Tag Archives: Randi Weingarten

The Teacher “Bar” Exam is no solution to teacher quality

American Education is in the Dumpster

The Sad truth about Education programs in the US (Photo credit: brewbooks)

When a cat and a dog start howling at the moon together, something is terribly wrong.

With Randi Weingarten and Arne Duncan howling in unison over the need to overhaul teacher training, I get immediately suspicious.  These two never seem to howl together for anything, and when they do…it is usually more self-serving than selfless.

Recently, Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has been touting the need for a streamlining of teacher certification, so that all teachers are held to the same standard.  This new system is meant to replace the multiple certification systems in place in all fifty states, geared toward making sure that “an individual teacher walking into her classroom the first day is confident and competent.”

(Name one person who’s “confident and competent” on their first day on the job, and I’ll show you someone who’s neither.)

Part of this would be a teacher “bar” exam similar to a bar exam for lawyers or a medical board exam for doctors.  According to Weingarten (a trained lawyer, not a teacher), a combination of clinical experience in the field, academic preparedness for the subject(s) in his/her license, and training in child cognitive development would culminate in a national board exam that would create a teacher ready for the first day.

Everyone seems to be on board, from Arne to Andrew Cuomo…and that really scares me.  They see another silver bullet, but I know otherwise.  How is a national exam going to fix—or even try to fix—a system that suffers due to its participants.

With all due respect to my colleagues, the problem still lies at the very beginning: entry into the field of education is too easy.

Years ago, I got a slew of feedback both positive and negative from my previous diatribe on teacher education.  Many of you cheered my call for an admission process just as stringent as law and medical schools.

Others took me to mean education itself was an “easy” profession and took me to task—which further proves my point about ease of entry into this profession.

We all know that education is among the toughest jobs to do.  I, for one, work long hours above and beyond my workday to research, plan, grade, analyze and organize for my students—work that usually gets foisted off to nurses, paralegals and first-year associates in other professions.

Yet even those in education itself agree that the law and medicine have barriers to entry that education lacks.  Unfortunately, prestige and especially pay are determined largely by these barriers, whether you like it or not.

Sandra Stotsky, who oversaw teacher certification in Massachusetts, stated that “You have more problems today with ineffective teachers because we’ve had virtually open admissions into the profession.”  Since the bar is set so low (no pun intended) many teachers with an education degree and a teacher’s license still lack the stills to become effective in the classroom.

Medicine and law both started as apprenticed crafts that developed professional institutions.  Due to prejudices about teaching, education never reached the level of “official” professionalism of the other schools.  For teachers to garner the respect we richly deserve, education programs need to catch up and develop a rigorous framework that includes high admissions standards.

Of course, the raising of admission standards is no silver bullet.  Certification requirements vary widely, from state to state and even from college to college.  Some colleges focus too much on academic theory, some too little.  Some spend countless hours analyzing fieldwork and classroom routines at the expense of theory and concepts.  Even in a field with few barriers of entry, the quality of preparation is a complete crapshoot.

The need for a new way to train teachers is important at many levels.  Education programs, certification programs and school districts need to realign and synch their resources to create a useful, rigorous, and productive teacher training program.

Yet as long as anyone can be a teacher, then our schools will still be flooded with those who have no business being teachers.

Much of the god-awful education reform agenda—the data collection, the constant forced collaboration, the constant assessment to collect data—is designed with a simple premise: that most in the teaching profession are stupid.   Even the collaboration, the common planning and “inquiry analysis”, is built around the supposition that in any group of idiot teachers there must be at least one person who’s competent.

Teachers in the past were never subject to such scrutiny because their word was law, in every way.  Now, because of a veritable free-for-all system of hiring and licensing, competent teachers must suffer the yoke of the grossly incompetent.

It’s insulting to any hardworking teacher, and wouldn’t be necessary if the idiots weren’t allowed in the classroom in the first place.

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NBC Education Nation Summit: “Waiting for Superman” and Teacher Town Hall

The blind and dumb leading the blinder and dumber, courtesy of MSNBC.com

I couldn’t participate in yesterday’s Teacher Town Hall for NBC’s Education Nation, and I blame Blighter for it.

The Ozymandia blogger and my good friend was married on Saturday, and let’s just say I enjoyed myself a little too much to be involved in any serious discussion on education issues.

