STOP THE PRESSES! Amidst all the weeping and gnashing of teeth over the release of the teacher value-added data (see two articles below, including the to-be-expected one from Winerip), let's remember the horror that's occurring every day in thousands of our schools, especially the ones serving the most disadvantaged students. (How ironic, unfair, and un-American is it that, as a nation, for the students who MOST need great schools to have ANY chance in life, we instead stick them with the worst. Yes, they come into school with two strikes in life – the odds are already stacked against them, and this isn't the fault of schools – but instead of giving them schools that give them a chance to escape the demography-is-destiny trap, we instead deal them a third strike and it's game (and life) over…)
Yes, some great teachers will be mis-categorized by the value-added system. But the system will also identify the teachers that my friend below calls a "vile brand of criminals – those who rob children of their potential to love learning and their hopes for a future." Also, as the NBER study showed, across the entire system – tens of thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of children over decades – it's ENORMOUSLY predictive (though this isn't public, I happen to know that the NBER study used NYC data; it showed ENORMOUS positive lifelong impact on students by teachers ranked very highly using the value-added method (and, sadly, the converse was true as well). For my blog posts on this study, see: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2012/01/long-term-impacts-of-teachers-teacher_16.html, http://edreform.blogspot.com/2012/01/value-of-teachers.html, and http://edreform.blogspot.com/2012/01/new-study-gauges-teachers-impact-on.html).
One person called what's going on with the release of the value-added data a teacher "witch hunt", which infuriated one of my friends to write the following about his experience as a TFA corps member in a Bronx school from 1998-2000 (by the way, PLEASE send me more stories like this from the trenches. I'm convinced that even the most well-informed, caring people have NO IDEA what it's really like in thousands of our nation's schools, so I'm determined to do everything I can to publicize this – but I need your help!):
WITCH HUNT?? WITCH HUNT?!
How about they stop their campaign to protect criminals in the classroom?
I taught at a public school in the Bronx from 1998 to 2000. EVERY SINGLE DAY at least 1/4th of the teachers there engaged in the following:
· Screaming in the faces of 5-8 year olds until they cried. At least five teachers that I can think of screamed literally all day long.
· Telling children that they were stupid and would never learn anything
· Making kids who came there ready to learn and eager to be in school absolutely hate school and hate anything related to it – reading, math, etc – by the time they were in 2nd or 3rd grade
Another 1/4th of the teachers either:
· Could not write a complete sentence or
· Were so neglectful in their teaching practices that the children learned nothing
There were also some great teachers in the building, but many of them were pushed out by a corrupt administration that:
· One Assistant Principal once told me that Dominicans/Puerto Ricans were "God's stupidest race"
· The Principal got a law degree by mail while sitting behind a locked door not running the school
· No Professional Development with any real content in my two years (the AP once explained negative numbers to me, which was very helpful since I had finished Calculus 2)
· The administration collaborated with the union rep and her cronies to systematically cheat on the 3rd grade test so no one would ever know that no kids were learning in the building
· The principal told one new hire "I don't care what you do as long as the kids are in their seats"
· Forced the kids to watch the movie Ants literally every single day at lunch because there was no playground and no gym space available (because staff was too lazy to move the lunch tables in the gym)
SO maybe you'll say "that was one bad apple school." Ha! I can name hundreds of teachers who can tell the exact same story or worse about schools throughout NYC where the number one problem was a corrupt administration with no fear of being fired or any accountability and a mixture of an abusive and incompetent staff.
SO you might say, "well those were the bad old days, I'm sure that has changed"…that's BS:
· When we turned the Principal and union rep in to the district superintendent in 1999, she told our principal to watch his back and did nothing
· When investigators finally determined there was systemic cheating through an investigation in approximately 2000-2002, the criminals involved in robbing thousands of kids of their education were given desk jobs at the district or allowed to retire with full benefits
· Whatever has changed since then has changed because Bloomberg and Klein have fought day in and day out to try to reform despicable institutions that destroy childrens' lives and hopes of a future; and because charters have shed light on your historical lie/cover that these kids can't learn and it's their fault
· But most of this hasn't changed a lick because it costs $300,000 and takes three years to fire a teacher, even one who is willfully neglectful or abusive AND because in schools like mine, screaming in children's faces and neglecting them was so acceptable that there is no way it could change even over 10 years without radically overhauling the staff (which has not happened in most schools because of my point earlier in this sentence about the impossibility of firing ANY teacher)
· The school I taught at got a good deal better, but it was because the good teachers fought the system AT THEIR PERIL. The investigators literally told the teachers who stuck their neck out to "watch your back and call us if you receive threats or see anyone suspicious near your homes or cars"
So I'm sorry, but WITCH HUNT? How about we open the doors to the world and let people see the abuse and neglect that really is going on in NYC public schools in places like the Bronx and Washington Heights every single day. How about we start widely surveying the thousands of teachers we know for stories like this? Is that a witch hunt? Or just an exposure of the truth that the system is protecting the most vile brand of criminals – those who rob children of their potential to love learning and their hopes for a future.