Sunday, November 10, 2013

Human collateral in testing and firing campaigns against teachers

The collateral damage of job loss or Danielson/VAM-driven job stress
First off we have the stress, burnout and demoralization issues: the 2012 Met Life survey on the American Teacher showed teacher morale to be at its lowest in decades. This survey is cited in Burris at Strauss in Washington Post.  See Met Life study, Teacher job satisfaction continues to decline, page 45 and this earlier blogpost on plummeting teacher morale.

Beyond the general job stress, under corporate education "reform" we have the escalating stress in school districts as teachers cope with the increasingly burdensome conditions, first driven by the No Child Left Behind policies, and then by the Race to the Top policies, with their emphasis on Value Added Modeling teacher evaluation systems (metrics-driven analyses of teacher performance that take no consideration of social conditions, administrator irresponsibility, parental support or student initiative). Incredibly, there is little thorough public discussion of how the people establishing the evaluation protocols have limited or shady teaching credentials. Consider the case of Charlotte Danielson, the architect of the Danielson Frameworks, head of the Danielson Group. She has successfully masked where she taught, at what grades, and for how long. Has anyone asked why she has kept her credentials so secret? Note that these evaluation systems have been rolled out, even though some conscientious education professors and researchers, as in the case of Chicago last year, have questioned their validity and have asked for piloting before mass implementation.

Then we have the matter of greater acute concern to teachers, their families and the economy: Teachers will lose jobs. Those still retaining jobs will endure an ongoing hell, as they pass each day in trepidation that their lessons will be suspected for causing bad scores on high stakes tests (when in many cases these low test scores will happen even with the best of efforts --you can read elsewhere --here and here-- on the external social factors or the poor school administration factors that enable less than ideal school performance).

The profession will take on a menial reputation, impacting individuals, fraying families
It will become more evident that teaching is a menial job demanding pre-Progressive Era 14 hour shifts, whose humiliation and job security make teachers increasingly unattractive as potential partners. Word will soon leak out: teachers under the new conditions cannot "have a life."

Not making the headlines will be the job stress, the broken relationships as partners snap at partners, blow up at kids, make scenes at family gatherings, you can keep imagining the examples. Silently, out of the headlines, the partners and children in these families we compose a generation that has lost the opportunity for a decent, happy family life.

Teacher suicides

Mary Thorson, former Army Reserve; teacher who took her life
Additionally, we should consider that many terminated teachers will find themselves distraught, unsupported and with no options, particularly after experiencing on the job bullying, bullying sanctioned by media rhetoric and politicians' policies. Most tragically, there will be those without strong social supports and take their own lives. Already we have seen teachers commit suicide after harassment (Mary Thorson of suburban Chicago) and termination following shaming in publicly revealed metrics-driven comparison of teachers and their test rankings (Rigoberto Ruelas of Los Angeles).
On Mary Thorson, who took her life, on Thanksgiving, 2011, read this post and this post at Assailed Teacher. Filmmaker and former teacher Mary Richardson, contributing to the Socialist Worker, connected her plight to the larger societal scourge of bullying of teachers.
Rigoberto Ruelas, teacher who took his life

On Rigoberto Ruelas, who scored "average," then took his own life, read Christina Hoag's "Rigoberto Ruelas' Suicide Raises Questions About LA Times Teacher Rankings" at Huffington Post. Yet as his story got attention in the New York Times, "Teacher’s Death Exposes Tensions in Los Angeles," and NBC News, "LA teacher suicide sparks test score pushback: Union says the Los Angeles Times should remove teacher performance ratings from its website," stories such as Hoag's spoke of questions being raised about such stack ranking, sadly the momentum for reconsidering metrics-based evaluation faded from official public discourse.

The downward spiral from the Keynesian multiplier in reverse

We should consider the Keynesian multiplier and the sprawling impacts of a middle class income. Teachers are middle class. The better paid ones have some disposable income. They can take long distance trips with their families, they can pay for sports, camp, dance or music classes for their kids. The ancillary effects of teachers losing their jobs will be weakened local economies that rely on the discretionary spending of those formerly employed teachers, the restaurants, the barbers, hardware stores.

