2011-10-28 / Columnists

School Scope

Charlotte’s Web - The Beat(down) Goes On
Commentary By Norman Scott


Norman Scott Norman Scott How much money is being diverted from the classroom into playing gotcha” with teachers?

When Sam Lazarus, Chapter Leader of Bryant HS in Queens, one of the 30 or so target schools trying out the (Charlotte) Danielson system of teacher evaluation, spoke out at the October 19 Delegate Assembly against a resolution being promoted by the UFT leadership supporting the system I thought I was watching a horror film akin to the Chernobyl disaster, embellished by zombie administrators looking to use what some people consider a potentially useful tool to chew on the livers of living teachers.

In September of 2011, Bloomberg began implementing yet another reform in the NYC public schools. Dennis Walcott, with Bloomberg’s encouragement, has directed principals to use the Danielson Framework rubrics as a formative evaluation for teachers. For those who are unfamiliar with educational jargon, a rubric is a grading scale that can be used to give a rating to someone or something. In the current school year, this framework is to be used for support, next year it is to be used to provide evaluations.

The Danielson Frameworks for Teaching – along with the Common Core Standards, which we’ll get to in a follow-up column – are the hot new things in ed deform in the WalBloom administration. From what I hear the DFT standing on its own is not a bad idea but in the hands of those with evil intent – oh, let’s say the gang at Tweed – is a dagger aimed at the heart of every single teacher. Why not give nuclear technology to Iran since they say they won’t use if for nefarious means? Are teachers willing to hand AhmadineWalBloom a neutron bomb to use on them? (Unless the union agrees to a deal the entire plan is a no-go. To add insult to injury, many teachers have been forced to spend $30 of their own money to buy the Danielson book – sort of like giving someone a shovel to dig her or his own grave.)

Charlotte Danielson herself paves the road to possible perfidy:

“Let me give you a story of when it’s not done well. I was contacted early on by a large urban district in New Jersey that … had a horrible evaluation system. It was top-down and arbitrary and punitive and sort of “gotcha.” And they developed a new one based on my book, and it was top-down and arbitrary, and punitive. All they did was exchange one set of evaluative criteria for another. They did nothing to change the culture surrounding evaluation. It was very much something done to teachers, an inspection, used to penalize or punish teachers whom the principal didn’t like … [and] I discovered that if I didn’t do something here, my name would get associated with things people hate. So I thought about what it would take to do teacher evaluation well. And I discovered that doing it well means respecting what we know about teacher learning, which has to do with self-assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation.”

Sam Lazarus spoke at the DA after Academic HS VP Leo Casey urged the delegates to support the UFT leadership sponsored resolution – which affirmed support for the Danielson system while admonishing the DOE to stick to what was agreed to – to only use the system in Transformation and Restart schools THIS year. (But it is coming to a school near you next year.) Sam’s story at what the teachers are going through at Bryant where even the assistant principals, who have to spend their lives evaluating teachers instead of managing their areas of responsibility, are warning the teachers that this is all about gotcha and not helpya.

Sam laid out what is happening at Bryant in such graphic terms, some people could be seen retching in the halls – OK – just a little hyperbole – I was ready to retch but it was probably the rotten bananas. He told of how the DFT could be used to rate teachers poorly and fire them without hearings – an end to LIFO and tenure – pretty shocking and something that should call for a long discussion within the union. But of course, in the spirit of UFT democracy, this resolution was gotten to with about two minutes left in the meeting. After Leo and Sam spoke, Mulgrew, using his seating chart to call on the pre-planned Unity Caucus speakers who would support the resolution, got two affirmatives before hitting the “call the question” button to close debate.

It is so assuring for the resolution to say that the UFT will “defend the integrity of the Danielson Framework of Teaching using all contractual [is there still a contract?], legal and other means [please tell us some of these] at our disposal to stop its misuse in schools where supervisors are engaged in rogue [see, it’s not good guys at the DOE executing a plan but a few bad apple principals] evaluations that violate our members’ rights.”

So I know you are enjoying a good laugh at how tough UFT leaders will be with the DOE in defending your rights. At the DA a Unity Caucus member who has some knowledge of U-rating hearings told me disgustedly, “Even the hearing officers are asking why the UFT is so weak in defending people.” But we do know about the lack of support at the school level when it comes to psycho principals. Imagine giving this tool to one of them, especially when we know that Tweed will support grads of the Leadership Academy even if they are proven serial killers.

So how will/can the UFT protect people from misuse of Danielson? At the September Chapter Leader meeting Mulgrew was slobbering all over how wonderful Danielson is and selling it to the members. Now his assistant Michael Mendel is publicly complaining about the principals using it when they are not yet empowered to do so and this has become a point of contention between the UFT leadership and DOE (even though Mulgrew, Walcott and CSA pres sent out a joint letter telling principals they are not to be using it).

A chapter leader from Queens emailed:

“Danielson should be implemented in a supportive, collaborative, non threatening environment of mutual trust. To be highly effective, Danielson states, a teacher should offer students choice in their pathways to learning, students should raise their own questions and show that they take initiative for their own learning, an observer of teachers should be trained and certified in this fine art. Danielson says she can provide the training. To date, we are unaware of any NYC principals receiving this training. To initiate the process without these components already in place is to exchange one poor evaluation system for an-other in the very words of Ms. Danielson herself. It will take principals with knowledge, experience, and expertise to make the two models work together. Unfortunately, Mr. Bloomberg has not sought out and appointed principals that have the experience, sensitive understanding and knowledge of the classroom to collaborate on the Danielson model. He has replaced many experienced principals with younger, corporate minded supervisors. Given the present reality of the Bloomberg/ Walcott regime, the Danielson rubrics have already failed in the New York City Public Schools. The prerequisite climate of trust, knowledge, and cooperation inherent to achieving the true goals of the Danielson framework does not exist, precluding any possibility of this transition. Principals are already using Danielson merely as a vehicle to give teachers unsatisfactory ratings, without implementing any of the positive ideas that Danielson has put forth. The focus continues to be on the usual pecking away at details, rather than on true teacher support and improvement. Therefore, the use of Danielson should be tabled at this time. Perhaps, instead, to move forward in the right direction, a rubric should be created for principals that would encourage them to work toward that climate of trust and respect that Danielson aspires to.”

Given complaints like these, the UFT has been balking at signing an agreement so far even though Bloomberg is supposedly dangling a contract with some raises in exchange. The NY Post shrilled this headline: Mayor: Teach union fears evaluations. “Mayor Bloomberg yesterday blasted teachers union complaints over a new evaluation system that’s not even operational yet – saying the UFT is just trying to subvert a real measure of teacher quality. ‘Teachers unions don’t want the evaluations.’ Bloomberg was responding to a Post report that the UFT was already threatening to walk away from negotiations over details of the rating system, which can’t officially launch without a deal.”

Clearly, Bloomberg badly wants the union to agree to the plan – good enough reason to balk. But the UFT won’t, in the long run. Tweed will give “assurances” they won’t nuke the teachers but while the UFT wails in the courts, teachers will end up flailing through the ashes of the resulting incineration.

Norm nukes his readers every day at his blog: http://ednotesonline.blog spot.com.

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