Yesterday, at NBC’s Education Nation Summit at Rockefeller Center, featured special Meet the Press panel, a panel discussion about the upcoming school reform documentary Waiting for Superman, as well as the Teacher Town Hall I missed.  They’re both linked below, but some things of note:

  1. Randi Weingarten needed some real coaching in that discussion.  It’s amazing, and downright insulting, that we send a non-teacher up to defend one of the oldest professions in civilization.  You can’t go up against Canada and Rhee, the education golden-children, looking like a shrill Teamster’s wife on the picket line.
  2. Geoffrey Canada, Harlem education entrepreneur, has enjoyed enormous success, which should be applauded.  But how many of us have the financial resources he has to do the outside-the-box stuff that works in his situation?
  3. Michelle Rhee comes off as a complete whiner and a bad loser.  She whines about lawsuits, AFT support of her boss’ opponent in the DC mayors’ race, the fact that a democratic government hamstrings her efforts.  C’mon…cowboy up and face reality: you had the White House, the US Department of Education and the reform movement behind you.  Don’t whine about losing an election: those are the breaks.  Man up and deal.
  4. In a part of the Teacher Town Hall, where a teacher (young, maybe TFA?) gets up and says teachers “should be under attack…we should be held accountable…you’re not in this for the money”, she just sounds like a TFA shill.  Furthermore, she should face political and economic reality.  You will NEVER attract the best teachers with salaries not commensurate with other professions, nor will you attract them with the flimsy education requirements of graduate schools.
  5. The fact that teacher/bloggers such as Deven Black, Ira Socol, Sabrina and yours truly–teacher/journalists that not only stick their neck out on education “reform”, but also teach as well–were so underrepresented boggles the mind.  Not to toot my own horn, of course.

Below are the links to each of these pieces, so take a look for yourselves, and be as liberal as you want with your opinions:

MSNBC “Waiting for Superman” Panel discussion

Part II of “Superman” Panel discussion

Part III of “Superman” Panel discussion

Part IV of “Superman” Panel discussion

Part V of “Superman” Panel discussion

MSNBC Teacher Town Hall: “Are teachers under attack?”

MSNBC Teacher Town Hall in its Entirety

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Mortgaging Our Future: UFT agrees to cut Pension Benefits

Isn’t it great when politicians dress up a flagrant con job as a “cost-saving” measure?

As if teacher recruitment and retention isn’t bad enough in this city, along comes the cabal of Bloomberg, Klein and Weingarten–who sound like an ambulance-chasing law firm.  They seem to feel that its better to keep the talent we have than to appeal to new, fresh faces to energize the teacher corps.

Today’s Daily News details the last great giveback of the Randi Weingarten era at the United Federation of Teachers.  In exchange for two extra days of summer vacation, new hires will have their pension benefits slashed.  Instead of paying 5% of their salary for 10 years and then dropping to 2%, all new teachers will be depositing 5% into the pension fund for the entirety of their tenure.  Furthermore, new teachers will take longer to become “vested”–10 years as opposed to five–and will not be able to retire with full benefits until they have completed 27 years of service.

Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and UFT president Weingarten are thrilled with this “compromise.”  Bloomberg stated that “It will save us a lot of money over the long term – not as much right away. But we have to address the long-term problems now.” Weingarten was even more optimistic, calling it a “win for everyone.”

Really Randi?  Is it a win for New York City schoolchildren in the future who, because of these backslides in protection, do not have quality teachers who stay for any length of time?  Is it a win for prospective teachers who wish they could teach in our great city, yet are barred by a pension tier that treats newer hires as second-class employees?  Or is it more a win for you, so you can keep in the good graces of Ayatollah Bloomberg and his bean-counter clerics?

Speaking of the dwarf-in-chief, Michael Bloomberg has some nerve calling this a cost-saving measure.  He doesn’t see the long-term social costs in his policies, which lead to the very financial losses he’s trying to avoid.  If teachers cannot be retained or hired, staff are left undermanned and with inadequate training.  This, in turn, leads to ill-prepared children, regardless of what the Albany “cooked” tests have to say.  As they enter the workforce, these students will not be entering the fields that generate more income or business for the city.  Rather, many will enter the very same civil government positions that are the “cost cutting” in the first place.

This, of course, is an exaggerated scenario.  Yet it seems that for the sake of the balance sheet, we are mortgaging the strength of our teacher corps and the well-being of our students.  I really don’t care about two extra days–my principal will probably find a workshop to occupy that time, anyway.  What concerns me is the sacrificing of today’s teachers without thought of its consequence.  I’d rather have well-trained, knowledgeable teachers that can help students progress over a long period of time than two measly days. 

It is downright sickening that this has been crafted as a “win-win”, when there are clear losers.

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Rotisserie Teaching: Tests, Stats and Teacher Tenure

In a few years, teaching will be a lot like fantasy baseball.

