2012-12-14 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Bloomberg Continues To Demonize Teachers
Commentary By Howard Schwach

With a year to go in his tenure as mayor, Michael Bloomberg continues to demonize teachers, blaming them for all the problems that he created with his business-friendly image of what schools should be and his manic focus on standardized tests scores as the beall and end-all of education in New York City.

Last week, Bloomberg took his latest shot at a profession in which most of those who teach do so because they really want to help kids.

Bloomberg made it clear that he would rather lose $250 million in state funds than “give in to the teachers” who won’t approve a rating system that everybody, including Bloomberg and his educational “experts” know is fatally flawed.

He has threatened that he will keep “teacher’s feet to the fire” by making “painful cuts to the education budget” if teachers don’t agree to be rated mostly on the scores of their students on the state math and language arts standardized tests – tests that were so terribly flawed that the state apologized by saying that the test scores did not substantially reflect the reality of student outcomes.

In other words, the state had played with the cut scores so radically that nobody believed them any longer.

Think about it. Suppose your teacher gave a test made up of 100 questions. In the good old day, getting 65 of those questions correct meant that you got a passing grade of 65.

Now suppose that your teacher decided that not enough students were passing the test and that she wanted a higher passing percentage.

Arbitrarily, she decides that getting 40 questions right would earn a passing grade of 65. Many more students passed the test and both the teacher and her students looked good.

That is what the state did. In 2006, a student needed to answer 70 questions correctly to achieve Level 3, a passing grade. By 2008, that number had dropped to 47 correct answers to achieve the same level.

In 2010, academics began to report that the books were cooked and the state raised the cut score so severely that many schools that were rated highly in 2006 now became failing schools four years later even though they had the same staff and administration and the same mix of students.

Nobody would have cared had not the president and the mayor decided that teachers should be paid and fired on the basis of those flawed tests.

When the feds and the state decided that schools would get special funds if they put a score-based rating plan for teachers in place, the union refused to accept the “value added” model that was understood by only a few schooled in the arcane science of statistics. When the model was tested two years ago, it came up with a hodge-podge of results, mostly blasting really top teachers with poor scores because they did not add enough value to their student’s educational experience.

Progress was prized above all, and it was tough for teachers at schools where the majority of kids were already at Level 4 to show the progress needed to prove that they were really good teachers.

The model did not work and everybody understood that except for Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

There is only one way to look at

Bloomberg’s 11 years in office in relation to his education policy.

It is clear that he set out to destroy the teacher’s union.

To destroy it, he had to prove that the union was the reason for the poor performance of students in the city. There was no other reason, he speculated and pronounced – not the parents, not the students themselves, not the fact that he has untrained supervisors, not the fact that society plays a large part in educational outcomes. It has to be the teachers and therefore the teachers must be destroyed.

So, take resources away from public schools and give them to friends who run charter schools.

When scores decline in those schools with reduced resources, close them and blame it on the teachers.

Make the teachers look like venal criminals who only want a large salary and a retirement income.

And, that’s just what he did, using millions of dollars of his own fortune to fund groups that agreed with him and to destroy those that did not.

Now the mayor has one year to achieve his goal and he is turning up the heat.

He would destroy public education and turn everything over to charter millionaires such as Eva Moskowitz and Cathie Black without blinking an eye.

United Federation of Teachers President Mike Mulgrew reacted to the mayor’s talks of cutbacks if his rating plan is not agreed to by January.

“It seems like the mayor is more interested in using the evaluations to hold teacher’s feet to the fire that he is in helping them to do their jobs better,” Mulgrew said.

He is right. The mayor’s goal is not better public education. His goal has always been to give the education marketplace to his business buddies and to demonize and destroy the union.

He only has one more year to do that before his hand-picked successor, Christine Quinn, picks up the handoff and keeps running it forward.

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