingly lack the will to achieve… If educators fail to understand or fail to address the numerous ways in which other inequities -- in income, health, housing, etc. -- interact with learning outcomes, then much of what is done to ameliorate the problem will simply not work."

But despite much evidence that inequality is the defining educational issue of our day, the Obama team has largely chosen to skirt this thornier set of problems, focusing instead on teacher and student accountability -- and improving test scores. The president’s selection of Chicago-area corporate reformer Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education was an early indication of how little educational equity would feature in the Obama administration; true to form, Duncan quickly shaped the expansions of NCLB to mirror those already in place in Chicago public schools, where growing funding inequality and an increasing achievement gap have followed fast on the heels of Duncan’s market-based reforms.

As education scholars Pauline Lipman and Nathan Haines explain, the Chicago system masterminded by Duncan created,

"…an accountability system that institutionalized a simplistic, one-size-fits-all practice of demarcating students, teachers, and schools into those deemed ‘failing’ or ‘successful’ and then meted out penalties without regard for inequities in resources, opportunities to learn, teacher’s ideologies, cultural disconnections in curriculum and instruction, social contexts of the school, or strengths children bring to the school setting."

Duncan’s means of treating the dozens of schools deemed “failing” in Chicago under his watch was to shutter them, and to encourage charter schools to spring up in their place. But just as there is no real proof charter schools boost academic achievement, there is also little evidence that they ameliorate inequality -- in fact, they may actually promote it. As Chandra Nerissa Larsen of Sonoma State University points out, Chicago charters now “serve 6-7% fewer low-income students, half as many limited-English-proficient students, and statistically significant fewer students with special needs than regular public neighborhood schools” – prime examples of how charters exclude students most likely to bring down scores and abandon them to increasingly underfunded traditional publics as resources are shifted to charters.

Though few politicians can find it within themselves to admit it, there is no doubt that without treating the equity issue, we will forever fall short of resolving the real problems plaguing our education system. Paul Thomas, associate professor of education at Furman University, writes, “If leaders and policy makers are willing to confront the evidence of social and educational inequity, this hope may lead to the changes promised by the current president now trapped in ‘no excuses’ reform commitments that offer no hope or change.”

Educators alone simply cannot fix such entrenched social problems. But they might make better progress with equitable school funding to ensure that schools needing the most help get more money. Unfortunately, President Obama’s corporate reform measures do just the opposite.

It is widely understood that unfettered capitalist economic policies led to the financial collapse of 2008; we should not be surprised that they are also disastrous when applied to public goods like education. Without a renewed investment in the pro-equity educational tradition in America that spans from John Dewey to bell hooks, poor children and poor schools will continue to be left behind by the US education system. And our whole nation may pay the price.

Kristin Rawls is a freelance writer whose work has also appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, GOOD Magazine, Religion Dispatches, Killing the Buddha, Global Comment and elsewhere online.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Teacher Job Satisfaction Plummets -Survey

Kenzo Shibata, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, wrote earlier this week in the Huffington Post, that teacher alienation has worsened to the point that one in three teachers is considering quitting the teaching profession in the next five years, and increase over the one in four teachers that was considering leaving in a survey three years ago.
According to a report on a survey commissioned by Met Life last spring, morale among the nation's teachers is at its lowest point in more than 20 years. Also, roughly one in three said they were likely to leave the profession in the next five years. According to the report, just three years ago, the rate was one in four.
Met Life's results did not shock me. I often felt powerless as one teacher, advocating for the supports my students needed to succeed. In my first two years, not a week went by that I didn't consider changing careers and that had nothing to do with my students or their parents -- it was the system.
And read this posting by Valerie Strauss from The Washington Post, August 7, 2012:
Teacher job satisfaction plummets — Survey

This was written by Kevin G. Welner, a professor of education policy and program evaluation in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and director of the National Education Policy Center. The center is housed at the university’s School of Education and sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third party reviews of think tank reports.

By Kevin G. Welner

It’s not fun to be repeatedly punched in the gut. And we can now quantify how not-fun it is, at least when teachers are the punchees.

Over the past two years of gut-punching, teacher job satisfaction has fallen from 59 percent to 44 percent. That’s according to the annual ­ MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.

While this 15-point plummet is no doubt caused in part by the bad economy and budget cutting, it’s also hard to overlook things like Waiting for Superman, the media deification of Michelle Rhee, and the publishing of flawed “scores” that purport to evaluate teachers based on students’ test results — an offense first committed by the Los Angeles Times and now taken up by the New York Times and other New York papers. Teachers knew these evaluations were unreliable and invalid even before researchers documented those problems.

Similarly, teachers see states and districts implement policies that largely base their performance evaluations on student test scores. These new policies are layered on top of No Child Left Behind and the subsequent years of narrowed curricula and teaching to the test. Teachers have been watching sadly as the sort of engaging learning that attracted them to the profession is increasingly squeezed out. Further, teachers in many states are facing attacks on their collective voice in education policy by anti-union governors such as Walker (Wisconsin), Scott (Florida), Christie (New Jersey), Daniels (Indiana), Kasich (Ohio), and Brewer (Arizona).

While all those governors are Republican, the trashing of teachers has been a bipartisan effort, led by groups that include Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children. In fact, President Obama is widely viewed as part of the problem. He will never achieve a Santorum-esque level of anti-public-school rhetoric, but Race to the Top and related policies have continued the drive toward privatization and test-focused instruction. Although the title of a U.S. Department of Education press release from a few weeks ago read “Obama Administration Seeks to Elevate Teaching Profession,” the headline a couple years ago was, “Obama Official Applauds Rhode Island Teacher Firings.”

None of us would want to have our job performance judged on an outcome that we don’t really control. Research suggests that a student’s teacher for a single given school year influences as little as 5 to 10 percent of her or his test-score growth. Sensible policymaking does not leap from “teachers are important” to “teachers can be evaluated as if they are the only thing that’s important.”

Similarly, none of us would want to have our evaluation based on an outcome, like test scores, that we know represents only a fraction of what we do and why we do it. And we wouldn’t want to pursue a good evaluation by doing our job in ways we think unwise or even harmful.

But that’s where teachers now find themselves. Maybe we should feel grateful that their job satisfaction only dropped 15 percentage points.

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By Valerie Strauss | 12:01 AM ET, 03/07/2012