Principals will be selecting their draft picks, organizing their order to fill difficult slots, like math, science and special education.  As for myself, the stats show I’m a solid .700 hitter, with an 80% pass rate last year.  I’m a good pick for power and distance, although I may fade down the stretch into June.  As long as the bullpen comes through in the clutch, I should be alright.  God help those teachers on the waiver wire.

It would be incredible if every aspect of our professional lives can be effectively reduced to a number.  Classifying and ranking would be much simpler.  A simple graph would tell who was pulling their weight and who couldn’t hit out of a paper bag.  How many principals would love to shove a chart into a failing teacher’s face, bellow out “the number’s don’t lie!” and give the unfortunate loser the boot.

If education were only that simple.  It isn’t.

Recently, the New York Post ran a story about the teacher’s union, the UFT, allegedly obstructing efforts by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and schools chancellor Joel Klein to include student test scores as a factor in determining teacher tenure.  The State Assembly recently killed any hope of even creating a commission to investigate how test scores can fit into the process–a commission supported by UFT president Randi Weingarten and the larger umbrella group New York State United Teachers.  The commission was seen as an olive branch in the feud between the Department of Education and the Union over the test scores issue, and was even included in this year’s controversial budget.  Yet the chair of the Education Committee in Albany, Catherine Nolan, refused to even allow a vote on the matter.

Teacher tenure is an issue that really bothers me.  On the one hand, many teachers who have long since proven a disservice to students are protected by the tenure system.  I won’t name names, but i’m familiar with a number of teachers in various schools that probably do more harm than good, yet are protected by the system.  Even if they are excessed by a principal, these teachers are guaranteed a salaried position by union contract.  While this is helpful to most, it can also be detrimental by keeping bad teachers in play.  Just like the Yankees who are obligated to keep and pay for useless players based on contract (Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, etc.), the system of tenure, when abused, can create a class of benchwarmers that drain resources for next season.

However, tenure is also an important safeguard for teachers against the lesser natures of administrators–especially those with no experience in the classroom.  An administrator without classroom experience can quickly turn into a bean counter.  Statistics, numbers, charts, graphs–the quantifiable data that is so useful in the business world makes little sense in education.   If your supervisor had no experience handling children in a classroom, he/she will probably not be sympathetic to your terrible class forged by Lucifer.

Like baseball, teaching also has those “intangibles” that cannot necessarily be controlled.  Who knows if Ted Williams would have hit a .406 batting average in 1941 had there not been a ridiculously shallow right field in Fenway ParkSandy Koufax, the great Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher of the 1960’s, had the benefit of a concrete monolith in Dodger Stadium, where home runs were few and far between.  In public schools, we cannot cherry-pick our students.  Nor can we adjust the facilities.  Our schedules are often held hostage by meetings, workshops, common planning periods and the like.  Test day is also stressful; not everyone is a great test taker, even the really bright children.  There’s also the home to consider: not everyone lives in an environment conducive to achievement.  If Daddy is playing Grand Theft Auto with his son during homework time–which is sometimes the case–you can be sure that school isn’t much of a priority.

So let’s assume that test scores will play a factor in determining tenure.  How much weight should they carry?  Will the criteria include just tests, or a basket of assessments (portfolio, written work, observations, etc.)? Should all tests be used, just State assessments, or a selection of subjects?  How will one set of scores compare to another?  Should the raw score be used or the scale score?  Are we looking for set targets, or windows of progress over time?  Can we adequately assess a teacher’s skills based on the work of previous teachers in previous years?

Test scores may be numbers, but the factors surrounding them are anything but tangible.  This is why using them to determine teacher tenure can become a volatile issue.  If student work is to be used in assessing teachers, then that assessment should be done within a framework that fellow teachers can understand.  Test scores must be viewed in context to a holistic learning experience that includes various assessments, observations and data.  Scores alone cannot determine performance, since it is but one indicator of a complex process.

Let’s return to baseball for a moment.  If Alex Rodriguez were to be assessed based on cumulative, one-shot annual state exams, he would be considered a failure.  Look at his record in October and see if you doubt me.  However, he is not judged merely on his October stats (though maybe he should be) but rather on a season-wide scale.  This would include slumps, tears, injury periods and the like, producing results that look good on a stats sheet, even though he can’t perform during the playoffs.

I was actually looking forward to a commission studying how test scores can be used.  It would have provided some form of closure to a contentious issue that mistakenly blames teachers as being against student acheivement.  It would have also provided some real data to see how reflective are test scores to actual student learning.  For now, I guess we will have to live with tenure as it is.

Funny, I would’ve gotten a kick seeing my principal watch some kindergarten teacher getting swamped, then make a call to the bullpen.  Make sure you’re loose.

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