Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A chancellorific letter

The "Chancellor" has apparently written a letter to all the city's teachers, according to
Democrats for Education Reform. They say it was sent out the day of the Candlelight Vigil outside of Tweed this week to protest the new Teacher Performance Unit.

For the record, I didn't get a copy, and for the sake of accuracy, I feel obliged to put quotes around the word Chancellor, since not only is there any reason to believe that this statement was put out by something other than a PR firm, but because it is widely known that the man holding this position has never been qualified for the job in the first place. (Getting a state waiver only makes it legal. He'll never actually bother to learn what he's missed, or even lose sleep over it.)

Saying all this, it's probably worth giving this letter a moment of your time, if you're not already put off by the first two words: "Dear Colleagues."
November 26, 2007

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing you to honor your extraordinary work on behalf of the children of New York City. Over the past several years, because of your dedication and talent, our students have made real progress. Graduation rates have risen significantly, as has virtually every other indicator of increased student learning. These are not just numbers. They bear directly on the life outcomes of children, from future employment and earnings potential to health and even incarceration rates. You are changing lives for the better every day. I can assure you that Mayor Bloomberg joins me in offering his deepest gratitude for all that you are doing, and have done, to contribute to our students' progress.
Apart from the fact that I'm not really convinced that Klein thinks of any of us out here as his colleagues, I can't figure out if these letterwriters are speaking to the entire membership (all 200,000 of us that work with kids) or just the teachers (74,000). And do they really mean to compliment the whole lot of us, even the ones they're trying so hard to get rid of? Everything after the words "I am writing to you" is entirely misleading, unsubstantiated or factually incorrect.
[para. 2]
As we move forward together, I take great pride in knowing that that all of us - UFT President Randi Weingarten, the Mayor, and I - share a common appreciation of the importance of your work. Indeed, the research on this point is overwhelming. As the UFT recently reaffirmed, the single greatest factor in improving student learning, especially for our neediest students, is the quality of the teacher in their classroom. Students who are blessed with teachers who have an established record of improving achievement prosper - indeed, so much so that researchers have suggested that our shameful racial achievement gap would narrow dramatically if all our students were fortunate enough to be in their classrooms. But, not surprisingly, the opposite is also true. When high-needs students find themselves taught by teachers with a history of poor success in improving student achievement, the gap widens, and many students never recover.

Yes, Weingarten did recently say in her Jan. 25th testimony on the proposed DOE restructuring plan that the single greatest factor in improving student learning is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. But, she continued to say that
This proposal will totally reverse everything we’ve accomplished. It will deprive more and more of our kids of an experienced, highly-skilled teacher. In the short run it will do that only at schools that now have a relatively senior staff, but in a few years it will hit all schools, whether they serve middle class or poor children. Because of the incentives and disincentives built into the formula, schools with many senior teachers will have to reduce the number of those teachers or sacrifice programs that made them successful.
People who read this blog know that I far from agree with everything Ms Weingarten says or does, but her words are clearly taken out of context here. She's saying the DOE tacticians have been reversing attempts to improve teacher quality (whatever that is, since no one has ever developed a fail-safe way of measuring it). The Klein letter says that kids taught by teachers who have "an established record of improving achievement prosper." If a substantial percentage of the teaching force has already been driven out by these people, and something like 50% (could that be right? it's what I heard) don't even have full certification or a Masters, it's getting harder to find teachers that have an "established record" of anything at all, good or bad.

What's clear is that the "Chancellor" and his underlings are making it harder and harder for professional teachers to stay in the job. You get to be a professional after you finish your grad studies and your internship, not while you're in the middle of doing this preparatory work. Even if the figure is not as high as 50%, we do know that a substantial number of the young adults Bloom/Klein has attracted with offers to pay graduate tuition and intermediate kinds of certification leave the job anyway in a couple of years, or go where they're better appreciated. Which leaves me to wonder whom in particular is this letter complimenting for their "extraordinary work"?