Note that in the industrial Midwest it is often cited that when an auto or auto parts plant closes it is estimated that thousands of jobs are lost beyond the factory gates. This is the Keynesian multiplier in reverse. Remove the economic growth trigger and you decelerate the economy. You can see this from Michigan to the Hudson Valley. The New York City metro region has been less susceptible to the down-turns that much of the rest of the nation, particularly those in which industry has been a large fraction. Yet, with the firings that the consecutive APPR "Ineffectives" there will be a slightly down-ward drag on the economy.

Much as the Vietnam War higher-ups spoke of burning down a village to save it, we have politicians from liberals like New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo (who has called for the "death penalty" for "failing" schools) to conservatives like Wisconsin's Scott Walker that speak of reducing state costs to save the economy. We should not fall for their Frank Luntz-type manipulation of language. "Slashing costs" means cutting jobs; reducing healthcare benefits, slashing pension benefits have very real costs. Lifestyle quality will get downgraded. We should note the aggregate (general, overall, taking all the parts together) economic decline that follows the very specific war on one part of the middle class.

We can add administrators to the mix, as they get thrown out of jobs when schools close. Yet, we will see exceptions to the downsizing of administrators, as we see in frequent columns in Chaz's School Daze, there is a double standard for administrators, as they can be charged with highly unseemly conduct, yet often remain in their positions. Watch administrators in closed schools get rotated over to other schools while teachers take the hit for the bad test scores. While administrators get rotated, many teachers will lose their positions. Watch also for the veteran teachers be in line to take the hit, as school leaders will be eager to replace them with younger, cheaper teachers.

It is particularly easy to get replacement talent. The stagnant economy means that there are limited positions for recent college graduates. There will be eager graduates will and ready to replace the veteran teachers. This is particularly a problem in vibrant cultural magnet cities that attract college graduates around the surrounding region. In our region it is New York City; in the Midwest, it is Chicago; in southern California, Los Angeles and so on.

Therapy: a growth industry
The only people benefiting from the ratcheting up of pressure on teachers will be therapists who will see a boom in the number of clients, until their insurance runs out after termination, and the moving companies that will move families from big suburban homes to downscale apartments or back in with mom and day.

Political expediency of scapegoating and mass bullying
We also have the amoral politicians that do not see the harm in their social policies. Ignoring the social factors that can contribute to less than ideal student test scores, they will scream for the heads of "ineffective" teachers, gaining political capital from these teachers' scarlet I status. Pundits and legislators with no teacher experience demand impossible results from teachers and create evaluation schemes that are increasingly becoming apparent to teachers and even superintendents as inappropriate and untenable. Yet, teacher union leaders, long absent for the classroom, as New York City's United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew endorsed every governmental step that created the evaluation mess that is degrading teaching and stealing administrators from their traditional school leadership duties. See this video on Mulgrew's endorsement of the new evaluation scheme from its 2010 inception roots.


(photo from demonstration of the Cranston Teachers' Alliance)
Out of humane empathy, more of the public should speak out against what education policy makers are doing with teachers.

Think of pastor Martin Niemoller's First They Came piece. What profession might be next, to follow teachers, in a broad-reaching political attack campaign? Really, who has spoken up for us, besides Diane Ravitch?

To the contrary, we have Democratic federal education official and president that cheer the mass firing of teachers, as Arne Duncan and Barack Obama in the Central Falls High School, Rhode Island case.

And more recently, we see New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie's becoming unhinged with anger at a teacher Melissa Tomlinson. His "I am tired of you people" outburst and the universal silence on this explosive public verbal abuse among politicians of either major political party, as well as the professional opinion shaping community, the pundits, speaks volumes to the social marginalization of teachers and the apparent legitimacy of the blanket targeting of teachers.

For the sake of the dignity of the profession, for the humanity of their families and their relationships, for the dignity of the national community, the scapegoating and the punishing policies must end.