Friday, November 27, 2009


We read with some amusement about how our Educator-in-Chief at city hall is going to use student test grades to determine teacher compensation. As the NY Times reported: " Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Wednesday that New York City public schools would immediately begin to use student test scores as a factor in deciding which teachers earn tenure, a proposal that has been bitterly opposed by the teachers’ union and criticized as putting too much weight on standardized exams."

Oh, Lord, how silly it is when arrogance and ignorance are combined in the crafting of public policy-and the use of already discredited student exams to do anything besides cleaning school bathrooms with them is an outrage. First, make sure that the tests are serious measures of student learning, then decide whether or not they can be used as a measure of teacher evaluation.

In our view, however, tests are always a risky tool to use. Way back in the day when we taught the fifth grade one year we had an influx of Dominican immigrants. And it so happened, that this batch of kids was extremely bright, although not yet fluent in English. At the end of the year, a large number of the kids had jumped from second and third grade levels in reading to eleventh and twelfth grade scores-a recognition, without a doubt, of our superior pedagogical skills.

This personal example is illustrative of the larger methodological problem-even if we factor out the test quality issue. But we certainly can't do that too prematurely considering the ongoing controversy over the quality of the current testing regime. As the Times reminds us: "The city already uses test scores in evaluating the system: to determine teacher and principal bonus pay, to assign the A through F letter grades that schools receive, and to decide which schools are shut down for poor performance. The mayor is now putting even more weight behind those scores by using them to decide which teachers should stay and which should go."

But this system has been quite fairly ridiculed as both arbitrary and capricious-with teacher bonuses being handed out as if Chancellor Klein was back on Wall Street in Christmases past. In fact, this does remind us of the way that some of the Wall Street CEOs were given big bonuses even while their company's performance was tanking.

The mayor, for his part, made the speech while in Washington where he was looking to continue cement his BFF status with Secretary Duncan and the president. And his promotion of the teacher test concept was, get this, prompted by the availability of stimulus money-the money that was supposed to be all about job creation: "In a speech in Washington on Wednesday, alongside the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, the mayor also called on the State Legislature to make a number of changes...that would help New York State compete for hundreds of millions of dollars in the so-called Race to the Top federal grants. The program will distribute $4.35 billion in stimulus financing to states for innovative education programs."

By the way, it should be pointed out, simply as a public service of course, that the budgget for the national Department of Education has risen from around $60 billion to over $140 billion because of ther injection of all of that job creating stimulus money. Why we would want to encourage Washington in this direction is beyond us. But we digress.

We do, however, need to ask; Aren't we already spending enough money locally on education? Talk about being jobbed! The mayor is gonna be in for some fight on this initiative-and that he would double down on fraudulent tests is really jaw dropping to us. But Bloomberg appears to have been numbed by the numbers: "The only thing worse than having to lay off teachers would be laying off great teachers instead of failing teachers,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “With a transparent new evaluation system, principals would have the ability to make layoffs based on merit — but only if the State Legislature gives us the authority to do it.”

So get ready for a major Albany battle-and we know how this will go if the UFT and CSA really gear up and fight. What the mayor wants to do is develop his own stat-based metric to ax the teachers and administrators he feels merit being let go. As the NY Post points out: "Among the items he’s seeking changes to are teacher seniority rules — so that layoffs would commence with the worst teachers rather than the least experienced ones — and the notoriously lengthy and onerous hearing process, which makes it more difficult to boot bad teachers from the schools system. He also asked the legislature to give teachers who have been cut from shrinking or closing schools just one year to find a new gig before they’re axed."

We can't wait for this battle to heat up. It will resemble the West Side Stadium fight-and we predict that the result will be the same. Only this time it will leave Mike Bloomberg even more diminished than before; as the jerry-built nature of his testing edifice is exposed for what it is-a colossal waste of money with educational progress either exaggerated or simply impossible to measure.