I'm not even going to get into the statement that virtually aligns poor student achievement with race, as if only people of certain races can be "high-need students," but I really hope you all caught it.
[para 3]
That is why we are so committed to attracting, supporting, and retaining the best teachers in the nation. Since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, we have increased teacher salaries by 43%. Last month, UFT President Weingarten joined the Mayor and me in announcing an innovative school-wide performance bonus plan to reward teachers in high-needs schools that are succeeding for students. But, even more important than financial considerations, we are committed to providing the professional support and ongoing training necessary to enable every New York City teacher to be successful. Since 2002, for example, we have invested billions of dollars in professional development and mentoring for our educators. But we also know that factors related to school environment are critical to teachers. That is one reason we are committed to class-size reduction. This year alone we expect to have more than 1,300 additional teachers in our classrooms.
Wading through the sludge in paragraph 3, with its pompous and self-congratulating remarks on the new merit pay scheme (that's what it is), the "billions" spent on professional development, mentoring and the like (saying you've invested billions into something sounds great to some people), and how they're all trying to enable teachers to be "successful" (definition of success missing, but no matter, as it wouldn't be an educator's meaning for the word anyway), we get to where they tell us how they are committed to reducing class size. The veil of untransparency will get pulled back from time to time by sources that go the extra mile to get some facts out, in this case NY1:
The report, released Tuesday by the watchdog group, Campaign for Fiscal Equity, finds the city will still need to create another 866 new classrooms to meet class-size standards. That translates to the DOE being somewhere between 19,000-20,000 seats short.
Correction: you will not have 1,300 additional "teachers" in your classroom, you will have maybe 1,300 additional grad students in your classroom learning as hard and as quickly as they can how to become teachers.

After a couple of paragraphs of more of the same, it continues:
[para 7]
...I was disappointed when a recent effort to expand our capacity to address this issue was so badly misunderstood and mischaracterized. Last year, only 10 out of 55,000 tenured teachers were removed from their position for incompetence. That's two tenths of one percent. I do not believe that anyone can responsibly defend this miniscule percentage as appropriate. Given the research that children's lives are profoundly and negatively affected by truly poor instruction, all of us have a moral duty to address this issue honestly and openly.
SLICK! They make a real point of saying that only 10 out of 55,000 tenured teachers were removed for incompetence. They mean fired, out of the system. The number of people "removed from their positions" is more like 1,500, since Weingarten told us just last week that there are now 800 ATRs and 700 sitting in rubber rooms. If you subtract those 10 who got really terminated, it means roughly 1,490 people (which, by the way, does not include all the ATRs that have already been placed) were removed from their positions for a whole bunch of other reasons than incompetence, including whistleblowing, excessing, restructuring, age, high salaries, and rubbing the principal the wrong way.

Are they taking us for fools? These people have institutionalized the marginalization and criminalization of teachers and think it's just business as usual.

The last paragraph really needs framing, cause the red bits are both priceless and defenceless.
I regret the confusion and concern that the public conversation on this issue has caused and, specifically, our role in it. At the same time, I hope you have the same confidence in yourselves as professionals as I do. As I said at the outset, all but the tiniest minority of teachers are doing good, and often outstanding, work. Our teachers are heroes, one and all, and I am deeply grateful to them. Let's move forward together to continue to make the great strides for all our students that your talent, dedication, and hard work deserves.


Joel I. Klein

Oh, heck, let me put it all in red and be done with it. Then go read Tom Paine or something useful.


Pissed Off said...

I read that notice this morning--not worth the paper it is printed on. Someone in my school circled a typo--but I guess it is ok for the chancellor not to know how to spell.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that the UFT reported a very high number of resignations last year: 4,300. How many of those 4,300 were railroaded out and forced to resign rather than endure further DOE pain?

Eric said...

I believe the number in the "rubber room"? was 757, not including many teachers removed from the classroom but still working in the school while 3020a charts are prepared.

Look for the numbers to increase, not decrease.

Woodlass said...

I heard her say 700 at the ATR meeting the other day, but you can't always trust what she knows or says.

You do bring up an interesting point that I had forgotten. They can bring verbal/corp. abuse charges against you at any time -- days, even months after the suspected incident.

So, in addition to the teachers not in rubbers rooms while 3020a charges are being brought against them, there are other targeted people who are going about their business oblivious to the "investigations" that might land them in the rubber room as well. These are all done before the teacher is contacted and without the teacher's knowledge. Some of these investigations are frivolous and biased, but when a principal wants a teacher out of the building, they'll look in all kinds of directions for a way to achieve this. It's a whole other category to consider, and yes, it will increase the numbers in the rubber room.