Attack VAM before it is too late
Classroom teachers and building principals must join together and attack Value-Added Modeling (VAM) as a method for classroom teacher evaluation much less a measure of student performance and teacher effectiveness
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ratcheted up attacks on teachers’ unions and school administrators declaring that “we have to realize that our schools are not an employment program” and vowing to press for
the speedy establishment of a statewide teacher evaluation system. Later, [January 2012] both Gov. Cuomo and then New York City Mayor Bloomberg each identified their real concern: a stalemate over teacher evaluations is endangering a billion dollars in federal education aid.
Mayor Bloomberg’s headline education proposal from his “State of the City” address [January 2012] was to fire up to half of the teachers in dozens of low-performing schools.
The responses from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents city teachers and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) show that the teachers unions in New York State do not speak with a common voice.
What kind of settlement can classroom teachers and principals expect?
From past experience it should be obvious that any settlement will be political not educational; expedient, not principled. In return for allowing the Unions to continue to represent the teachers and foregoing any attempt to curtail the collective bargaining rights of teachers as some States have already done, the unions will accept an evaluation program that will allow summary dismissal of up to 50% of the teachers in our “underperforming” schools today.
Teachers who have been doing their best with little support from parents, administrators, elected officials, and the general public and who have devoted their lives to trying to make a difference in schools where social and economic conditions conspire to thwart their every effort can be summarily dismissed.
Why? Because all those teachers will be replaced and the dues check-off will continue so the Union leadership already an integral part of the educational bureaucracy in the State Capital will see no change in their revenues. As long as the jobs are there, so are the dues. In this struggle, teachers have become interchangeable fungible commodities.
The State Education Department will continue to grow ever more powerful and authoritarian as it continues to lick the boots of the United States Department of Education, ultimate source of funds to maintain their growing bureaucracy.
And what about the classroom teachers and the building principals?
Very few of teachers and even most school principals are old enough to remember the plight of public school teachers from the start of the Great Depression through the conclusion of the Korean War—the days before teachers were permitted to join together and exercise collective bargaining rights. I am just old enough to remember the end of those days and the first glorious days of organizing classroom teachers into collective bargaining units—unions.
Before there were teachers unions, classroom teachers were nothing more than medieval serfs. There was no job security, teachers served at the whim of school boards which could create and impose rules and regulations that required teachers to behave as the all-powerful school board dictated. There were certainly standards and accountability for teachers in those days. The school board set the standards and the teachers were accountable!
The ultimate standard of accountability was whether an individual teacher “pleased” the school board. If not they were terminated and often denied the opportunity to teach elsewhere in the same region. Women teachers were paid less than men regardless of their qualifications and the excellence of their teaching. Why? Because that is what the men on the school board believed.
Today, new teachers are more like the indentured servants of colonial America. Their overwhelming student loan debts require them to work regardless of the conditions and stifle any meaningful challenges to working conditions or standards imposed upon them.
Soon, if the federal and state Departments of Education, the economists, our elected officials and the special interests they serve have their way, the crown jewel of American democracy and the engine of the American free enterprise system—our public school education system—will be little more than a pile of rubble on the dung heap of history.
What can our classroom teachers and their principals do?
Now, while there is still time, demand that your collective bargaining representatives, your unions, take immediate direct legal action not just on behalf of the teachers and principals but on behalf of the teachers and principals as the advocates and representatives of the students who are so unfortunate as to be in danger of serious, permanent, and irreparable damage by the inappropriate standards, regulations, and procedures imposed upon our public schools, their classroom teachers and building principals by an unaccountable totalitarian federal and state bureaucracy. These are meaningful and substantive Constitutional issues not trivial discussions about procedural Regulations.
The classroom teachers and their principals must challenge the basic premises of the two major federal programs, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The classroom teachers and their building principals must demand national goals for excellence in education that will assure all people of the United States for generations to come that our next generation of 18-year-old voters will have gained sufficient knowledge during their years in the public schools to cast informed, intelligent votes on complex issues of long-standing import and effect while actively and carefully evaluating the qualifications of those seeking elective office.
The classroom teachers and their building principals must demonstrate to the American public that they are the last remaining advocates of and for the children in their charge. Only classroom teachers can educate the children in our public schools.
The public has a right to the best qualified and most dedicated classroom teachers that can be found throughout the country. The public also has the non-delegable duty to support those classroom teachers everyday.
Public support for our classroom teachers and our public school system is more than just sending money to governments at all levels and taking back a small portion to distribute, generally inequitably, to each public school district. Public support for our classroom teachers and our public school system requires total commitment from every family to their children in school and the teachers who are being asked to educate them.
The public and the parents of our public school children are the ultimate evaluators of teacher effectiveness yet they are totally excluded from the process. It is about time that the classroom teachers and the building principals reached out beyond the Parent Teachers Associations and into the community for support.
Only classroom teachers can explain the failings of the education reforms being proposed by every elected official seeking reelection and every talking head looking for convenient essentially inarticulate scapegoat. Only classroom teachers, while there is still time, and while they still have substantial community respect, can challenge the educational bureaucracy at the state and federal level and all of the economic leeches which feed off their “Regulations”.