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Executive Board Takeaway October 16, 2017---To Junk Science, or Not to Junk Science

There was much to digest at our last Executive Board meeting. I'm going to focus first on the resolution we proposed to oppose the current junk science APPR.

There were arguments presented against it. The primary argument, advanced by Jackie Bennett, was a blatant strawman. A strawman is when you argue against a point your adversary did not make. Bennett argued that we couldn't go back to giving principals 100% control over observations. There are issues with that, the primary being that we urged no such thing. I don't know whether or not Bennett actually read the resolution, but here's what it says verbatim:

Resolved, that UFT will form an evaluation committee that will endeavor to create and propose a rating system that is based on research and practice, as opposed to the system mandated by the current law. 

I'm trying to find the part that says we will give 100% authority to principals. Do you see it? Neither do I. It's pretty easy to win an argument when you mischaracterize what your opponent says. That's avoiding the argument, that's logical fallacy, and we have every right to expect better from those who represent us.

A better argument, made by Leroy Barr, was that there were around 3,000 unsatisfactory ratings, and fewer than 300 ineffectives. Let's look at that. Of course I'd rather see fewer negative ratings for teachers. On the other hand, New York State famously raises and lowers thresholds for tests, and tests are still a big part of teacher evaluation for many of us. Depending on the magnanimous nature of NYSED, for my money, is not a good bet. Will they alter thresholds so as to fire more teachers? Who knows?

Barr's argument works better if we ignore a few things. One is that developing ratings are generally perceived as negative by those who receive them. They come with Teacher Improvement Plans, which no one wants, and which can be extremely demoralizing no matter how many happy faces we paint on it. There's also the fact that two ineffective ratings place teachers on a path to 3020a, with burden of proof on them to prove they are not incompetent. Ask a lawyer how hard it is to prove a negative.

What Unity ignores is the elephant in the room. Granted, it's not in the room in which the Executive Board meets. But I work in a school every day, and I talk to teachers every day. Everyone hates the evaluation system, and it's not only teachers. Administrators, even reasonable ones, are burdened by it as well, and can barely keep up. Morale is as low as I've ever seen it, and the happy stats of few ineffectives have not bounced it back. Members who have comp-time jobs or work offsite plead with me to be placed back on the S and U system. Jackie Bennett knows this, because at least two requests from my building have crossed her desk.

A good argument, made by Bennett, is that there are many schools with vindictive and crazy administrators. I've seen this sort up close and personal, and I couldn't agree more. Bennett mentioned the adult ed. teachers who came to our committee, and their treatment has been abysmal. In cases like these, the matrix is likely to help teacher ratings. Likely it did for many teachers last year.

I think it was Michael Lillis, an upstate union president, who posted a comment here that sticks with me. Lillis said something like, "If your administrators are so bad that random junk science is an improvement on their judgment, your issue is not the evaluation system." I agree with that. Even in generally excellent schools like mine, crazy administrators can make peoples' lives a misery.

Here's the issue--crazy administrators are unacceptable. Unfortunately, they run rampant here in Fun City. And whether or not teachers end up rated ineffective, these administrators make their lives a misery. I've watched people have physical reactions to this, ranging from nervousness, to a-fib episodes, to death. This is not being addressed under the current APPR system. Abuse is rampant, and the fact that we need a junk science system to mitigate is outrageous. It would be far better to address the root cause of our ills.

Howard Schoor, for the third time in a row, had no answer for my question. In fact, the resolution they hated so much was at least an indirect result of his failure to answer my first question. I was pretty surprised when Michael Mulgrew, who had arrived pretty early, gave a direct answer. I was very glad to hear that we would not have to rely on lunch forms to get Title One this year, because that would be a disaster. Now I just need to find out how exactly we do get Title One.

No one on the dais responded to the ATRs who spoke, but KJ from New Action was pretty persistent when Schoor ducked his questions. He didn't really get an answer, but edged ever closer. Maybe I can learn something from KJ, but really, when no answer is forthcoming, elaboration on non-answers does not much help.

There was an impassioned plea from a theater teacher set adrift in an ocean of reforminess. What a shame that no one seems to need this sort of enrichment. This is what happens after decades of test scores posing as the Ten Commandments.

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