Fallout Continues Over Teacher Rankings

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The release of the data reports for 18,000 New York City public school teachers continues to reverberate, not just in the city but around the state and across the country. A number of new, thoughtful articles have appeared in journals and other publications in the last few days, most highly critical of the release of the teacher rankings and predicting dire consequences.

In an online article, "End-Game Remains on N.Y. State Teacher Evaluations," Andrew Ujifusa reports in Education Week on Tuesday that, "The president of New York State United Teachers, Richard C. Iannuzzi, said last week that the release of the data for city teachers had created a 'chill' around the state."

The chill could jeopardize attempts by the state's 696 school districts to reach agreements with their unionized teachers over the methodology to evaluate teachers, the next step now that a grand bargain between the state and teachers' unions was reached establishing the framework for a teacher evaluation system and saving $700 million in federal money promised to New York under the Race to the Top program. The article reports:

"I've had many members who are outraged about the whole situation," said Mary Alice Boyle, the president of the Peekskill Faculty Association in Peekskill, which represents about 300 teachers and teacher aides in that 3,000-student district, about 40 miles north of New York City.

Mr. Iannuzzi told EdWeek that he "must calm his members' fears over potential publication of their evaluations."

"The next question is, how do you assure rank-and-file teachers and principals that the purpose behind this law was to improve performance, not to shame teachers?" he asked. "The next couple of months, I think, we'll all be sitting down trying to figure out the best method for that assurance."

The state education department has not taken a position on whether the new evaluations should be available to the public, said Tom Dunn, a department spokesman.

But there is at least some sentiment that a court battle over making the evaluations public is a foregone conclusion. "I think there's going to be quite a battle of litigation over this particular issue for some time to come," said Cathy Corbo, the president of the 750-member Albany teachers' union.

The Huffington Post also weighed in on the matter, with Alan Singer, a professor at Hofstra University, applying the methodology of the teacher data reports to others.

When Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York City in 2001, the unemployment rate was about 5%. Today it is 9%. That certainly qualifies as poor performance in office. Value decline rather than "value-added." Let's fire him.

When Andrew Cuomo was first elected to state wide office as attorney general in 2006, the unemployment rate was 4.5%. Today it is 8%. That certainly qualifies as poor performance in office. Value decline rather than "value-added." Let's fire him also.

Maybe you think I am being unfair. After all, how can we hold the mayor and governor accountable and assess their performance in office based on a decline in a statistical measure such as unemployment when they are hardly responsible for the national and global economic situation during the last decade? Yet that is exactly what the mayor and governor want to do with classroom teachers.

And Emery Petchauer, an assistant professor of teacher education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, writes a blog post in Diverse Issues in Higher Education asking whether the release of the data reports will affect students' interest in going into teaching. He writes:

This is not a rhetorical question. I spend almost every day with these students educating them to be teachers, so I know the answer.

It makes them not want to become teachers anymore.

Is this a surprise? Who would want to enter a profession assailed to such a degree that one might be called out on the pages of a newspaper by way of a measurement that is unquestionably suspect. This is analogous to ranking doctors based upon how quickly their patients heal after visiting a doctor’s office. Certainly, a visit to the doctor’s office can be an important step in restoring health, but there are numerous other factors that impact health such to the degree that to ascribe the worth of a doctor wholly upon the health of the patient is clearly wrong.

Principals in New York have been galvanizing for months to push back against the state's attempts to adopt a new teacher evaluation system, and some 1,400 principals -- more than 30 percent of all the principals in New York State -- have signed a petition asking the state to modify its approach.

About 100 of them gathered at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y., on Long Island, on Monday to be photographed for an ad that the group intends to place in the Legislative Gazette and other publications.

In a news release, the group said on Monday:

The ad will alert legislators and the public to the problems with the new evaluation system. The message of the campaign is that the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) is flawed, expensive and will not serve the best interests of our public school students.

The news release said the principals are asking legislators to:

• Apply the confidentiality provisions of Civil Rights Law §50-a to teachers and principals.
• Adjust the scoring ranges so that the 40% attributed to test scores cannot be the deciding factor in an educator’s evaluation.
• Pilot APPR for effectiveness before full implementation.

On an entirely different note, Gotham Schools' Jessica Campbell reports on a new tool available to high school teachers:

Thanks to a new initiative from TED, students around the country will now be able to get the same view into a Baruch College researcher’s lab that students at New York City’s High School of Environmental Studies have already experienced.

The researcher, Jason Munshi-South, is one of the stars in a dozen new videos TED is releasing today in an attempt to translate its trademark inspirational videos to classroom learning.

The videos are part of TED-Ed,

... an outgrowth of the 18 minute TED Talks that aim to inspire discussion about “ideas worth spreading.” The classroom version is tailored in content and style for high schoolers, with the updated motto of “lessons worth spreading.”

“Right now there’s an educator out there delivering a mind-altering lesson,” TED-Ed “Catalyst” Logan Smalley said during a press call last week. “What if you could capture that lesson? What if you could amplify it?”

The amplification is kicking off with the release of a dozen lectures, and in the coming months the plan is to release a video a day, with the year end goal of an accumulated archive of over 300 videos.

And TED-Ed is also calling for submissions, "where teachers will have the opportunity to submit their best lectures to the TED-Ed team. Once chosen, the lecturers will be paired with animators who will help visualize the ideas on the screen."

The videos are viewable on the TED-Ed channel on YouTube for Schools, the recently developed portal that allows educators to access educational YouTube videos even if their school has restricted access to YouTube.

Some teachers are skeptical that they’ll be able to make use of the new tool. On Twitter, Christina Jenkins said her school — the iSchool, which prides itself on innovative uses of technology — hasn’t been able to unblock YouTube for Schools.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Junior High School 278 Marine Park in Brooklyn will hold its "Evening of the Arts," where it will premiere a video documentary, "The Road to Opening Night," chronicling the school's production of "Bye, Bye, Birdie" last spring. The show was assisted by Inside Broadway, an arts-education nonprofit, and the video was created by a video producer, Mark Dichter, who donated his services.

You can follow Helene Stapinski's chronicles on SchoolBook of her journey along the "great white way" as she helped produce the fifth-grade musical, "The Wizard of Oz," at her son's elementary school. The first two chapters of "The Munchkins Are a Problem" can be found here, and the rest of the report will be rolled out on Fridays through the spring, as a treat for SchoolBook readers.